Needing Help From Abby

Dear Abby,Perhaps I am self-delusional, but I judge myself to be a reasonably intelligent and well-informed person. Yet, I am having difficulty resolving seemingly irreconcilable ideas. How could evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) be so compelling before the war, yet one year later after the liberation of Iraq WMD stockpiles have not been found? I am reduced to asking for help from an adice columnist.

It is clear that virtually every intelligence organization in the world prior to the war concluded that the Iraqi regime possessed WMD of one sort or the other. The US did. The British did. The French did. The Germans did. The Russians did. Even the United Nations Security Council collectively concluded that Iraq had not complied with its obligations to rid itself of WMD and related programs. Iraq had even acknowledged possession of significant quantities of anthrax and other agents and could or would never provide proof of their destruction. Moreover, if Saddam would have simply provided evidence that the regime had rid itself of WMD, then he would have had access to billions of dollars of additional oil revenue. If he had demonstrably renounced WMD and consequently allowed the world to withdraw economic sanctions, he could have waited a decent interval and re-started his WMD program. Abby, help me with my dilemma: stockpiles of WMD have not been found, yet if Saddam had no WMD program why did he endure economic sanctions for a decade?

Though post-war inspections teams have found evidence of WMD laboratories and evidence of long range missile systems in violation of the Gulf War cease fire, but they have not yet found anticipated stockpiles of WMD.

Abby, there are some possible explanations. Perhaps with your help the apparent inconsistencies with these explanations can be resolved.

The WMD Were Hidden or Transferred: Given the several month run-up to liberation by Coalition forces, Saddam’s regime certainly had sufficient time to effectively hide his WMD or transfer stockpiles to Syria or elsewhere. It is very easy to hide the small volume required for militarily significant amounts of WMD, so perhaps there are still dangerous stockpiles that have not been located. Saddam’s regime has been known to bury entire planes to keep them from the prying eyes of Western surveillance. Yet, one would imagine that the inspections teams by now would have been able to persuade at least some of Saddam’s weapons experts to indicate where such WMD might be hidden.

The transfer of WMD to Syria is problematic as well. Saddam would not be anxious to supply WMD to Syria and thereby increase the relative power of a neighbor and competitor. Nonetheless, there is precedent for this behavior. Before Gulf War I in 1991, Saddam sent many of his fighter aircraft to Iran, a former mortal enemy, rather than have his entire air force destroyed by the Americans. Not surprisingly, Iran never returned the aircraft.

Iraqi WMD Were Destroyed Long Ago: Is it possible that Saddam long ago destroyed his WMD stockpiles, but was unwilling to admit it for fear that he would be vulnerable to attack from his regional enemies or from the United States? However, this explanation is also unpersuasive. If Saddam was so fearful of his enemies, relying on a deception about possession of WMD would be a precarious arrangement. If these enemies came to realize that Saddam had no WMD, the deterrence and respect they provided would immediately evaporate. Why risk the possibility of enemies discovering that his WMD cupboards were bare? It would be more in Saddam’s self-interest to keep WMD stockpiles while constantly thwarting international inspections in the hope that the international community would weary of the hunt and eventually drop economic sanctions altogether. Then Saddam would have WMD, without the cost of sanctions.

Saddam Was Fooled: A third scenario is that the world’s intelligence agencies were so convinced that Saddam’s regime possessed WMD because Saddam was erroneously convinced he did. Perhaps Saddam’s weapons engineers were truly unable to stockpile WMD under the watchful gaze of weapons inspectors or were too slow in WMD development. Rather than face the anger of a frustrated Saddam, these engineers tricked Saddam into believing that Iraq had WMD. How would Saddam know whether a particular barrel was filled with a chemical agent or with water?

However, this explanation also has its weaknesses. As much as the inability to construct WMD might raise the lethal ire of Saddam, being caught lying to Saddam would probably pose an even greater peril. Surely, someone would have found it to their temporary political advantage to inform upon others who were deceiving Saddam about WMD.

Should not additional information have cleared issues up one year later? Abby, how is it that some potentially revealing interesting developments have not received attention or reasonable scrutiny in the popular press?

Early this year, routine screening found a barrel containing several pounds of “yellow cake,” uranium oxide, in a shipment of junk metal from Jordon to Rotterdam. Uranium oxide can be refined into enriched uranium, a potential fuel for a nuclear weapon. The presence of the yellow cake was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. An investigation found that the Jordanian junk dealer was acting in good faith and that the likely source of the material was Iraq. Uranium oxide is not found naturally in barrels. Someone in the Middle East region, Jordan, Syria, or Iraq was the source of material and the matter is directly relevant to determining which of the above three scenarios is the most likely. Abby, am I missing something, or is this an important clue here?

This last month, Jordan claims to have thwarted an attack by Al Qaeda that would have used chemical agents, potentially killing tens of thousands. Now the Jordanian government is not particularly reliable, but there seems to be very little reason for it to create this incident. Abby, should not evidence that Al Qaeda operatives, in the geographic vicinity of Syria and Iraq, have chemical weapon capability be the subject of intense scrutiny and interest?

Perhaps it is difficult for news organizations to untangle the circuitous route of nuclear material or uproot Al Qaeda plots in Jordan, but they should at least by apply pressure to authorities to track down clues to the disposition of Iraqi WMD. Why are these cases not leading the evening news? If they have been debunked, let’s hear the evidence? Silence is not sufficient. Abby, can you help me understand?

— Still Confused

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