Those weapons of mass disappearance shouldn't be "a political issue," pleads David Kay, the man who has resigned as director of the Iraq Survey Group after failing to find any banned armaments in Iraq. Yet had he succeeded, as the hawkish Kay surely knows, the White House would have exploited his discoveries for maximum political effect. Since there are no weapons to be discovered, however, the Bush administration is hoping that the issue will simply go away, along with Kay.
Such an easy escape doesn't seem likely, however, with the departing inspector speaking so frankly to NPR and the New York Times: "I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction ... I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990's. Somewhere in the mid-1990's, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated ... The Iraqis say that they believed that UNSCOM [the U.N. inspection agency] was more effective, and they didn't want to get caught." Kay also told the Times that he had found no evidence whatsoever that Niger ever tried to sell uranium to Iraq -- and that those sinister mobile laboratories were indeed used to produce hydrogen for artillery balloons, not biological weapons. In his State of the Union address last week, the president glossed over those topics, which dominated his address to Congress last year.
And on his official trip to Europe, where he is supposed to be improving U.S. relations with traditional allies, the vice president "ignored a question on Iraqi weapons in his only public appearance Sunday." Despite his frequent pugnacious statements about Iraq, Dick Cheney is apparently working on a revised rationale for the war he engineered. An unnamed official in his entourage was quoted saying that Saddam Hussein "clearly had [WMD] programs, that he was prepared to kick off production, if and when that was needed."
Meanwhile, on the eve of what could be a terribly damaging report on the WMD scandal by Lord Hutton, Tony Blair sounds confused in an interview published yesterday by London's Observer newspaper. "I am simply accepting there is a fact, and the fact is that WMD have not yet been found in Iraq. That is simply accepting the facts," barked the prime minister. "I can only tell you I believed the intelligence we had at the time. It is absurd to say in respect of any intelligence that it is infallible, but if you ask me what I believe, I believe the intelligence was correct, and I think in the end we will have an explanation." Blair apparently thinks that "an explanation" should suffice, although he can offer none that sounds plausible.
As for the supposed stockpiles of actual weapons, "that is something that the Iraq Survey Group is going to have to find," the prime minister said. "All I can say is that prior to the conflict, during the conflict, immediately after the conflict, we were having meetings, discussions, taking precautions precisely on that basis." And sending young people to war, precisely on no basis.
What neither Blair nor Bush nor Cheney has answered is Kay's admission that the U.N. inspections regime after the first Gulf War had disarmed Iraq. The implication is that continued inspections would have prevented Saddam from resuming production of chemical and biological weapons -- as well as the nuclear weapons that he never had and probably could never have built -- without hundreds of American and thousands of Iraqi lives lost. Kay's parting comments offer a clue to the final gambit that will be employed by the White House and Downing Street. Having spun the cautious findings of professional analysts to accommodate their war agenda, the Bush and Blair governments will try to blame "bad intelligence." Just don't expect the intelligence agencies to accept that damning verdict without a response that could damage those dishonest politicians.
[3:30 p.m. PST, Jan. 26, 2004]