AP on Iraq: Weak Case


A widely reprinted AP analysis of the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq is pretty devastating.

Writes Charles J. Hanley:

The most detailed U.S. case for invading Iraq was laid out Feb. 5 in a U.N. address by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Six months later, months of war and revelation, the Powell case can be examined in a new light, analyzed here by an AP correspondent who was in Baghdad, Iraq, when Powell made his case for war.

Six months after that Feb. 5 appearance, the file does look thin.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Patriot:

    “As for the embarrassment you feel, perhaps it stems more from the fact that the US set up Saddam in the first place, enabling him to exploit and torture his citizens. Btw, this was the case in quite a few countries in the Middle East and Africa during the cold war. Perhaps, interventionism isn?t the only answer after all, but we keep plugging away at it. ?This time it will work!?”

    The fact that the US has set up many of these regimes argues in favor of us removing them. Don’t you think we have that responsibility?

    As for Saddam not using his WMDs…he believes, that the US would leave the instant some lefty journalist used the q-word. After we’re gone, he’d crawl out from undr seom rock, with his VX nerve gas ready to go.

    Perhaps the thing that puzzles me so much about anti-war sentiment in this case, is why so many want Bush to justify his actions. Why so many are anxious to call Bush a liar. Why is there never a call for tyrants like Hussein to justify their actions? Why not point out the lies told by Hussein? Question the merits of war if you like, question the logistics, but how can you question the actions of the US and not at the same time question the actions of Saddam?

    If we did not strike Iraq, what would the alternative be?

    Consider this, would anyone have supported removing the Taliban based on evidence that a handful of Saudis were taking flight lessons on expired visas?

  2. “Good article, but I think it ignores the most important evidence of all: he didn’t use any WMD’s while being removed from power.
    Posted by Patriot at August 11, 2003 10:30 AM ”

    So if Saddam deployed chemical weapons and killed a few hundred or thousand US troops, “Patriot” would stop complaining? Maybe if Saddam had nuked US forces, “Patriot” would be contributing money to GWB’s reelection.

  3. “The proof lies in the fact that he didn?t use his WMD?s.”

    That proves nothing. The German’s had planes and plans that they didn’t get to use before the end of WWII. When your army’s in the process of getting rolled up commands are sent that simply never get executed, preplanned actions don’t occur, trigger pullers drop their guns and run. Further Saddam did use prohibited weapons, ballistic missiles, which he wasn’t supposed to have and that the AP report simply dismisses.

    And all of that ignores the fact that the burden of proof was on Saddam to prove that he didn’t have WMD’s by allowing unimpeded inspections. Even assuming intelligence gaffs and the worse possible interpetation of the data by the Bush administration, the whole thing could’ve been prevented by Saddam throwing open the doors on every building Powell mentioned and turning a pack of journalists/scientists loose, which would have placed the onus back on the US to have absolute proof before pursuing any particular course.

  4. “Floyd”

    Your argument doesn’t make a lot of sense because I would have said that we shouldn’t have invaded either way.

    Bush said going in that Saddam would probably use his WMD’s on invading forces (now whether or not that was a bluff because he knew Saddam didn’t have them, I’ll leave up to you). It was clear that the invasion would be the trigger for using them.

  5. Nothing new in this editorial; it still comes down to whether or not someone is predisposed to assume that European parliamentarians and Baath regime science advisors are completely unbiased and honest and our own officials have nefarious ulterior motives.

    UN inspectors dismiss the F-1 footage as pre-1991 (their opinion and no one is clamoring for corroborating evidence on their part ? because of their bias free thinking I suppose) while our own troops are digging up relatively new MiG 25s.

    And on and on, blah blah blah.

    This AP piece is strictly editorial in content while revealing nothing new and still ignores the fact that Saddam did have WMD at one time and no one can account for what may have become of that previous stash. And Nick G. proclaims this ?pretty devastating.?

    Pretty devastating to any notion of Nick?s objectivity.

  6. Patriot,

    Bush actually said that Saddam “would probably use WMD on the invading forces?”

    I don’t think so. You’ll have to link that speech.

  7. Heinz,

    That argument would hold a lot more water if we had any reason for confidence that the U.S. was acting in good faith TODAY. That would require us to believe that what they did in the past was just a “mistake,” and they were motivated by some genuine desire to “put things right” today.

    But it’s the same gang of cutthroats in the national security state, both times. They put bloody-handed thugs like Marcos, Suharto and Somoza in power, and then cut the rug out from under them when they become a liability. In all cases, the motivation is the same–to make the world safe for a few mercantilist predators.

