The political spin
machines went into high gear Wednesday with the publication of the
report from the Iraq Survey Group on Saddam Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction (WMD). The group's finding that Saddam Hussein did
not have a functional program for the production of weapons of mass
destruction, nor any known stockpiles of the same, was treated as
big news. In the context of a heated election campaign, the news
was played as a devastating blow to President Bush's case for the
war in Iraq.
represents a serious distortion. There is news in the report, to be
sure, but it lies in the detailed disclosure and documentation of
how far France, Russia, and China had benefited from the United
Nation's corrupt Oil-for-Food program. These, of course, were the
three countries most supportive of Iraq on the U.N. Security
Council. That's what the headlines should have been all about.
The Survey Group,
headed by chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer, only
confirmed what weapons inspector David Kay had previously stated
before Congress at the interim publication of the report: that
Saddam Hussein did not at the time of the invasion have a major
program for the production of weapons of mass destruction. If this
is news, it is only because of the countdown to the presidential
What has been
played down in the news coverage-but shouldn't be, as it is of
crucial importance-is that Saddam retained the capacity and the
intent to restart his production of WMDs once the U.N. sanctions
regime had finally crumbled. In this he was clearly in breach of
U.N. resolution 1441. The Iraqi Intelligence Service maintained a
set of undeclared laboratories to research and test chemical and
biological weapons, including through human tests. He had the
capacity to produce, within six months, sulfur mustard and, within
two years, nerve agents. The Survey Group also concluded that
Saddam still had dreams of acquiring nuclear weapons and that he
intended to resume his missile programs, potentially for the
delivery of WMD.
opponents of the war always seem to assume that had we not invaded
Iraq, Saddam would have been content with the status quo, sitting
in his box, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright liked
to put it. But that would have been totally out of character. This
is the Iraqi dictator who started wars against Iran and Kuwait,
threatened Saudi Arabia, and constantly tested the U.S. and British
fighter planes that were enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq. Nor
let us forget that he gassed his own Kurdish citizenry. Saddam was
as restless as he was ruthless.
Nor were the U.N.
sanctions doing the job of denying him weapons. Throughout the
1990s, Saddam was able to amass an estimated $11 billion in revenue
outside U.N.- approved methods. Furthermore, as has been amply
documented in the work of Heritage analysts Nile Gardiner and James
Phillips, the U.N. Oil-for-Food program was fraudulent and horribly
corrupt in itself.
As confirmed in
the Duelfer report, Saddam bought support, particularly among
French, Russian, and Chinese officials to whom he would donate oil
"vouchers" that could be resold for large profits. One recipient
was Benon Sevan, former U.N. officials in charge of humanitarian
relief and the Oil-for-Food program itself. The scandal has gone
all the way to the top, to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's son.
Needless to say, the countries that benefited most from these
vouchers were also the countries that were most adamantly opposed
to the Iraq invasion.
criticize the actions taken by President Bush and his team should
answer the question what they would have done in the face of the
outrageous bluff attempted by Saddam Hussein. He deliberately tried
to make the world believe he had WMD, harassing U.N. inspectors and
destroying monitoring equipment, and he succeeded. President Bush
had every reason not to take a chance that could leave the American
people exposed to the dangers of an Iraq armed with WMD. In the
post-9/11 world, the stakes in the game Saddam was playing were
simply too high.
is is Director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies in the Kathryn
and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The