No WMDs? Fabulous, but Still Beside the Point

In the aftermath of the Iraq war, intense scrutiny has fallen on the search for weapons of mass destruction. The peace camp can barely suppress its glee as each day passes with no smoking vials or reactors, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s nice to see one’s antagonists – especially this sorry mob – sweat beneath the hot lamp of public skepticism. Bush accomplices Tony Blair, John Howard of Australia, Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, and Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea are catching the worst of it now, but their problems may soon echo stateside. As Jim Lobe notes, when the pulp journalists at Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News quit lapping up your press releases, you have reason to worry. Even the cowards who forsook their prerogative to declare war now vow to expose the truth. This scandal has potential. Still, while those of us who opposed the war feel vindicated as its pretext unravels, we must not retroactively center our case on whether or not Iraq had WMDs.

To begin with, none of us were antiwar because we thought Saddam Hussein an angel. We took hawk propaganda with an Everest of salt, but few denied a kernel of reality to the exaggerations. (Repetition works wonders.) We conceded that Saddam probably owned some nasty stuff – likely far short of the spoiled child’s wish list Colin Powell delivered to the U.N. – but we maintained that said nastiness was insufficient cause for war. In fact, the three dominant arguments against invasion were not contingent on Iraq’s virgin purity. First, none of the belligerents could honestly claim self-defense (maybe shadow belligerent Israel could, but more on them in a second). Whatever was unknown about Iraq’s arsenal, it was known that they had no real air force or ICBMs. Even if they had such capabilities, why make them the exception to the deterrence rule? The U.S. isn’t bombing Russia, China, or North Korea [author’s note: this statement was true at time of submission]. The self-preserving creeps in D.C. may not know much, but they should know their own kind. Saddam was no martyr; he wasn’t going to risk his power or his hide tossing spitballs at those who could actually hurt him. As for Israel, the nation most threatened by Iraq, they have nukes and, as they demonstrated in 1981, a superior military they aren’t afraid to use.

Second, needless aggression leads to inexcusable bloodshed. The neocons may regard all casualties as minor debits on their National Greatness bankcard, but the families, countrymen, and coreligionists of the fallen see things differently. Which brings us to point three, blowback. Militarism breeds all sorts of unintended, though fairly predictable, consequences. Whether these are terror attacks, lost freedoms, economic catastrophe, new demons for future exorcisms, or more insidious burdens, the costs always dwarf the prizes. The war was a terrible idea, and a few WMDs won’t change that.

Still, what’s the harm in playing up their absence? For over a decade, Iraq has been the most poked, prodded, and spied-on nation in the world, and still nothing? "We can’t canvass a nation the size of California in X weeks" merits more laughter as X increases. Put me virtually anywhere in the United States, give me a car full of gas and a Rand McNally roadmap, and I will find weapons of mass destruction (or what the U.S. would count as such in Iraq) before the tank needs refilling. That one can’t do the same in Iraq shows Saddam was a minor leaguer, at worst. But, desperate to save face, the War Party will pass off any discovery as their El Dorado. Let them stumble over one high-strength aluminum tube, and Pentagon alchemists will try to make it gold.

The Independent Institute‘s Ivan Eland takes this point a step further:

"The press’s intense focus on finding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction may have an undesirable outcome. If weapons are eventually found, the issue of the administration’s deception could evaporate. No one will focus on Bush’s larger deception of the American people in his effort to sell his military adventure." (emphasis mine)

Tampering with intelligence, manipulating third party reports, even using phony documents to "prove" that Saddam was developing nukes – these may become Dubya’s and Tony’s blue dresses, spattered with the DNA of American, British, and Iraqi dead. Any weapons found now are pure serendipity; they cannot excuse what has been done.

Sensing trouble, the president’s defenders are busy obfuscating. Max Boot has straw-manned the WMD critique, summarizing it as follows: "The president and prime minister deliberately lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion that they knew would show that no such weapons existed." Max, you only wish it were that simple. Granted: Bush and Blair bet that weapons would turn up somewhere. They lied when they professed certainty about the massive size and dreadful nature of those weapons. They lied when they asserted an al-Qaeda connection. They lied when they hid exculpatory evidence from the public while waving around distortions and forgeries to strengthen their case. Most importantly, though, they lied when they acted as if Iraqi weapons, real or imagined, were their reason for going to war in the first place.

Instead of lending undue significance to weapons possession, we must reiterate our original arguments against the war: it didn’t serve our national interests, it was immoral, and it could have awful repercussions. Because as weeks become months with nothing to show for the last invasion, the warmongers are already humming a new tune: "You want WMDs? We’ll give you WMDs. On to Tehran!"