Thursday, June 05, 2003


Why it Matters if the Weapons of Mass Destruction Aren't Found

Speaking in Qatar, today, President Bush declared (according to a report from the Associated Press):

"We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth," Bush said, without specifically promising weapons would be found. "But one thing is certain: no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime because the Iraqi regime is no more."

The problem, however, is that if the weapons had already been given to terrorist groups before the war, or fell into the hands of terrorist groups during the anarchy that reigned while the war was going on, it will be quite irrelevant whether terrorist networks now can gain weapons from Iraq. That horse is already out of the barn door.

What the Administration has not yet addressed is the sobering possibility that the decision to attack Iraq actually caused weapons of mass destruction to proliferate to terrorist groups, making Americans less safe, not more. The Administration was warned about this possibility repeatedly by opponents of the war and dismissed it. But if we do not find those weapons in Iraq, that may be the reason why.

If the Administration did not deceive the American people about the existence of WMD in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, then the possibility that these weapons have already proliferated and spread to terrorist groups becomes much greater. And that should be troubling for any Administration that insists it is acting to make the American people safer. (Which raises an interesting question: should we be happier if it turns out that the Administration was merely dishonest because it misled the public about WMD's in Iraq or incompetent because it let the WMD's fall into the hands of terrorists?)

Many people have defended the recent war on the grounds that even if weapons of mass destruction were not found, it's worth the price because we have freed the Iraqi people from a terrible tyrant. I agree that this is a very good thing, especially as we learn more and more about how terrible Saddam's regime truly was, although I wonder whether we are now prepared to invade Burma or Zimbabwe, or any other country ruled by a terrible tyrant, in order to free those people as well.

But what is more important is the question whether we would be willing to free the Iraqi people if we knew that the price would be the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their placement in the hands of terrorist organizations. No one who has supported the war on the grounds that it freed the Iraqi people has come to terms with *that* question.

As much as the American people are happy that Saddam Hussein's ruthless regime is no more, I seriously doubt they would have been willing to end Saddam's reign if it had led to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups that would threaten America. Americans are altrustic and idealistic, but they are not crazy.

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