The Manufactured Threat
The Bush administration has floated several reasons for going to war
with Saddam Hussein. The one that seems to have the most currency
is that we need to stop Saddam before he strikes us or someone else.
has been so thoroughly demonized by American politicians, the media,
and your local coffee vendor that nearly any claim about him is
accepted by a large number of people without burdening themselves
with issues of proof. Is there evidence that Saddam Hussein has
and will use weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against others anytime
in the near future?
CIAs most recent assessment of Iraq, parts of which were declassified
in October, is striking for its puny, yet highly indignant account
of a slender arsenal (Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction
Programs, CIA: October 2002). But it does tell us two vitally
important things. First, Iraq does not have a nuclear weapon and,
unless it gets whopping big help from someone, wont have one
for years. Second, although we have no idea what chemical and biological
stockpiles exist in Iraq, the CIA tells us there are no missiles
that come even close to being able to deliver such weapons to the
U.S. There is no imminent danger or grave risk to any American apartment
or farmhouse, grocery store or baseball diamond from putative Iraqi
weapons, and this according to the Administrations main source
of information about Iraq.
Blair Dossier, issued to rally the world behind an immediate attack
on Iraq, is interesting for its recounting of Iraqs repeated
failure to make significant progress in producing nuclear weapons.
Iraq has been pursuing nuclear weapons since the 1950s, receiving
considerable assistance from the Soviet Union beginning in 1959.
In the 1980s Iraq commenced an electromagnetic isotope separation
(EMIS) program, but could never get the technology to work and abandoned
it by 1991. In August 1990, Iraq initiated a crash program to build
a single nuclear weapon within a year, contemplating rapid development
of a small 50 machine gas centrifuge cascade to produce weapons-grade
highly enriched uranium using fuel from their Soviet research reactor,
but the program had evinced little success by the time of the Gulf
War (Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment
of the British Government).
we know that Iraq has repeatedly tried and failed to produce a nuclear
weapon. We know that it had been at it for nearly four decades at
the time the UN weapons inspectors went and dismantled it all. Its
true that a soufflé requires know-how as much as eggs and a
hot oven. And the one thing the U.N. inspectors could not destroy
was the human capital invested in Iraqs nuclear program. But
is that enough to make the nuclear threat credible? We are asked
to believe that unsuccessful work conducted over 40 years and with
help from the Soviet Union and others might now be successfully
conducted in some 46 months when Iraqs resources are monumentally
constrained and every possible weapon component or toolfrom
test tube to centrifuge rotormust be procured covertly with
most developed nations refusing to offer the least assistance. What
about chemical and biological weapons? What both the CIA Assessment
and the Blair Dossier make clear is that no one knows what Iraq
has. (What they dont make clear is just how much of it, in
the 1970s and 1980s, came from Anglo-American sources. This would
be useful, as we could gauge a lot from it.)
government briefs go to great lengths to list chemical and biological
stocks that could possibly have remained after the UN inspections
ended in 1998, yet remarkably the Blair Dossier, an unabashed manifesto
for war, doesnt hide how speculative a proposition this is.
It quotes a report prepared by Richard Butler, the last head of
the UN weapons inspectors and a man incapable of hiding his rabid
anti-Iraq sentiments. Butlers UN Security Council brief importantly,
even surprisingly, acknowledges, Iraq undertook extensive,
unilateral and secret destruction of large quantities of proscribed
weapons and items. Then, the British government concluded,
Without U.N. weapons inspectors, it is very difficult therefore
to be sure about the true nature of many of Iraqs facilities.
problem when the UN inspectors were there, and the problem now,
is that some people will forego any rules of honest proof: if we
find the weapons, then they exist; and if we dont find the
weapons, they exist, too, but are hidden.
Iraq has some (and perhaps very few) chemical and biological weapons.
But what Iraq lacks, and both the CIA Assessment and the Blair Dossier
go into this in great detail, is the means of propelling these poisons
any great distance outside of Iraq. The British government maintains
that Saddam has the delivery mechanisms to threaten only Cyprus,
Eastern Turkey, Tehran, and Israel and that this is not bound
to change anytime soon as the development of new longer-range
missiles is likely to be a slow process because various restrictions
on Iraq have been very successful, including those on the use of
foreign experts, the conduct of test flights in ranges greater than
150 km, and the acquisition of guidance and control technology.
