On Point: Does Accounting For Saddam's WMD Matter?

by Austin Bay
April 30, 2003

Yes, it matters -- and it matters a great deal.

Accounting for Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weaponsprograms is absolutely essential if America intends to achieve victory inthe War on Terror.

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

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

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

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

But breaking the Hell formula and achieving victory in the longwar means we must be able to accurately locate and then eliminate thedictators' chemical, biological and nuclear arms caches. This challengeincludes destroying the ways and means of acquiring and manufacturing suchweapons.

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

Saddam has had chemical weapons and he's used them. Askvictimized 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 concludedhe would destroy his weapons but retain "seed crystals" for recreatingweapons programs as soon as U.N. sanctions ended. "Dual-use" technologieswould be part of this program (for example, chemical precursors that couldbe used for both insecticide or nerve gas). If this is the case, documentingIraqi gimmicks will improve counter-proliferation intelligence collectionand analysis.

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

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

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

One former military planner provided this best guess on April15: a full-scale inspection effort would take 90 to 120 days. The estimateposited a focused effort of 200 mobile teams and "quick response" laboratorysupport for quality testing and evaluation. This field effort would bebacked by a dedicated intelligence-gathering and analysis group. One of theintelligence group's primary concerns would be the rapid and thoroughdebrief of captured regime officials and key subordinates active in weaponsof mass destruction research, development and deployment. This estimate used1,000 potential weapon sites as a baseline.

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

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

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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