On Point

Does Accounting For Saddam's WMD Matter?

by Austin Bay
April 30, 2003

Accounting for Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs is absolutely essential if America intends to achieve victory in the War on Terror.

Commentators who think otherwise miss the crucial strategic challenge. The formula for Hell in the 21st century, the wicked linkage of terrorists, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction, remains the fundamental issue vexing those on this planet who work for stability, prosperity and genuine peace.

Several pundits now write that the evident evils of Saddam's regime, revealed in piles of stacked skulls, provide sufficient reason for "waging the war."

As someone who has for two decades publicly deplored Saddam's relentless butchery, I agree that liberating the Iraqi people is a virtue and a blessed success.

However, we are engaged in a much larger and longer war, with Iraq being one phase. The object lesson U.S. and British military forces dealt Saddam's regime puts other dictators (a score of petty Saddams) on notice. Their states, the gutters where terrorists connect with money and weapons, are no longer Free Parking, a playpen for vile shenanigans safe behind the false sovereignty imposed by tyrannical oppression. America can crack rogues and crack them quickly.

But breaking the Hell formula and achieving victory in the long war means we must be able to accurately locate and then eliminate the dictators' chemical, biological and nuclear arms caches. This challenge includes destroying the ways and means of acquiring and manufacturing such weapons.

Finding chem, bio and nuclear weapons evidence in Iraq is literally a test of our intelligence. Intelligence information gathering and assessment are the first line of defense and offense in the War on Terror. In February, Tony Blair said every nation with an intelligence service knows Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Is this a massive intelligence failure? I doubt it -- but if there is, it must be addressed quickly and thoroughly.

Saddam has had chemical weapons and he's used them. Ask victimized Kurds and Iranians. Given U.S. pressure and the build-up of U.S. forces on his borders, it's conceivable that in late 2002 Saddam concluded he would destroy his weapons but retain "seed crystals" for recreating weapons programs as soon as U.N. sanctions ended. "Dual-use" technologies would be part of this program (for example, chemical precursors that could be used for both insecticide or nerve gas). If this is the case, documenting Iraqi gimmicks will improve counter-proliferation intelligence collection and analysis.

"He shipped the gas to Syria" is another alternative. Saddam reportedly bought British left-wing "peace" MP George Galloway's support -- renting nerve agent storage sites in Syria is simply business as usual among tyrants. If that's the case, Syria must suffer stiff consequences for that bargain.

If no weapons or traces of weapons are found, the Bush Administration will legitimately face charges of lying or exaggerating. The credibility of the U.S. president and secretary of state are on the line, and their credibility is extremely important in continuing to effectively wage the War on Terror.

So how long could it take to shakedown Iraq for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction?

One former military planner provided this best guess on April 15: a full-scale inspection effort would take 90 to 120 days. The estimate posited a focused effort of 200 mobile teams and "quick response" laboratory support for quality testing and evaluation. This field effort would be backed by a dedicated intelligence-gathering and analysis group. One of the intelligence group's primary concerns would be the rapid and thorough debrief of captured regime officials and key subordinates active in weapons of mass destruction research, development and deployment. This estimate used 1,000 potential weapon sites as a baseline.

Operations of this size aren't wired in an afternoon; the number of field teams currently deployed hasn't been publicized. In late April, Gen. Tommy Franks said that several thousand sites would be surveyed. Syria remains a question mark. However, four months still strikes me as a reasonable time frame.

That means early September is a fair date for drawing conclusions about Saddam's weapons. That should be adequate time to find and document the telltale toxic spill, the concealed bacterial culture, the buried lab or -- heaven forbid -- the hidden bomb.

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