Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hans Blix didn't find them after all

Is this the October surprise Bob Beckel on Fox was rumormongering about last month?
From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.
In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
It's a pretty slick Times report, complete with animated GIFs, all highlighting reporter CJ Chivers' account of thousands of chemical weapons shells found all over Iraq per ground reports and a Pentagon FOIA.

Wait thousands of shells, doesn't that qualify as a stockpile?   Not so fast, says Chivers...
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin.
Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them. In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.
Chivers stopped just short of saying the United States was manufacturing chemical weapons for Saddam, but he went right up to the waters' edge, saying that American-designed shells had been sold to Iraq by European nations, wink wink, cue the Rummy shaking hands with Saddam photo.  While the story implicates certain European nations of actually selling the material to Iraq, nobody will cue the Jacques Chirac handshake picture with Saddam.

But we're left with this--there WERE chemical weapons in Iraq, lots of them, and they were never acknowledged.  Now ISIS likely has possession of the remainder.  All of which makes the reports out of Syria last year about rebels having used Sarin gas more credible.  And if true, part of the blame lies with Maliki, since the Iraqis, as members of the Chemical Weapons Convention, were responsible for getting rid of their old rusty chemical stockpile--but they never finished before ISIS rolled into town. 

But the Times didn't splash this report across the front page to vindicate BushCheneyBurton.  They did so presumably to give Obama an out card by saying the Pentagon/Bush covered up the fact that chemicals were found because they weren't the right chemicals, so it's not the Democrats' fault.  And Bush still lied because he said Saddam had active programs.

But Ace of Spades challenges the definition of "active", ie, the Times piece says, "The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West."

Hmm, looking back at history Bush had been fairly careful to avoid saying Saddam had active chemical weapons programs as a casus belli for war. He did leave the impression there were active programs, but mostly stuck to the idea that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and the facilities to produce them, which the Times has now authenticated.  Let's go back to the Iraq AUMF that Hillary, Biden and Kerry voted for:
Whereas after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Iraq entered into a United Nations sponsored cease-fire agreement pursuant to which Iraq unequivocally agreed, among other things, to eliminate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs and the means to deliver and develop them, and to end its support for international terrorism;
That's to say Iraq entered a cease-fire agreement to destroy their chem-weapons and program.  While they might have mothballed their active program, they didn't destroy the "means to deliver" such as artillery shells. Instead they buried them all over the place.  And there were likely individuals who had the treasure maps to dig them up later.  One of those was not Hans Blix, whose UN team never found them in 2003 before the invasion.  Ergo, Saddam was in material breach.  Back to the AUMF:
Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated;
Doesn't thousands of shells constitute a stockpile?  At what point does a stockpile stop being a stockpile if they are not destroyed or rendered inert?  And notice again it says nothing about an active chem-weapons program.  More..
Whereas Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations;
"Continuing to possess"--check. The left will point out "and develop" in reference to the chemical weapons (and biological), perhaps dredging up this brutal report by the WaPo in 2004 describing the Duelfer Report, which noted: chemical weapons existed and that there is no evidence of attempts to make such weapons over the past 12 years. Iraq retained dual-use equipment that could be used for such an effort.
Which was simply wrong--munitions were there, buried underground.  What else did Mr. Duelfer get wrong?  The Kay Report on the Iraqi Survey Group done a year earlier stated:
We have multiple reports that Iraq retained CW munitions made prior to 1991, possibly including mustard - a long-lasting chemical agent -- but we have to date been unable to locate any such munitions.
Which was closer to correct.  The Times has finally located them.  Kay's report also left open the possibility that Saddam had explored reactivation of the chem program as late as 2002-2003, something Duelfer threw cold water on a year later.  Which was correct, considering the current revelations?

Of course this story leaves open the obvious political question:  if chemical weapons were indeed found in large quantities in Iraq why did the Bush administration remain silent about them?  Was it, as the left might say, a reminder of past sins in helping to arm the tyrant in an attempt to stop a worse band of tyrants (Iran), actions which might implicate the Bush family and friends?  Did we get rolled by our realpolitik of the past to the point where Dubya just said "the heck with it, we got Saddam, let's move on"?

Possible.  It would interesting to hear what James Baker has to say about it, assuming he could ever talk candidly. Hell, or George HW Bush.

Or maybe the Bush folks felt they couldn't justify going to war over old shells alone, which, even if passed along to AQ wouldn't do the kind of damage a bio or nuclear (or dirty bomb) would do.  This was borne out by the several attacks on coalition soldiers in Iraq using Sarin shells, which did relatively little damage.  Such munitions are also not easily transportable.  With terrorists swarming the country during the insurgency years it probably made no sense to start trumpeting "but they had chemical stockpiles"!  In the end this story is probably not going to change any minds either way.

But we don't live in history, we live in the present. Presently ISIS controls a lot of the areas where shells were found and were never destroyed, ergo, ISIS has chemical weapons. They may have already used them. A current political question would be "who allowed this"? The simple answer is partially contained in the idea that a certain president 'ended the war' in Iraq a little too soon.  In non-political terms perhaps this could explain why the 60 nation coalition hasn't been able to do very much to stop the advance of ISIS yet.

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