Less than 48 hours after a pair of Republican lawmakers announced a major discovery of WMD in Iraq, elements within the DOD and the intel community are in their normal spin mode. Since Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Peter Hoekstra (Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) held the press conference on Wednesday, various "unnamed" defense and intelligence officials have assured us:
"They're old weapons."
"They're not useable."
"They pose only a limited threat."
"This wasn't the WMD we were looking for."
In other words (as California Representative Jane Harman told a network interviewer last night) "there's nothing new here." That begs an obvious question, namely what Ms. Harman defines as "something new." Until a couple of days ago, Congressional Democrats were only too happy to remind us that "Bush lied" because we never found any WMD in Iraq. Now, faced with the inconvenient truth that some of Saddam's WMD arsenal is still around, the Dims believe it's time to move along, and the MSM is only too happy to accomodate that request.
But let's examine the talking points. If the liberals are right, this is much ado about nothing. But if they're wrong, then the left has suffered yet another self-inflicted wound, proving (again) that they cannot be trusted with the nation's security. Do liberal claims about these recently-discovered weapons stand up to the facts? Decide for yourself.
1. They're Old Weapons. Admittedly, most of these chemical-filled shells and rockets were produced before the first Gulf War. But not all weapons lose their potency over time; sarin nerve gas--which was found in many of these weapons--remains extremely toxic, even over a long period of time. If one of those twenty-year-old sarin shells or rockets were detonated today, the effects could be just as deadly as when Saddam was using them against the Kurds, or against enemy troops in the Iran-Iraq War. More importantly, as a Powerline reader pointed out, the weapons may be old, but we didn't nkow anything about them until they were discovered by coalition forces. That discovery, coupled with the fact that many of the weapons were in fair-to-good condition, suggests someone in Iraq was trying to preserve them, and maintain at least a limited WMD capability. So much for the assertion that Saddam didn't have any WMD at the time of the 2003 invasion.
2. They're Not Useable. Critics who have downplayed the discovery point out that many of the chemical-filled rockets and artillery shells couldn't be employed, due to damage to guidance finds, nose cones, and other external features. However, such charges miss a critical point: the insurgents in Iraq don't have howitzers or rocket launchers, either, but they've employed left-over weapons extensively in IEDs and VBIEDs. A leftover 500-lb bomb or 155mm artillery shell doesn't need to fall from the sky to explode; all that's required is someone proficient in rigging some sort of remote-controlled detonator, and presto, an instant IED/VBEID that is just as lethal as if they'd been dropped from a plane, or fired from an artillery tube. The same holds true for the WMDs. The terrorists in Iraq aren't interested in launching chemical barrage with artillery; they'd rather use these weapons in a daisy-chain IED, creating a large cloud of mustard or nerve gas that could inflict mass casualties on a convoy, or a quick-reaction security forces. The recently-discovered WMDs are, in fact, highly-useable, just not in the conventional sense.
3. They Pose Only a Limited Threat. Once again, it depends on how you define "limited." My contacts tell me that the original NGIC report had a lengthy section depicting the potential effects of these weapons, used as IEDs or VBIEDs in an urban environment. Aginst U.S. troops, equipped with chemical detection and protection gear, the number of potential casualties would probably be low, once the threat was identified. However, against civilian target-- say, shoppers in an open-air market, the effects could be catastrophic. Only three nerve gas shells were used in one of Saddam's most horrific strikes, an attack against a Kurdish village that killed more than 4,000 civilians. The prospect of scores of military and civilian casualties from a daisy-chain of 2 or 3 chemical weapons doesn't strike me as a minor threat. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld apparently feels the same way. Hat tip: Powerline.
What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces, and it's a concern.
So obviously, to the extent we can locate these and destroy them, it is important that we do so. And they are dangerous. Anyone -- I'm sure General Casey or anyone else in that country would be concerned if they got in the wrong hands.
They are weapons of mass destruction . They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found. And that had not been by Saddam Hussein, as he inaccurately alleged that he had reported all of his weapons . And they are still being found and discovered.
4. This Wasn't the WMD We Were Looking For. There remains a popular misconception that the Iraq invasion was supposed to roll-up huge quantities of ready-made chemical weapons, and huge production facilities literally dripping mustard gas, sarin, VX, and a host of biological agents. What we found (instead) were large quantities of pre-cusor chemicals (think of them as raw ingredients) and dual-use facilities, which could be quickly converted to CW or BW production. Technically, an insecticide factory isn't a CW plant, but with a few minor modifcations here and there, a facility that produces bug spray can be converted into a nerve gas laboratory in minimum time. Saddam invested heavily in dual-use technology during the 1990s (in spite of U.N. sanctions), realizing that such facilities offered his best hope for hiding covert production efforts, or resurrecting his CW/BW capabilities once U.N. sanctions were lifted.
Reliance on dual-use technology and facilities, coupled with Iraq's extensive deception efforts (and possible pre-war shipments to Syria) made our pre-war "expectations" unrealistic. Moreover, the continuing discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq highlights fundamental flaws in weapons searches conducted by the U.N. and the Iraq Survey Group. The fact that U.S. troops are routinely finding weapons that supposedly don't exist underscores Saddam's apparent ease at hiding WMD. The fact that many of these weapons remain unlocated affirms the fact that the final chapter on WMD in Iraq is yet to be written--despite liberal efforts to close the book, once and for all.