Column: Saddam responsible for weapons of mass destruction confusion

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

For weeks Washington has been the site of a colossal game of hot potato over who’s to “blame” for the Iraq war. Or, more specifically, who’s to blame for the “bad intelligence” over Iraq’s as-of-yet-undiscovered stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Before the war, the nearly universal consensus among our intelligence agencies – as well as the agencies of pretty much all of our allies – was that Saddam had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was probably working on a nuclear program as well.

While the findings from our WMD bloodhound David Kay have been more serious than the mainstream press have generally reported, it’s certainly true that the reality isn’t matching up to the pre-war predictions – so far.

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Since this fact feeds the generally ludicrous “Bush lied” mantra, Senate Republicans on the Select Committee on Intelligence are reportedly preparing a steamy pile of blame for CIA Director George Tenet.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats very much want the blame to be left in a burning bag at the White House’s doorstep. That’s why – cynics like me think – the Dems are leaping to the defense of Mr. Tenet.

Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, declared, “There is a very, very clear effort being made to blame everything on the intelligence community and steer by all means away from anything that has anything to do with anybody in the administration at higher-up levels or elsewhere.”

Might I suggest another candidate for the blame? What about Saddam Hussein?

There are a host of theories as to why we haven’t found WMDs in Iraq. Some hold that they are hidden deep in Iraq and will be found eventually. Others suggest they were moved to Syria or perhaps elsewhere at the last minute. Another theory holds that Saddam destroyed them fairly late in his decade-long face-off with the United States and the U.N., but refused to admit it.

Others say Saddam believed he had WMD but really didn’t; his staff was too afraid to tell him. And, of course, the “Bush-lied” theorists hold that Bush was the only person in the world who knew that all of the intelligence agencies were wrong about Saddam, but he went to war anyway.

All of these are interesting notions, some clearly more plausible than others. But in a sense they’re all irrelevant. No serious person thinks Saddam behaved like a leader with nothing to hide. By Saddam’s refusing to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, sanctions remained intact. Those sanctions cost the lives of Iraqis and – far more painful to Saddam – they cost him perhaps $100 billion in oil revenue. Why do that if you have nothing to hide?

Look at it this way. Imagine you’re a cop. You’ve chased down a known felon and violent criminal who you have every reason to believe is in possession of a gun. You say, “Put your hands up!” And instead he plays games, keeping his hands behind his back. You say, “Let me see your hands” and he shows you them one at a time, like a little kid playing keep-away. Finally, you say, “Look, if you don’t cooperate there are going to be some serious consequences; I’m going to make you cooperate.”

Now this was the situation prior to the war. The French and some Democrats wanted to give Iraq one more ultimatum – after dozens of failed ultimatums. The Bush administration said, no, we’re through playing these games and, in effect, we searched Saddam by force.

Now that it turns out we can’t find the metaphorical gun, opponents of the war &045; including many Johnny-Come-Latelys like John Edwards and John Kerry, who both voted for the war &045; say we should have talked more; we should have waited for more back-up from our allies; we shouldn’t have done anything until we saw the barrel of the gun aimed at our forehead, and even then we should have made sure the gun was loaded.

Well, I don’t buy any of it. There are two kinds of people when it comes to foreign policy after 9-11: those who think we have the luxury to take chances and those who don’t.

Whatever we discover in Iraq at the end of the day, one thing has been crystal clear for a decade: Saddam Hussein very much wanted the world to think he had weapons of mass destruction. If our intelligence was uncertain before the war, that made his behavior all the more suspicious and therefore unacceptable.

Maybe he was bluffing; maybe he thought he had WMDs; maybe he really did have them. Who cares? Saddam played games. And we said very clearly that after 9-11 we were in no mood to play games anymore – especially on the issue of WMD because, unlike a gun, by the time you know for sure it’s loaded, it’s too late to do anything about it.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame, why not blame the guy who’s actually responsible?

(Jonah Goldberg is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at