There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq!! We was lied to! People died, after all, I mean, you know? The NYT has told us so, for cryin’ out loud. What is it with you people who keep suspecting that a fellow who had actually used chemical weapons not only against an enemy with whom at war, but also his own subjects, might still have a few lying around the pantry, and that when we didn’t find the stuff when we invaded in 2003, we needed to study on where they might be.
Ignore all those trucks trundling back and forth between Iraq and Syria in the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.
And now, Dear Leader admonishes the Syrians not to use any chemical weapons on their own citizens. No mention is made of where the Syrians might have got the weapons, the delivery systems, and their respective components in this Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article. Syria got its first such weapons from Egypt in the 1970s, and thereafter continued to build up its stockpile, with everything from a blind eye from to the actual connivance of some few of the western countries now so earnestly lecturing them on using what’s in their arsenal. During the run-up to the 2003 invasion, satellite imagery showed convoys of trucks headed from Iraq to Syria. Captured documents show the active participation of Putin’s spetsnaz in moving chemical weapons and components, rockets and their components, and other weapons systems from Iraq to Syria. Apparently during the war and its aftermath it was common for U.S. soldiers to stumble upon something suspicious, but, having no trained weapons inspectors with them, by the time they came back a day or two later with folks who would know, what they’d found was gone.
Let’s also take a moment and ask why it is that Turkey is so keen to have a Patriot missile defense shield, just now. Patriots, if the gentle reader will recall, proved themselves very capable at taking out Scud missiles in flight. What’s that, you say? Did those naughty North Koreans build Assad an underground factory for assembly of Scud missiles? Why yes, yes they did.
Now, not everyone agrees that Saddam, a man who pretty much never did what he told you he was going to do (unless it suited him), and who subverted every attempt short of war to rein him in (I’m thinking specifically of his corrupting the entire U.N. oil-for-food program, in which he bribed luminaries such as Kofi Annan and his family to ignore a constant influx of oil-funded contraband), on this one occasion actually did what he said and destroyed his entire stockpile of chemical weapons after the butt-kicking he took in 1991. The International Herald-Tribune doesn’t seem to think much of the possibility of Iraq’s weapons’ having made their way to Syria, quoting some anecdotes of potential eye-witnesses to the truck convoys on the one hand, and on the other a senior official to scout the possibility. Who is not cited in the article is the Director of National Intelligence who, relying at least in part on the referenced satellite imagery, stated his opinion that such a transfer did occur. In any event, at least the author is honest enough to admit that if we ever get a peek inside Assad’s world we may just have to revise some of our received wisdom on whether Geo. W. Bush’s stated basis for war in 2003 was or was not a “lie.” Reckon there are bets being hedged among the Deep Thinkers? Reckon they’ll actually report it if found? Yeah, I don’t either.
The International Herald-Tribune is owned by The New York Times. You’ll remember them as the ones of whom it was correctly observed, as they betrayed one national security secret after another while our country was actively engaged in a war, that “they’re not anti-war; they’re just on the other side.” If you Google the topic, more than a few of the skeptical reports, e.g. this one, link back to articles in the NYT and/or its subsidiaries. The first linked article above is to the London Daily Mail, which is (ahem!) neither owned by the NYT nor an unpaid adjunct to the DNC.
Then of course there is a Kris Alexander, who it seems actually was on the ground in Iraq post-war, as a weapons expert, and found nothing. He’s got a few articles over at Wired, in which he pretty vigorously dismisses the suggestion that Iraqi chemical (or other sorts of) WMD made it to Syria in 2003. I certainly am not going to dispute his statements about what he did or did not find. His dismissal of the possibility as being nothing more than the fevered imaginations of conspiracy lunatics ought, I think, to engage a bit more fully with the evaluation of what was observed and has not been explained yet. The satellite images showed what they showed. What does Alexander believe to have been in those trucks? Were those the last desperate deliveries of export goods previously contracted for, which Saddam in a mechanical fashion continued to deliver, just like the last Soviet train bearing raw materials crossed the border in the late hours of June 21, 1941?
Other than his personal observations, which as mentioned I’m perfectly willing to take undiscounted, much of Alexander’s analysis in the linked article comes back around to the idea that Saddam’s shunting his most potent weapons off to Syria on the eve of an invasion just makes no sense. It’s a plausible argument. I beg to offer a dissenting opinion. For starts, dictators, especially those who’ve been in power for a good while, do not think like you or I. They tend to think that no matter what happens, they’ll survive, somehow, by a miracle (Hitler in his bunker in Berlin, literally able to hear the concussion of Soviet artillery shells through the walls, was convinced that FDR’s death on April 12 was the miracle deliverance he’d been waiting for, just like Frederick the Great was saved in the 1700s by a similarly fortuitous death). Saddam had, by the way, a concrete data point to support him in his evaluation of his post-invasion chances. The U.S. had already invaded once, destroyed most of his combat army and air force, and still had pulled its punch in leaving him in power. And that was after he’d actually invaded a neighbor. In 2001-3 all he’d done was welcome the stray Al Qaeda operative. And if he intended to give up on coming back, why did he go into hiding for months afterward? Why did he not just disappear into the shadow world of Arab politics?
With all possible respect for those like Brer Alexander and the others who rely on the essentially psychological argument that it makes no sense for Saddam to have done what is mooted, I think the better interpretation of why he acted as he did is that he fully intended to return to power, once the U.S. had held its victory parades and gone home. Just like 1991. His chemical weapons weren’t built to use against America; even a lunatic understands what happens when you pull that kind of trigger against someone who so vastly overpowers you. You guarantee your personal destruction. Trying to think myself into the shoes of a madman is pretty presumptuous, of course, but Saddam can be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. would do again what it had done in the past: Crow on its conquered dunghill and then, weary of the effort, trundle on home. At which point Saddam, with Assad’s assistance and that of his most loyal followers, who had (let’s not forget) largely melted back into the populace by that point, would re-emerge, and re-armed with his WMD place himself back in power. He might have to contend with a few opponents here and there, but he’d be the only one armed and backed by a friendly power, and he’d certainly be the only one with non-conventional weapons. Which he was quite willing to use on his people. So removing his WMD from the scene in the interim would have served two very realistic goals for him: (i) It would have removed a temptation for the U.S. to hang around, which would be fatal to his hopes; and, (ii) It would preserve his ability to re-impose himself on the country after the U.S. left.
In the end here we are, with a paper tiger at our head, desperately hoping that the Assad regime won’t decide that if it’s going down, it will do so with an empty magazine. That’s a safe bet.