Jewish World Review April 25, 2003 / 23 Nisan, 5763
The search for the 'smoking gun'
American troops in Iraq have yet to turn up a "smoking gun" -- a
cache of forbidden chemical and biological weapons. Does it matter?
It certainly seems to matter to those looking for a reason to
pronounce Operation Iraqi Freedom illegitimate. "With every passing
day, American credibility is called into question," editorialized The
New York Times on April 18. After all, "the chief justification for
invading Iraq was to get rid of Baghdad's stores of chemical and
biological agents and dismantle its effort to produce a nuclear bomb."
In a story headlined "A month of war, and still no illegal weapons
found," The Philadelphia Inquirer cites unnamed "international critics"
who say the failure to find Saddam's deadly arsenal "raises questions
about the Bush administration's motives for going to war." It quotes a
"senior administration official" as asking sheepishly, "If we never find
any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, how do we say, 'Oops'?"
Over at the State Department, meanwhile, another anonymous source tells
Time magazine, "The White House is screaming, 'Find me some WMD!' "
Now it is conceivable, if just barely, that when all is said and
done, the search for Iraq's WMD -- "weapons of mass destruction" -- will
turn up nothing. But it is much too soon to speculate. Coalition
forces have been in Iraq, a country bigger than Germany, for only five
weeks. There are more than 1,000 suspected storage and manufacturing
sites to be examined and some 5,000 Iraqi scientists who were involved
in chemical and biological warfare programs to interview. The surface
has hardly been scratched.
Remember: If Saddam's regime had dismantled its stockpile of
unconventional weapons as required by a long line of Security Council
resolutions, the world would have known about it long ago. Baghdad was
supposed to document the shutdown of its WMD facilities and account for
its chemical and biological stocks; Hans Blix's job was simply to verify
that the weapons were gone. But Iraq refused to provide that
documentation. Instead it filed a 12,000-page sham filled with
omissions, falsehoods, and irrelevancies. The only rational conclusion
was that Saddam intended to keep his lethal materiel.
Did he trash his hoard of illegal weapons at the last minute?
Judith Miller reported in the Times this week that a scientist claiming
to have worked in Iraq's WMD program told US military personnel "that
Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only
days before the war began." The scientist reportedly led the Americans
to a supply of chemical precursors for illegal toxic agents.
If the scientist is right, we'll know it in due course. If he's
wrong, we'll know that too. There is only one good reason to be worrying
now about the lack of a "smoking gun:" the fear that Saddam's supply of
plague and poison may have fallen into dangerous hands -- or be under no
one's control at all.
But in a larger, more crucial sense, all of this is beside the
point. Whatever chemical, biological, or nuclear evidence coalition
troops may find, they have already eliminated the real weapons of mass
destruction: Saddam Hussein and his evil government.
It was Saddam and his circle of thugs who were responsible for the
violent and often sadistic deaths of more than a million human beings.
It was they who gassed men, women, and children en masse. It was they
who hanged, shot, beheaded, and dismembered people for thinking the
wrong thoughts, having the wrong friends, uttering the wrong words -- or
for no reason at all. It was they who murdered the youngest and sickest
of Iraq's people by embezzling tens of millions of oil-for-food dollars
and spending them on obscene pleasure-palaces for themselves instead of
medicine and bread for the weak and hungry.
A million deaths. And that doesn't include all the others left
maimed and mutilated, the innocents blinded or broken for life. It
doesn't account for the minds that shattered under torture or the
families that were reduced to shreds. It leaves out the agony of the
father whose child was burned alive to make him speak; the endless pain
of the wife or daughter whose gang rape was carried out and videotaped
on government orders; the emotional scar of those forced to watch as
Saddam's agents fed their victims to wild dogs or slowly lowered them
into vats of acid.
The threat posed by Saddam's pursuit of unconventional weapons was
real. So was his support for terrorism, his record of aggression, and
his flouting of UN mandates. Those were the formal grounds for war and
they added up to a strong rationale for regime change in Baghdad.
But the best reason for destroying this dictator was that decent
nations do not look the other way when human beings by the hundreds of
thousands are being butchered and terrorized. Genocide and mass murder
demand a response, and better a belated response than none at all.
It was not to find a "smoking gun" that America went to war. It was
to crush one of the bloodiest tyrannies the modern world has known. The
critics and faultfinders are busy, but time and distance will make it
clear even to them that these last weeks have indeed been, in George W.
Bush's words, "good days in the history of freedom."
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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