Iraq: A Rushed Decision

April Glaspie shakes hands with Saddam Hussein

Friendly or Fauxy

In early 2003 Saddam Hussein had, at the very least, access to materials and designs for the production of weapons of mass destruction; furthermore, he would soon have had at his disposal the unfettered wealth of Iraqi oil fields. At that time President Bush appeared to be faced with a dilemma: either live with the coming critical mass of oil wealth and homicidal mania, or launch a preemptive war.

Most of us remained mesmerized by this either or, but in time I came to realize that there actually had been a third choice: delay the decision until the American (and world) public could be brought to understand the threat as he and those around him had to have perceived it.

Clearly, at that time, President Bush knew how uncertain was the presence of such weaponry. Some would say that this clarity extended to a knowledge of their not being there, but that claim would depend heavily upon the invasion itself for its hindsight. It could not have been his first lie; and I will go out on a twig to claim that he understood the risk of detection, but imagined it to be necessary because, leading up to this war, he and almost everyone else had been caught up in the prevailing notion of either or.

What follows are two conditions specific to that situation that cried out to be weighed in before invading Baathist Iraq. In fact, their being more broadly understood may even have alleviated the need for an invasion:

  1. Over a year and a half ago (see Middle East Revisited: Iraq), I noticed that the outrage centering upon the absence of chemical-agent weaponry had been moot. After all, for the wealthy, a filing cabinet of agent sources, recipes, and logistics would be much the same as an arsenal whose fuses were a bit longer.

An adviser at that time to President Bush recently (July 2008) echoed the same sentiment. That adviser knows whether the President was aware of this at the time; I don’t. There was nothing to be gained from half-lying our nation into an untimely decision. Such a Clintonesque half lie* could only perpetuate the mother of all distractions (the either-or of WMDs) and confuse everyone. Had Bush really failed to realize that the truth about a chemical WMD could be stronger than a lie about a nuclear WMD. Terrorists would gain; militias would gain; but not his administration, not our country.

On the other hand, what I’ve described, if known, could have stilled many opposed to a later decision were it to invade, while weakening Hussein’s position and possibly alleviating the need for any invasion. In any case, were there to be war, at least insurgents and terrorists would not have performed so successfully before world opinion.

  1. Two years ago (see Nuclear Assault) I elaborated the various actions by which a nation must be considered to have launched a nuclear attack. These criteria apply as well to any weapon of mass destruction. I paraphrase my original article into the current context.

There had been something missing from the 2003 confrontation with Iraq: less obvious actions constituting a WMD assault were not clarified. Likely to be misconstrued as saber-rattling, in fact such a declaration would bring with its openness a fairness both to those who may be otherwise confused and to those down wind from that confusion. Remember détente was grounded in an ongoing mutual clarity.

For me the following defines a chemical warfare assault:

  1. A particular nation:
    1. Acquires or produces a chemical warfare device.
    2. Or, being aware of a third party’s malicious intent, either delivers such a device to that party or supports its production.
  2. And with malice aforethought on the part of its possessor, said device:
    1. Is detonated.
    2. Or fails to only by virtue of a failure in its delivery or design.

An intermediary may at first conceal such an assault along with Iraqi culpability, but chemical warfare weapons leave a victim-nation far less room to maneuver than do conventional ones. How might international protocol deal with something this unclear when it is often meager before the clear? Ultimately each nation must survive upon its own judgment, but were this assault to have become an acknowledged,  internal guideline, all would benefit in that revelation.

* According to the husband of former CIA agent Valerie Plame (see or read Fair Game), Bush’s claim that the Hussein regime had nuclear weapons was a blatant lie.

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