More on the whole WMD thing

More on the whole WMD thing.

If you think about it, it becomes transparent that the WMD thing was a red herring from the start. I've thought about this some more since I've been reading "Ignorant Armies: Sliding Into War in Iraq" by Gwynne Dyer.

First, there are three generally acknowledged kinds of 'WMD': nuclear, biological, and chemical. This isn't a new designation; it goes back at least thirty years, and used to be referred to as 'NBC'.

Chemical: these have been around since the World War I. The Germans first used chlorine at Ypres, with good success. Chemical weapons are horrible, but they have major drawbacks. First, you have use a lot of chemical. It isn't like a single chemical shell is going to do much to anybody. Second, the chemical has to be used in a place where it can remain concentrated. If it disperses, it becomes far less effective. This means that wind conditions have to be right, but more importantly, it means that the people you're going to use it on have to be packed together. This means that chemical weapons work well against a tightly packed infantry attack under favourable conditions.

Chemical weapons are cheap and easy to make. Mixing common household ingredients will give you chlorine gas, one of the first and most horrible weapons. Sarin, a nerve agent, is relatively easily made from castor beans.

For the terrorist, chemical weapons have big drawbacks. First, you have to find somewhere to attack in which there are a lot of people packed in. That's not all that hard: subways and sporting events are two that spring readily to mind. But the problem is that you have to use a lot of chemical, and moving them around and getting them in place is going to be pretty much impossible. The Germans, initially, had good success with them, but they used hundreds of tons in an attack on an enemy packed like sardines into trenches a short distance away. The Iraquis used them against Iran, but they would deliver thousands of artillery shells during a massed Iranian attack. The terrorist has no possible way to drop thousands of artillery shells on the Superbowl. The logistics are completely beyond a terrorist organization.

Biological: These have been around since the Second World War, although nobody has used them other than the Japanese domestic terror group Aum Shinrikyo, and whoever launched the anthrax scare in the US. Neither was a stellar success: Aum Shinrikyo killed exactly nobody, and the anthrax letters, for all their emotional impact, killed four people. The attraction of biological agents is that a truly virulent one could become self-generating, spreading from person to person.

For the terrorist, biological agents have big problems, too. Assuming that some rogue state gave a terrorist group some biological agents (and it seems likely that the anthrax used in the US attacks was an American 'weapons grade' strain), they have the same problems that chemical weapons do: you need a lot delivered into a confined area, otherwise the target's immune system is likely to overwhelm the invader.

Nuclear: This is the big one. The prize. Terrorists would love to get hold of a nuclear weapon. But for terrorists, the problems are numerous. These weapons are very carefully controlled, and tightly monitored by the world's intelligence organizations. They are incredibly expensive. They are technically enormously challenging. They are big, and heavy. You can't strap one to your chest and walk through customs with it. But the most daunting thing about them is that they are so valuable. People who have them maintain incredibly tight control of them.

Even if Saddam had had nuclear weapons, he would never have given them to terrorists. Nuclear weapons are useful only for their deterrent effect: they are so expensive that even the big players, the US and Russia, have relatively few of them. If Saddam had even a single nuke, he would have held onto it for dear life for its deterrent effect. And if he had had one, the US would never have invaded.

Therein lies the best evidence that there is that the US knew full well that he didn't have one: they invaded.

The whole WMD thing was used as a sort of elaborate bait and switch campaign: Iraq has WMD, and we don't want mushroom clouds over US cities. I believe that they genuinely thought that they would find some stocks of chemical weapons, and possibly even some of biological ones, even though the best intelligence should have told them that they would find little.

This, I think, was the plan: warn the public of WMD, refer to 'mushroom clouds', and then once the invasion was done point to the stocks of chemical weapons (weapons that most states: US, Britain, France, Russia, China, the Koreas, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, India, Pakistan, on and on, have, and have had for nearly a hundred years) and say 'yes, we were right, there are the WMD'. An uneducated, uncritical public would have been satisfied, not realizing that the same accusation would be true of probably well over a hundred countries around the globe.

Things haven't worked out that way, of course. Saddam had nothing at all. The inspections were working. Saddam was not a threat.

The administration is going to try to pin the blame on the intelligence community now. We will see how things shake out.

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