  8. >> Somebody will probably “stumble across” them a little closer to November 2004

    Among the tinfoil hat crowd, Bush is damned either way. He lied…no wait, he found them you know what that means (wink wink). Such honest debate…

    >>In all cases, the motivation is the same–to make the world safe for a few mercantilist predators.

    With such mindless reductionism why should anyone bother to comment? Kevin has it all figured out. The US is evil, therefor the US is evil.

  9. Charles J. Hanley, who wrote the AP story, is one very biased journalist who has used his post to agitate against the war.

  10. Within the first few paragraphs, the AP guy (and by association now – Gillespie, Patriot and Kevin) holds the Ba’athist science advisor up as an immediately credible source. The unnamed European parliamentarian is automatically an objective and unbiased person and all UN inspectors are proven experts in their field with no other goals but to exercise their judgement as evenly as possible.

    All the while, any American evil enough to suggest that Saddam might have bio/chem weapons and the will to use them, . . . wait, that part has already been proven.

    So what Kevin and Nick are meaning to say is, despite Saddam’s proven possession and use of bio/chem weapons, they believe his regime’s declarartions of peaceful intentions now, and President Bush is just, well, I guess just evil.

    Makes perfect sense now. I feel better with that all cleared up.

  11. Patriot,

    (from 1998):

    Secretary Cohen: As I indicated yesterday, this is a very large country with facilities spread throughout a country the size of the State of California. We have selected those targets which pose the greatest risk to the region, both from a chemical and biological and, indeed, even potentially nuclear capability, and the means to deliver them. We believe that we have inflicted substantial damage upon his capability to do so.

    Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give us an assessment of the damage to the security forces, particularly as regards their ability to conceal weapons of mass destruction and protect Saddam Hussein himself?

    Secretary Cohen: I think it’s too early for us to make that assessment. We don’t have sufficient information at this time. What we intend to do is to make sure that that containment policy stays in place and that he comply with those Security Council resolutions. We will keep our forces in place as they’ve been in place for a number of years now. We will be at the ready should he try to reconstitute those facilities or pose a threat to the region. We’ll be prepared to act again in the future.

    Q:…without inspectors inside Iraq, will the U.S. military role be increased? Will additional forces or activity on the part of the U.S. military be required?

    Secretary Cohen: We will have sufficient forces in place to take whatever action will be necessary.

    Q: Mr. Secretary, you offered one qualitative measure, one on the missile R&D program. Do you have any other qualitative measures from this campaign, how far you’ve pushed back him rebuilding command and control, air defense, chem/bio production? Any other qualitative measures?

    Secretary Cohen: I think it’s too early to tell at this point. We’ve tried to show through some of these photographs the facilities that have been substantially diminished and degraded and in some cases destroyed in order to indicate that it may take a year or longer to rebuild them. That would pertain also to his missile production facility and several others.

    Q: Is what we’ve achieved here, with all due respect, simply halting Saddam for a year?

    Secretary Cohen: A year or more [is what]it would take to rebuild any of these facilities. And I wouldn’t want to minimize the impact of the containment policy. It will be much more difficult for him with the containment policy still in place to rebuild any sooner, and it may take him much longer.

    Q: Mr. Secretary, are you even going after his chem and bio research, development and production facilities? The industrial base you talk about, you’ve still got the delivery means… You talked about sustaining, for mainly delivery means. Are you going after the R&D and the manufacturing…

    Secretary Cohen: I thought we’d indicated consistently in the past that it’s very difficult to try to target biological facilities, manufacturing facilities, since it could take place in a room the size of this one right here under the roof of any building.


    I ask the following not in hostility, but because I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from opponents of Iraqi Freedom:

    Given that Operation Desert Fox was launched to destroy Saddam’s WMD facilities, and that Sec. Cohen said he expected they could be rebuilt within a year (Dec 19, 1998), isn’t it true that Bush had every reason to believe they had done so?

    Wouldn’t a reasonable person accusing Bush of a lie have to admit that the prior administration must also have lied?

    Conversely, if Clinton told the truth, doesn’t it necessarily follow that Bush is as well?

