After British Prime Minister (and George W. Bush sidekick) Tony Blair issued a 55-page white paper on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction several days ago, The Washington Post slapped a story on the front page headlined, “Blair: Iraq Can Deploy Quickly.” The subhead read, “Report Presents New Details On Banned Arms.” The New York Times similarly noted, “Blair Says Iraqis Could Launch Chemical Weapons in Minutes.” As a counterbalance of sorts, its subhead said, “Sees Nuclear Weapon Capability in 1 to 5 Years.”
Both articles conveyed the impression that Iraq is an immediate threat and that Blair supports Bush’s dash to war–which in a way he does. But the “dossier” Blair unveiled–based on British intelligence work–made the case for renewed weapons inspections, not war. In the foreword to the report, Blair states, “The case I make is that the UN Resolutions demanding [Saddam Hussein] stops his WMD programme are being flouted; that since the inspectors left four years ago he has continued with this programme, that the inspectors must be allowed back in to do their job properly.” If Saddam blocks the return of the inspectors or “makes it impossible for them to do their job,” Blair declares, “the international community will have to act.” But Blair, Bush’s closest ally in the campaign against Saddam, is clearly saying an attempt to revive the weapons inspection program should occur before the United States and Britain wage war against Iraq. That is not how the media characterized his presentation. And it is not the White House position.
Most of Blair’s white paper was devoted to detailing threat indicators–noting Saddam’s long history of developing and seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iran in the 1980s. It warns that Iraq possesses a useable chemical and biological weapons capability–without being specific about these weapons–and that it can “deploy” (which is not the same as “launch”) some within 45 minutes. This may only mean that Iraq can quickly disseminate mustard gas on a battlefield–which would hardly be a surprise. Or a reason to preemptively attack.
The report offers no intelligence insights as to Saddam’s intentions and plans. Citing intelligence sources, it says Saddam “believes that respect for Iraq rests on its possessions of these weapons and the missiles capable of delivering them.” This is no newsflash. In fact, it undermines the argument that Saddam is a danger because he is likely to share such weapons with others–say, al Qaeda. The report contains no claim that Saddam is near any weapon breakthrough or about to engage in recklessly hostile activity. That is, no reason why an invasion must occur right away.