Why has it taken so long for the Pentagon and the Bush Administration to seriously search for weapons of mass destruction?
At a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Stephen Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence, noted that prior to the war the Pentagon had compiled a list of about 600 suspected WMD sites. “As it stands now, we have been to about 70 sites that we were looking to cover,” he said, adding that US military teams had also visited another 40 that were not on the original list.
This hardly seems like an anti-WMD blitzkrieg. It’s been nearly a month since Baghdad fell, and most potential WMD sites have not been visited. Moreover, Cambone reported that the Pentagon was still at work assembling what it is calling the Iraq Survey Group, which will be sent to Iraq to search for individuals, records and materials related to WMD. This unit will be composed of 1300 experts and 800 support staff. But the hunt for WMD will only be one of its tasks. Its mission will also include uncovering information related to Saddam Hussein’s regime, his intelligence services, terrorist outfits that might have had a presence in Iraq, any connections between the regime and terrorist organizations, war crimes and POWs. Cambone emphasized that the Iraq Survey Group’s WMD responsibilities will be “only a part” of this “very large undertaking.” And this unit will not begin to arrive in Iraq until the end of May.
Before the war, President Bush and his lieutenants repeatedly said that the United States had absolutely no choice but to move quickly against Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from passing WMD to anti-American terrorist groups like al Qaeda. But the Pentagon has not been acting as if it took the threat of WMD transfers seriously. If there were WMD present in Iraq and there were terrorists in Iraq shopping for WMD and Saddam Hussein was an al Qaeda “ally” (as Bush said during his speech on the USS Lincoln), then it would seem that the White House and the Pentagon should have been damn scared that, as a result of the war, these terrorists would have the chance to grab WMD-related material and skedaddle. Certainly, it would have been reasonable to assume that if Saddam Hussein believed his final hour was approaching he would be more likely to greenlight a hand-off of WMD to al Qaeda. Yet the Bush White House and the Pentagon seem not to have planned for such contingencies. They have been geared more toward finding evidence of WMD (which would help Bush justify the war) rather than thwarting the threat supposedly posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.