  12. Several have commented that since Saddam chose not to use his WMD, it naturally follows that he could not have had them. There have been a few counterarguments, which I find convincing, but let me offer the following historical example that might be useful:

    Hitler DID have WMD (anyone wish to dispute this?), along with means to deliver them, and a military that had some not inconsiderable institutional understanding of their employment. Despite numerous opportunities (particularly on the eastern front) against an enemy that he (and much of his leadership) considered subhuman, there was never any serious attempt to use these weapons, even at the very end of the regime. This isn’t to suggest that there was some sort of moral or ethical restraint at work (I think we can all agree that Hitler was not likely to have much of either), but it is clear that merely having the weapons doesn’t mean that even the most evil posessor would necessarily use them.

    One can speculate endlessly as to whether or not WMD exists or (if and when) they will be found, but their (putative) non-use during the war proves absolutely nothing unless you are desparately looking for a reason to condemn Bush in the first place.

  13. WMD “non-use” (coinage?) can be as simple as tactical error. It is more likely to be strategic error, in that Saddam never expected the speed at which our forces advanced, nor did he truly beleive we would go through with the invasion.

    The entree of the inspectors caused him to hide them, better than they had been hidden during the first round of deceit, and then suddenly: invasion.
    Bio weapons are weapons of attrition, subjugation, not defensive. The effects are too slow to halt an advance.
    Chem weapons, well, we were ready for them, and thus Saddam may have made the tactical decision that his own side might lose more troops than our side. He used them primarily on unarmed civilians anyway.

    Lastly, it is likely our psy-ops achieved the intended purpose. The mass surrenders and white flags 3ID and 101 met with tell me they were listening. Also, Saddam knew about an informant in his midst.

    Or he may have already sold them to terrorists.

    But to say: they didn’t use them, and thus they never existed is specious. “I have a magic Martian repellant. It works: do you see any Martians?” is a similar fallacy.

    I wonder: with the UN, Congress, other nations’ intelligence, our own leadership all insisting that Saddam did not unilaterally destroy his known weapons in 1998 after the inspectors left, why is there still a willful, earnest desire by Kevin and Patriot and others to believe only one voice, namely that of Saddam Hussein?

  14. Hanley’s right : we were duped by a dope !!!

    Bring back Saddam.

  15. Saddam didn’t use the weapons because then the war (and Bush) would have appeared justified. He knew he stood absolutely no chance whatsoever of stopping American forces. So what’s the point of making Bush appear right?

  16. Some fo you folks are scary… never willing to ask a pointed question or two. Always willing to beleive someone who found out something no one else could figure out. Puh-lease!!


  17. With regard to the comments that the “US set Saddam up” ala Suharto, Somoza, etc., this is untrue. Saddam seized power without the help of the US. And back in the late 1970s, one Ba’athist strongman looked pretty much like any other. There was no reason then for us to think that he was going to be more bloody-minded than his predecessors.

    In the Iran-Iraq war we did provide some tactical intelligence to Saddam — we had 52 reasons for doing so (i.e., the number of American hostages the Iranians had held). Our contribution, loathsome in retrospect as it is, pales compared to the arms sold to Iraq by the Soviet Union (and then Russia), France and China. Fully 57% of Saddam’s foreign arms purchases were provided by USSR/Russia, 13% by China, and 12% by France from 1979 t0 1990. The US provided less than 1% of these arms, and none after 1990.

    The condemnation of the US, then, for “setting up” Saddam, should be balanced by even more vociferous condemnations of Russia, China and France for helping Saddam arm and thus remain in power as long as he did.

  18. Sometime in the next decade, radical, fascist Islam is likely to come into the possession of anywhere from a handful to a couple of hundred nuclear weapons . Other WMDs will also be in their arsenal.

    The debate over whether or not Bush and others lied about the exact specifics of Saddam Hussein’s wmd program, when the evidence is overwhelming of Saddam’s intentions with respect to wmds, is to completely miss the point of our current context.

    We may shortly have to consider what to do to secure the 70 or so nuclear weapons in Pakistan in the event of a radical Islamic takeover of the government there. If you cannot morally justify the relatively minor military losses to free a people from the grip of one of the vilest dictators, and to change the public perception of the United States as a feckless appeaser, then you are completely unequipped to deal with the choices that will shortly face us all.

    The descent of REASON into this intellectual quaqmire is particularly disheartening, when the value of rationality in western civilization is so beseiged everywhere.

  19. That’s ‘besieged’….sigh…

  20. Nothing new in this editorial; it still comes down to whether or not someone is predisposed to assume that European parliamentarians and Baath regime science advisors are completely unbiased and honest and our own officials have nefarious ulterior motives.

    Yes! Ditto! Ditto!

