Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 29, 2004
WAR: Kay For Everyone
David Kay's appearance before Congress (besides confirming that Kay is a dead ringer for Bob Barr) gives plenty for both sides of the neverending Iraq war debate to think about. Let's start by flashing back to what I wrote on this topic in September 2002:
There's been an unreal quality about the whole Iraq debate, arising from the gulf between the real, practical considerations for going to war and the legal arguments, under international and U.S. law, for doing so in a way that will bring Congress and the U.N. with us. The real reasons include Saddam's motive to use terrorist proxies and weapons of mass destruction against us, his opportunity to do so, the interconnection between Saddam's tyranny and aggressiveness and the general cesspool of government in the Muslim and Arab worlds and the positive example of fear we set by taking out our #1 declared enemy among nation-states. The legal arguments, by contrast, include the pre-existing Congressional and U.N. resolutions authorizing force, the legal and practical fact that we remain at war with him by virtue of his violation of cease-fire conditions and the unabated hostilities over the no-fly zone, and specifically Saddam's noncompliance with weapons inspections.
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[T]he question is not whether we can meet the heavy burden of developing a casus belli from scratch. Bush is not a prosecutor overcoming the presumption of innocence; he's the exasperated parole officer of a guy who's violated all the conditions of his probation. And he made it quite plain that the international community has to understand that if Saddam gets away with this, the U.N. will never be able to put anyone on probation again.
For fans of the legal argument - generally the opponents of war - Kay's findings have been damning: it is now clear that Saddam's regime was in very serious violation of numerous UN resolutions, including continuing to have WMD programs and failing to cooperate with weapons inspections. It is equally clear that further inspections would not have gotten to the bottom of this, given the apparatus of deception and intimidation surrounding the programs. And recall, again, that these resolutions were the conditions of the 1991 cease-fire; we had all the grounds we needed to call off the cease-fire and resume hostilities.
But for those of us who were more interested in the practical arguments, we have to live with the painful ambiguity: Saddam probably didn't have WMD that presented an imminent threat. Of course, caveats apply to that: there were other reasons for war; the whole point of the Bush Doctrine of preemption is to head off threats before they are imminent; Saddam may still have had bioweapons stocks sufficient to kill Americans and cause panic, in the wrong hands (consider how little anthrax was needed to panic the country's faith in the mail). But the hope for a smoking gun that would humble the critics into submission is long gone.
One guy who's vindicated in this whole thing is James Lacey, the TIME reporter who I believe was the first person (at least that I saw; check out his May 15, 2003 article on NRO) to float the theory that is now Kay's working hypothesis after delving deeply into the evidence: that Saddam himself was deceived by terrified underlings into believing that he had an extensive WMD program. Not only does this explain why Saddam worked so hard to avoid detection of the program, why the world's intelligence agencies were all fooled, and why even Saddam's own generals believed he had a WMD program (including why they issued gas masks to Iraqi soldiers in the field), but it also explains why we keep seeing 'mobile bio-weapons labs' and 'drones' that look sort of like the tools of a WMD program, but turn out on inspection to be functionally useless. Occam's Razor wins another round.