Commentary

Making U.S. Voters Happier, Not Safer

This article was published in the Japan Times, December 28, 2003.

“The capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer,” declared Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, and denunciations have rained down upon him. But Dean obviously was correct: “The capture of Saddam does not end” the coalition’s difficulties in Iraq.

Hussein’s capture is good news for the Iraqis. But his seizure has not made the world safer.

“Saddam Hussein is a homicidal maniac, brutal dictator, supporter of terrorism and enemy of the United States, and there should be no doubt that America and the world are safer with him captured,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat.

And Hussein was all of those things. But Hussein was ousted as Iraq’s president months ago. The pitiful thug hiding in a small, underground chamber had no ability to threaten anyone. Moreover, Hussein’s arrest highlights the fact that he doesn’t appear to have ever threatened America’s security. He apparently never possessed the kind of weapons that would have endangered the U.S.

Embarrassed by the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, the Bush administration has simply attempted to change topics. Officials emphasize that Hussein is a bad guy - true, along with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Iran’s passel of mullahs and quite a few other dictators around the world.

But before the war, U.S. President George W. Bush said “the threat from Iraq stands alone,” since that nation’s “weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell was quite specific in his U.N. Security Council presentation: “Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters” of anthrax and had accounted for none of it. “Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard [gas], 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents.”

Added Powell, Iraq had stockpiled “enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.” He calmly asserted, “Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons” and asked “when will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg?” Probably never, since we haven’t yet seen the visible part of the iceberg. Not one thimbleful of these materials has turned up.

Same goes for the “large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons — including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas; anthrax, botulism, and possibly smallpox” — of which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has spoken.

Reported David Kay, who headed America’s Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching for WMD: “Information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce and fill new CW munitions was reduced — if not entirely destroyed — during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions and inspections.”

Bush claimed that “we found biological laboratories.” Really? “We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile biological weapons production effort,” admitted Kay.

Finally, Powell pointed to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, that “are well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons.” In fact, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, says that the administration used a classified briefing to claim that Iraq had the capability of hitting American cities with UAVs. No ocean-spanning UAVs have been discovered.

Of course, maybe someone will eventually find something. And Hussein seemed to preserve program elements in the hopes of a future revival. But that isn’t the same thing.

Said Kay: “It clearly does not look like a massive, resurgent program, based on what we discovered.” Charles Duelfer, former deputy director of the U.N. inspections program, said: “It will probably turn out, in my judgment, that there are no existing weapons in Iraq, and that mildly surprises me.”

Bush has taken a different tack. When pressed by ABC TV’s Diane Sawyer on the issue, Bush responded that there was a “possibility” Hussein could acquire them. “So what’s the difference?” asked Bush? Well, any number of governments could do any number of bad things. That doesn’t mean that you have to bomb them today.

Even if Iraq had WMD, Hussein could have been deterred, as were Russia’s Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong, the two greatest mass murderers in human history (based on simple numbers). In fact, Gen. Waffic al Sammarai, head of Iraqi military intelligence during the Persian Gulf War, reported that implicit U.S. nuclear threats deterred Hussein from using WMD then: “The warning was quite severe and quite effective. The allied troops were certain to use nuclear arms and the price will be too dear and too high.”

Everyone is better off with Hussein out of power. But he apparently had no WMD, and thus was no threat to the U.S. or other allied states. Alas, America may ultimately find that it has made a more dangerous world by loosing the “dogs of war” in the Mideast.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.