    Has anyone read Ken Pollack’s book? Anyone at all?

    It’s not too late.

    There was no one on the planet, going into the war, who didn’t think the guy had WMD and planned to use it. No one.

    The reason nobody thought that was that he’d already used his WMD twice. It wasn’t a secret. You can look it up.

    How any sentient person can conclude that Saddam:
    A) had WMD that he —
    B) used twice, after which he —
    C) threw out UNSCOM so that he could —
    D) unilaterally destroy his entire WMD program while —
    E) keeping it a secret from the entire world —
    is beyond me.

    It’s not even possible to unilaterally destroy a WMD program unless you lobotomize the scientists in charge; if you’ve got the scientists, you’ve got the program.

    Or, assuming for the sake of argument that you’ve deliberately let yourself run low on the actual chems and germs you used to slaughter the Iranians and the Kurds, if you’ve got the scientists you’ve got the ability to re-start the program when the coast is clear. Scientists don’t suddenly forget how to make nerve gas.

    Saddam had the scientists–we know that, because we’re interviewing them–they all still had jobs. So what were they doing? Curing cancer?

    As for Hanley’s fish-in-the-barrel approach to Powell’s presentation: this is exactly what was done to the Clinton White House when Clinton bombed the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. During the ensuing wag-the-dog scandal the staff released some of the intelligence on which they’d based that decision. The press stomped it all to death. Instead of looking at the pattern these bits and pieces formed–instead of “connecting the dots” (remember that?)–reporters like Hanley took each piece of intel separately and mauled it; just grabbed it by the neck and shook it ’til it was dead. (Ever see a dog do that to a ground hog? Same thing.)

    Nobody wrote articles on Bin Laden, or on terrorism, or on the growing threat the country faced. Just “the president lied.” That was the narrative. (For the full deja-vu read The Age of Sacred Terror.) Duped by a dope for sure.

    Here’s a passage from the intro to the 9/11 inquiry:

    “Our review confirmed that, shortly after bin Laden’s May 1998 press conference, the community began to acquire intelligence that bin Laden’s network intended to strike within the United States. . .

    “These intelligence reports . . . generally did not contain specific information as to where, when, and how a terrorist attack might occur, and, generally, they were not corroborated. Second, these reports represented a small percentage of the threat information that the intelligence community obtained during this period, . . . . Third, the credibility of the sources providing this information was sometimes questionable.

    “While one could not, as a result, give too much credence to some of the individual reports, the totality of the information in this body of reporting clearly reiterated a consistent and critically important theme: bin Laden’s intent to launch terrorist attacks within the United States.”

    Intelligence isn’t facts, it’s patterns. It’s being able to see the forest when everyone else thinks all they’re looking at is a bunch of trees.

    Intelligence is knowing when weak, circumstantial evidence has reached a critical threshold. That’s well beyond the capabilities of a writer like Hanley I would imagine.

    On the chance that anyone is interessted, the introduction to Dany Shoham’s article on Iraq and the anthrax attacks discusses the connection between circumstantial evidence and the truth:

    The Anthrax Evidence Points to Iraq
    International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 16: 39?68, 2003
    Copyright # 2003 Taylor & Francis
    0885-0607/03 $12.00 + .00
    DOI: 10.1080=08850600390121467

    You can find it on the web.

  21. Cliff, unfortunately you have hit this nail on the proverbial head.

  22. As a libertarian who thought that an armed (or arming) Saddam Hussein was enough of a threat to U.S. interest that he ought to be taken out, I am utterly ashamed of (1)administration’s mendacity (2)my own gullibility and (3)the continuing prevarication and unwillingness to admit error on the part of administration defenders.

  23. Good article, but I think it ignores the most important evidence of all: he didn’t use any WMD’s while being removed from power.

  24. Megadittos Chuck. . . I’m a little surprised at my own gullibility in retrospect as well. . .

    About the best the administration’s defenders can do at this point is posit rope-a-dope theories whereby WMD will suddenly turn up 6 months from now and everyone attacking Bush will look like a fool, etc. Certainly not impossible, but looks a little desperate at this point. Like the insistence that we *will* eventually bring Saudi Arabia to justice for 9/11. One of these days. It’s on the “to do” list. Really.

  25. Speaking of a “to do” list, what are we now “to do” with our mendacious, prevaricating, literally bloody administration and the terror war they have spun up?