people fear an attack not on the U.S., but on Israel. But whatever
actual weapons Saddam has, if he cant deliver them, they mean
little. According to the Blair Dossier, he has no more than 20 al-Hussein
(SCUD) missiles (probably far fewer), that are limited in range
to 650 km. UN agreements limit Iraq to missiles that cannot reach
beyond 150 km. Notably, there is no evidence in the Blair Dossier
or the CIA assessment of any activity since 1998 on the part of
the Iraqi government to test a missile that can travel farther than
150 km. This is hardly surprising. Such activity is easily monitored
by American, British, and Israeli intelligence. This means that
whatever chemical or biological weapons we may guess or insist he
possesses cant effectively be delivered very far. This also
limits the cursedness of the mobile units purported to contain biological
weapons, so often invoked as uninspectable. If Saddam cant
deliver his weapons, they are not much threat outside his own country
or those contiguous to Iraq.
idea that chemical or biological weapons might be indiscriminately
scattered well outside of Iraq after having been transported in
a suitcase or some other innocuous device by a terrorist verges
on the preposterous. Iraqi borders are elaborately policed, as anyone
who tries to bring shoes or foodstuffs into the country can attest.
Even if the substances should find their way across the border,
the technological difficulties of dispersing the agent effectively
are immense. U.S. experimenters, who have far more weapons of mass
destruction at their fingertips, as well as the resources to hone
their lethal delivery and effects, have worked for decades to create
a truly effective dispersal mechanism and failed.
the two governments most raucously calling for war have provided
nothing in the way of proof of a grave and imminent threat from
Saddam Hussein, lets assume that things are worse than the
U.S. and UK have outlined. Assume numerous nasty weapons poised
for an attack. Is this a valid justification for going to war with
Iraq? Bush maintains that a regime change in Iraq is necessary because
Saddam might unleash his weapons. In a speech in Cincinnati, the
president invoked the specter of an Iraqi-generated mushroom cloud
and, demonstrating that he doesnt understand the effective
use of metaphor, described this as a smoking gun.
CIAs assessment is quite different. Recently, George Tenet
declassified some material concerning Iraq after pressure from the
Senate Intelligence Committee. In his letter of October 7, 2002
to Senator Bob Graham, Tenet wrote: Baghdad for now appears
to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with
conventional or C.B.W. (chemical and biological weapons) against
the United States.
Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred,
he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist
actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with
Iraqs unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991,
might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists
in conducting a W.M.D. attack against the United States would be
his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims
with him (Letter dated October 7, 2002 to Senator Bob Graham,
Democrat of Florida and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee,
by George J. Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, about decisions
to declassify material related to the debate about Iraq).
was also a closed hearing and Tenet declassified a portion of testimony
offered: Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan: …[If
Saddam] did not feel threatened, is it likely that he would initiate
an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?
Intelligence Witness: …My judgment would be that the probability
of him initiating an attacklet me put a time frame on itin
the foreseeable future, given the conditions we understand now,
the likelihood I think would be low.
Levin: …But what about his use of weapons of mass destruction?
If we initiate an attack and he thought he was in extremis or otherwise,
whats the likelihood in response to our attack that he would
use chemical or biological weapons?
Intelligence Witness: Pretty high, in my view (Tenet letter,
October 7, 2002).
Blair Dossier doesnt offer the discordance with government
policy displayed in the differences between Bush and Tenet. But
it also does not make a case that Saddam is itching to use his weapons.
Nor does the Blair government so grandiosely assume that it might
be in Saddams sights when the weapons are prepped for use
(although there is one patriotic reference to UK Sovereign Base
Areas in Cyprus that are within Iraqi range). The British governments
psychologizing over Saddam maintains that he has a fetish for toxic
weapons in order to strike fear in his neighbors: … chemical
and biological weapons play an important role in Iraqi military
thinking: intelligence shows that Saddam attaches great importance
to the possession of chemical and biological weapons which he regards
as being the basis for Iraqi regional power. He believes that respect
for Iraq rests on its possession of these weapons and the missiles
capable of delivering them.
a lot thats interesting in this assessment, including the
fact that the British maintain that chemical and biological weapons
are only in his quiver to make others in the region shiver. But
even more interestingly, the British never show that hes likely
to use them. Their tacit conclusion is that Saddam sees the threat
as more powerful than the execution. Its a reasonable assessment,
since Saddam hasnt used any weapon outside of Iraq in over
a decade, yet has managed to remain a source of concern and tension
in the region.
hasnt Saddam used his weapons? Why is he unlikely to? The
same reason he didnt use chemical or biological weapons against
Americans in the Gulf War: he wants to stay in power. He may be
a bully and a murderous tyrant, but he knows that America can crush
him should it decide to. The frightening irony of the War to Stop
Weapons of Mass Destruction is that if Bush prosecutes this war,
then and only then do we put Saddam in a position where there is
absolutely no reason for reason for him not to use everything hes
got. Regime change is a euphemism for a military campaign that doesnt
cease until Saddam is dead. He might decide that his place in history
will be assured by hurling every last gram from the Iraqi weapons
apothecary at the enemy. Ironically, Saddam cant deploy these
weapons (if they exist) to the U.S., but Bushs proposed war
would put Americans conveniently within his grasp. American ground
troops seem more likely at risk than Israeloften cited as
in danger from Saddamsince what missiles Iraqs got are
neither modern nor stealthy and Israel must surely be aware of the
risks attendant on Bushs proposed war and be planning appropriate,
very likely disproportionate, measures. Saddams
got nothing to lose in deploying his weapons if the United States
wages an all-out attack against Iraq aimed at his destruction. Hes
a dead man bombing.
