When I saw the headline, I knew we were in trouble, The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons. Many conservatives have grabbed onto this headline and said, “See: Bush was right; there were weapons of mass destruction!” That’s not what the story is about. In fact, it is kind of the opposite. And if you think about it for a couple of seconds you will realize this. At least, you will unless your brain is so caught in a partisan haze that thinking is impossible.
As C J Chivers wrote in the article, “From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.” If that proved that Bush the Younger’s Excellent Mesopotamian Adventure was right, why did his administration hide this information? Because it didn’t prove that. Finding these old stores of chemical weapons was an embarrassment.
You may remember that Saddam Hussein used to be one of our guys. He was fighting Iran and we hate Iran because our foreign policy is run like a high school cheerleading clique. And what did we do for our “mother from another brother for a day”? We provided him with chemical weapons. Chivers expained, “In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.”
Let’s remember back to 2002 and all the rhetoric used to sell the war. Remember: the idea for the war was not popular before the six-month advertising campaign for it. Max Fisher over at Vox provided a couple of good quotes from the time:
The Bush administration hit this argument repeatedly. Then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice claimed that Saddam was running a clandestine nuclear program that was only “six months from a crude nuclear device.” She argued that this program was so imminent, and so clearly designed to target the United States, that a US invasion was the only option: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Of course, even at the time, it was clear that the WMD claim was a smokescreen. For one thing, the definition of WMDs is vague and broad. I was shocked when Hussein didn’t have some kind of program that the administration could use to claim vindication. But I guess when you go around talking about nuclear weapons within six months, you need something more than big cannons. Even still, I never saw any person in the administration talk about this stuff without thinking they were lying.
I especially remember people using a rhetorical tap dance about how those who didn’t know were talking while those who did know weren’t. The implication is, “I’m not giving you any information and that’s why you know you can trust me.” It was madness and yet it was accepted. There was also Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns” comment. But it included a very telling bit, “Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist.” Technically true. This is the point of Russell’s teapot. But no one seriously thinks we should start looking for a teapot orbiting the sun just because we don’t have evidence of it.
The WMD lie was a big part of selling the Iraq War. But the arguement made by the administrtation was never, “Saddam Hussein has WMDs we sold him and they are stockpiled someplace he probably doesn’t even know about.” It was, “Iraq has an active WMD program.” In fact, it was even more than this with talk of nuclear arms and the intent to strike the United States. The new reporting in The New York Times is more evidence that this was not the case.