There's WMD, and Then There's WMD

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot at Electoral Math

Kevin Drum has been trying to score some contrarian points while tracing back through the march to war in Iraq. He points out that as of September 2002, there was widespread agreement that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program. This, I suspect, was not a subject of dispute. The Clinton administration had a difficult time forcing Saddam to abide by the terms of the post-Gulf War UN resolutions, going so far as to order bombings on two occasions. House and Senate Democrats who voted for the war weren't doing so out of a desire of democracy promotion, but because they thought, or at least said they thought, that Saddam was a threat. Here's Tom Daschle in 2002: "The threat posed by Saddam Hussein may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored." This was the angle most pro-war Democrats took: Saddam would continue to try and rebuild his chemical and biological programs, and we'd just keep trying to knock them out, plus he's a bad guy anyway, so let's stop playing games and take him out now.

There was no doubt about Saddam's continued efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons. Where there was doubt was about Saddam's ability to develop nuclear weapons, and to deliver those weapons to the United States. Now, outside of the "16 words" I don't really remember how hard the Bush administration tried to sell the nuclear threat, but as Matt Yglesias points out, the real selling point of the war was that Saddam's weapons would be used against US civilians. On this point there was good reason to doubt the administration's claims, since inspectors found minimal evidence that Saddam had any capacity to deliver weapons beyond a range of 600 miles. Hans Blix's January 2003 testimony suggested the possible presence of a modest amount of chemical and biological agents, but no means to attack the US directly with them, while this October 2003 testimony on the Iraq Survey Group's work shows little evidence of any WMD and no way of delivering any payload beyond 1000 kilometers. While missles with a range longer than 110 kilometers did violate the terms of Saddam's disarmament, they could easily have been destroyed without invading the country.

I'm all for being honest about history; we should admit that the pro-war Democrats bought into much of the WMD hype. But they didn't buy into all of it, and lumping Saddam's ground-war-ready chemical weapons (which lots of people agreed on) with the hype of mushroom clouds over Saint Louis (where there was considerable public disagreement) conflates too many distinct forms of "weapons of mass destruction".