obvious policy worth pursuing with more vigor and honesty than either
the U.S. or UK governments have attempted is to get the weapons
inspectors back into Iraq. In a summary report to the Security Council,
the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (who
conducted the nuclear weapons aspect of the UN inspections) wrote:
Document GOV/INF/827 reported that there were no indications
that Iraq had achieved its programme objective of producing nuclear
weapons nor were there indications that Iraq had produced more than
a few grams of weapon-usable nuclear material or had otherwise acquired
such material. It also reported that there were no indications that
there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production
of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance
and that all weapon-usable nuclear material (research reactor fuel)
has been removed from Iraq. Several
other reports were similarly summarized, indicating how thoroughly
the nuclear weapons program of Iraq was dismantled.
did the inspectors leave? Richard Butler, head of the UN inspectors
in 1998, explained to the Security Council why he decided to remove
all inspectors from Iraq: On 16 December 1998, the Executive
Chairman [sic] wrote to the President of the Council, confirming
his previous evenings conversation with the President, during
which he told the President that he had decided to remove all the
Commissions personnel from Iraq. IAEA personnel also departed.
This decision was taken in consultation with IAEA. The executive
chairs letter noted that the prime considerations in his decision
were to ensure the safety and security of the Commissions
personnel and the need to act immediately (Report of the Executive
Chairman on the activities of the Special Commission established
by the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 9 (b) (i) of resolution
687 (1991), United Nations Security Council document S/1999/401,
9 April 1999, paragraph 24).
acknowledges that on the very day the inspectors withdrew, the U.S.
and the UK proceeded to bomb Iraq, On 16 December 1998, military
action was initiated against Iraq by the United States and the United
Kingdom (S/1998/1181 and S/1998/1182).
though we pulled the inspectors out, cant we send them back
in? Of course we can, but the coverage of the wrangling over inspections
has repeatedly failed to report one of the main reasons Baghdad
prevaricates and is so distrustful of the process: United Nations
Security Council Resolution 1284. Up to December 1999, Security
Council Resolutions linked a successful weapons inspection and eradication
program with the lifting of sanctions. But SCR 1284 made a significant
change, deciding that full compliance with UN weapons inspections
would lead only to a suspension, and not a lifting, of economic
sanctions, and that sanctions could be re-imposed every 120 days
on the wishes of any one permanent member of the Security Council
(United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284, December
knows that Bush and Blair want him out and believes that either
one of them could use his Security Council vote to keep sanctions
in place indefinitely. The Iraqis, not unreasonably, wonder whether
sanctions will ever be lifted as long as Saddam remains in power.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri asked the Security Council this
very question earlier this year and received no answer.
to be successful, weapons inspectors cant be allowed to conduct
military spying. The existence of U.S. spies among the inspectors
may not be universally acknowledged, but earlier this month the
New York Times took it for granted, writing, The reform
followed the disclosure that a United States spy on the United Nations
team had planted an electronic eavesdropping device in Baghdad that
helped guide allied bombing in December 1998 (New York
Times, October 2, 2002). The head of UNMOVIC (the successor
to UNSCOM) is reportedly aware that the integrity of the weapon
inspections system has been damaged by this spying, especially since
Iraq learned that the survival of the regime was put at risk when
we need is a plan that puts teeth in the inspections, preferably
one that doesnt perpetuate the brutal sanctions that notably
fail to punish Saddam Hussein, but that have caused enormous suffering
and inexcusable deaths in the hundreds of thousands. What we dont
need is for the U.S. and UK to become increasingly belligerent,
leaving Saddam convinced that he must react with deadly vengeance.
an all-stick, no-carrot policy fails to work, it is dimwitted to
propose as the only alternative a much bigger stick. This is a hysterical
approach, utterly devoid of any sense of proportion or justice.
It urges us to rain bombs down on innocent heads in order to stop
a hypothetical future attack based on flimsy evidence. We need effective
weapons eradication conducted under the auspices of the UN, not
a cruel unilateral policy that leaves in its wake the tragedy of
Rantala is a freelance writer and editor of the Evergreen,
the newspaper of the Hyde Park Cooperative Society (Chicago). She
edited, with Arthur J. Milgram, Cloning: For and Against
(Open Court, 1999).