To hear a number of leading Democrats tell it, the report issued last week by David Kay, the chairman of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), was proof positive that President Bush had effectively committed a war crime: He launched a war of aggression on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and now, thanks to Dr. Kay, we know that wasn’t true.
There is only one problem with this highly partisan attack, and the parallel media reporting that has taken a similarly pollyannish line about the Kay report: No responsible reader could take any comfort from its findings, let alone construe them as an indictment of the Bush Administration and its decision to liberate Iraq.
While the President’s critics may not wish to be bothered by the facts, they are, as the saying goes, “stubborn things.” And those laid out by Dr. Kay and his colleagues paint a picture of Saddam Hussein as despot relentlessly engaged in the pursuit of the most devastating weapons known to man. The Iraq Survey Group’s inability to date to locate the weapons the UN previously determined were in Saddam’s hands should be a matter of grave concern – and redoubled effort. Its report certainly is not cause for, as some have suggested, shutting down the ISG and reallocating its resources elsewhere.
Consider, for example, the following facts that belie the conclusion Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction:
o The Kay team has thus far been able to examine only 10 of the 130 known ammo depots in Iraq, some of which are as large as fifty square miles. It would be folly to say on the basis of a less-than-ten-percent sample whether WMD are to be found in the remainder.
o These depots are filled with immense quantities of ordinance. Since the regime made no appreciable effort to distinguish which contained high explosives and which were loaded with chemical or biological agents, establishing exactly what is in such facilities is a time-consuming and dangerous task.
o In addition to the known depots, there are untold numbers of covert weapons caches around the country. These caches have been the source of much of the ordinance used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to attack American and coalition forces. Whether any of these contain WMD remains unknown at this juncture. But if they do, IEDs could, in the future, be vastly more devastating – especially to unprotected Iraqis in proximity to the attack.
o The task is further complicated by the relatively small size of the objects of the search. Dr. Kay has noted that all of Saddam Hussein’s as yet unaccounted for WMD could be stored in a space the size of a two-car garage. According to former Clinton CIA Director R. James Woolsey, his entire suspected inventory of the biological agent anthrax would fill roughly half a standard semi’s tractor trailer.
Taken together with the assiduous efforts Saddam made to conceal and otherwise to obscure his weapons of mass destruction program (also documented by Dr. Kay and his team), these factors give rise to an ineluctable reality: If the ISG is having a hard time ferreting out the truth about Iraq’s WMD, UN inspectors would likely never have found dispositive evidence of Iraqi WMD given the additional constraints they labored under that no longer apply (notably, those imposed on freedom of travel and inquiry by Saddam’s totalitarian system and the attendant lack of cooperation from Iraqi scientists).
The really bad news in the Kay report are its revelations about the role being played in WMD-related activities by Saddam’s dreaded Iraqi Intelligence Service (known as the IIS, or Mukhabarat). According to Dr. Kay, the Mukhabarat had over two-dozen secret laboratories – and more are still being found – that “at a minimum kept alive Iraq’s capability to produce both biological and chemical weapons.”
In addition to discovering work aimed at weaponizing various deadly diseases, the Iraq Survey Group received from an Iraqi scientist “reference strains” for one of the most lethal substances known to man: Botulinum toxin. In short order, with the right equipment and growth material – items Saddam was able to acquire and retain since they were inherently “dual use” and could also be used for commercial purposes -- such strains could translate into large quantities of biological agents.
Lest we forget, it was this sort of capability that President Bush cited as grounds for war. He warned of the possibility that weapons of mass destruction could be made available to terrorists. It would not take large quantities to inflict immense damage. And it would likely be the Iraqi Intelligence Services, rather than the regular army or even the Republican Guard, who would be responsible for providing such support to the regime’s terrorist proxies. In a little-noted aspect of his recent “Meet the Press” interview, Vice President Richard Cheney for the first time offered official confirmation that Iraqi agents appeared to have played such a catalytic role in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
It is one thing to ignore the facts available, and their ominous implications. It is, however, another thing altogether to pretend that David Kay has shown that there is no danger from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, when the facts are otherwise, and bothersome indeed.