    Some advocate impeachment. I thought Clinton was impeachable for lying under oath, regardless of the topic of the lie. I clearly remember Clinton’s defenders saying things like, “well, its not as if he lied about life-and-death matters of state…” That argument failed to sway me then.

    So now we have Clinton’s successor, caught lying, or at least rushing to deadly action on flimsy pretexts, in life-and-death matters of state. Not to mention any number of apparent civil liberties violations, enthusiastically conducted under color or law. Don’t even get me started on the bogus drug war, which, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, has ratcheted up in the past year or so, even to the point that the Federal Government is doing everything it can to influence local and regional elections on the issues of drug legalization and medical marijuana.

    Will we impeach this President? Wait until 2004 and simply neglect to rehire him? Or re-elect him for another four years? I think this particular case is definitely up to the people, and we will soon see a demonstration of the real American character, for good or ill.

  26. I am not impressed with the AP article. The fact that some (probably leftist) European officials and journalists were “on the ground” in Iraq and didn’t see any of the evidence laid out by Powell does not discredit the Bush administration’s arguments. Does anyone think that Saddam would let anyone find his arsenal so easilly?

    He has in fact tried to build nukes, and used chemical weapons. Bill Clinton and Albreit laid out many similar arguments for action against Iraq in 1998 as Bush did in 2003. The UN passed numerous resolutions ackowledging Iraq’s WMD ambitions.

    Leftists in this country are desperately trying to find some scandal to smear this president, and one line of a speech is the best they can do.

    The only thing Bush is guilty of, is being inarticulate. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, a free nation, such as ours, has every right to invade and remove from power a tyrant, who literally tourutures his population. Why? Because Saddam Hussein has no rightful claim to govern.

    A few weeks ago, an Iraqi scientist showed US troops were a Uranium enrichment centruifuge was buried. We have also found buried jet fighters (that Iraq was not supposed to have). What else is buried in the sand?

    Perhaps Bush exagerated, but I’m more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt than I am to leftist Europeans and liberals in the media with an axe to grind.

  27. Frankly, I’m surprised the WMD’s haven’t already “suddenly turned up,” if you know what I mean. Somebody will probably “stumble across” them a little closer to November 2004, eh?

  28. Hovig

    The proof lies in the fact that he didn’t use his WMD’s. What would be his motivation for not using them? Odds are he’s going to be killed and deposed rather easily. What motivation would he have for not striking while he has a chance? The answer, I’m afraid, is all too simple – he doesn’t have said weapons. Simple deduction.

    As for the embarrassment you feel, perhaps it stems more from the fact that the US set up Saddam in the first place, enabling him to exploit and torture his citizens. Btw, this was the case in quite a few countries in the Middle East and Africa during the cold war. Perhaps, interventionism isn’t the only answer after all, but we keep plugging away at it. “This time it will work!”

    “This is only to say that I feel the Bush Adm did the right thing morally, socially, politically, and historically, and that if the world cannot intellectually justify what they did, we need to try harder.”

    Apparently, we cannot question a war anymore. Bush has done everything in the name of righteousness. He should have to pass rigorous tests to justify his actions.

  29. Kevin:

    I have almost NO doubt they will.

  30. I am a long-time (like 10-12 years) subscriber to Reason mag, and I must observe that libertarianism is a valid philosophy to bring to domestic policy in a functioning democratic republic, but this thread and many others like it at Reason and other libertarian sites (CATO, and others)have convinced me that libertarianism is NOT an effective approach to international affairs, except to some degree economics and trade. Others, already posted, have made the points I would make regarding this specific issue, but it seems to me that libertarianism cannot function when information is being wilfully distorted and when there are is no “controlling authority” to keep everyone playing by the rules. Smith, Hayek and Mises are great but their game is not the one played by Palmerston, Metternich, Talleyarand and Kissinger.

  31. The distortions I referred to above are NOT from the Bushies, their worst crime is being inarticulate (as a previous post said)… it is the Hanleys and antiwart crowd who have been incredibly dishonest and continue to be.

  32. There has been NO WMD in Iraq since 1991.

    BUSH LIED. Control the oil, control the world. THAT is Bush’s plan; it has ALWAYS been Bush’s plan. He started working on his plan the SECOND DAY IN OFFICE.

    For the Busheviks;

    As for Saddam killing 300,000 Iraqis…BULL. Go read the recent Human Rights Watch report, the report that says humanitarian CAN NOT be used as justification for invasion.

    And WHERE WERE YOU when in 1994, estimated 500,000 people were massacred over 100 days in Rwanda???


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