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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hypothetical Weapons of Mass Destruction (HWMD) in Iraq

The HWMD discussion is back. Josh Marshall raises the issue and explains what he meant, arguing that, although Matt Yglesias is right that it would be crazy to invade Iraq to do a bit of nation building, the actual rational was WMD. Atrios argues that Marshall should have known there were no WMD in Iraq. Marshall explains what he meant here so I will debate the hypothetical Marshall who said what Marshall seemed to have said about HWMD.

HMarshall "The notional reason for what happened in 2002 and early 2003 was not to overthrow the Iraqi government but to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction program. To many it seemed that the latter almost necessarily required the former. And under the erroneous information then considered conventional wisdom, that reasoning had a certain logic."

Bad slip that "had a certain logic" which is mild praise indeed. Rereading it is clear that Marshall's point as explained was Marshall's true point. Also it seems Atrios understood and agrees.

Still mild praise for the idea of invading Iraq because it had some WMD is crazy. I still believe what I wrote March 13 2003

I think it would be tolerable if Saddam Hussein kept stocks of weapons of mass destruction. An absolutely agreed point in say the security council debate is that Iraq must be disarmed. Opponents of invasion implausibly claim that this can be done by inspections. This seems absurd to me given the size of Iraq and the volume of, say, 10,000 liters of anthrax (I might have that in my garage for all you know). However, I am fairly confident that the anthrax will not be used by terrorists. Note that the anthrax that has been used by terrorists was bred in the USA. More importantly note that this is known. The anthrax can be identified because different strains of anthrax are genetically different. I believe we know what strains of anthrax Iraq has because they were imported from the USA with Bush sr administration permission. In any case two things seem clear. Anthrax was traced to a source so reliably that no one contests the claim (note the Bush administration has not even hinted that the anthrax in Daschle’s office might have come from Iraq and they are not very worried about making accusations which turn out to be untrue). I also have no doubt that if the anthrax had come from Iraq (or more exactly not from any known stock outside of Iraq) then we would have invaded long ago (with international support). So if I were in Saddam’s shoes I would make sure that any anthrax I had didn’t get used by terrorists. Saddam is not me in his shoes, but I don’t think he is quite that stupid. On the other hand I can tell two worrisome stories about Iraqi anthrax and terrorists each of which requires the assumption that we invade. First, when Saddam knows he is done for (that is when the invasion starts) he decides to take some of us with him and gives anthrax to some terrorist. I think he could manage that. Why isn’t that a strong argument against invading ?

And so still believe what I wrote on April 22 2003.

by now I am much less concerned, since I suspect that Iraq contained little to sell. How odd that the invasion of Iraq which Bush said was necessary, because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction seems a much less bad idea to me now that I hope that Iraq had few or no weapons of mass destruction.

So let's do the hypothetical. What if there had been chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. Don't you think it would be likely (not certain) that Zarqawi would have his hands on some of that stuff by now ? Do think he would hesitate to use it ? Do you think that, bad as it was to invade a WMDless Iraq it would have been much worse to invade an Iraq with WMD ?

The debate seemed insane to me then. Subsequent evidence leads me to think it was totally totally insane.

How is it that the risk that WMD would fall into the hands of terrorists only if we invaded is still not discussed after they have gotten their hands on some of everything that was dangerous in Iraq ?

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