My fellow Americans, there may be threatening amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There may not be. We’re not sure. And if they are there, it may take weeks after military victory before we can launch a major effort to find and secure them. By then, they could be gone–that is, if they were there in the first place–perhaps in the hands of people who mean us harm. And after we defeat Iraq’s brutal regime, the people of Iraq will welcome US troops as liberators. Then again, within days, many of them could be shouting, “Yankee, go home” and calling for a new government dominated by fundamentalist religious leaders. We don’t know. Nor do we really know the extent of any operational links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda–if such things exist. Still, I believe the potential risk posed by Saddam Hussein is so great that we cannot let what we do not know to stand in the way of decisive action. We cannot afford to guess wrong. With that in mind, I have ordered…
With Baghdad conquered, the fog of prewar has started to clear. And it now seems that had the Bush Administration been honest with the American public (and the world), its on-to-war pronouncements would have resembled the imaginary sequence above. Instead, Bush and his national security team–including ex officio members deployed in think tank bunkers and op-ed command centers–declared, without question or pause, that Iraq had dangerous levels of weapons of mass destruction and that it was “urgent,” as Bush said, to find and destroy these weapons. They also talked about birthing a democratic government in Iraq without acknowledging obstacles and potential traps. But, it turns out, the Administration was not on the level. Moreover, it was woefully unready to deal with the consequences of military victory.
Though Bush and other war cheerleaders had spoken of liberating Iraq, their main argument concerned the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The reason he was such an immediate danger, they said, was that he had these awful weapons and could, as Bush breathlessly noted, slip them to anti-American terrorists at any moment. Yet once US troops were in Iraq, the Bush Administration and the Pentagon adopted a rather lackadaisical approach to locating and securing such weapons. Weeks after the April 9 fall of Baghdad, the Pentagon was still in the process of assembling a survey team of 1,000 experts to search for chemical and biological weapons and signs of a nuclear weapons program. Why had this force not been ready to roll at the war’s start?
During an April 17 press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “I don’t think we’ll discover anything, myself. I think what will happen is we’ll discover people who will tell us where to go find it. It is not like a treasure hunt, where you just run around looking everywhere, hoping you find something…. The inspectors didn’t find anything, and I doubt that we will.” Imagine if Rumsfeld had said that before the war: We’re invading another country to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, but we won’t find them unless people there tell us where they are.
Bush had maintained that Saddam Hussein was a danger partly because he was close to possessing nuclear weapons. The US military, though, did not bother to visit Iraq’s number-one nuclear site. A Washington Post story noted that before the war the vast Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center held about 4,000 pounds of partially enriched uranium and more than ninety-four tons of natural uranium, as well as radioactive cesium, cobalt and strontium. This is stuff that would be valuable to people seeking to enrich uranium into weapons-grade material or merely interested in constructing a dirty bomb. Yet, the paper reported, “Defense officials acknowledge that the US government has no idea whether any of Tuwaitha’s potentially deadly contents have been stolen, because it has not dispatched investigations to appraise the site. What it does know, according to officials at the Pentagon and US Central Command, is that the sprawling campus, 11 miles south of Baghdad, lay unguarded for days and that looters made their way inside.”