What is surprising - if not scandalous - is that three weeks after U.S. troops moved into Baghdad, the Bush Pentagon has not yet mounted a full sweep of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. Shouldn't a mess of specialists have been scrambling across Iraq - using all that pre-war intelligence - within days, if not hours, of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's murderous regime? Yet while some U.S. WMD-hunters are hard at work, the Pentagon acknowledges that nothing close to a full detachment has been sent.
Is it dumb to ask why all this wasn't ready to go when the war started?
It's not as if the invasion came as a shock. The Pentagon had months - actually, over a year - to ready WMD teams. But the available public evidence suggests that Rumsfeld had no plan for quickly acting on this priority. Or for preventing that much-discussed nightmare scenario: in the chaos caused by war, chemical and biological weapons and WMD-related materials (if any did exist in Iraq) are grabbed by terrorists, crooks, former officials or whomever and spirited out of Iraq.
At a press conference on April 9, the day U.S. forces took Baghdad, Rumsfeld said, "At the moment where the war ends and the coalition forces occupy the areas where those capabilities - chemical and biological weapons - are likely to be, to the extent they haven't been moved out of the country it obviously is important to find them."
To the extent they haven't been moved out of the country? Two days later, Rumsfeld made it seem as if dealing with possible WMD was a secondary mission: "When there happens to be a weapon of mass destruction suspect site in an area that we occupy and if people have time, they'll look at it." If people have time?
The point of this war was to make sure Hussein could not hand off nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. And an obvious possibility loomed: a U.S. invasion would cause the collapse of the central government, and all that dangerous stuff would then be up for grabs. As Rumsfeld said on April 9, "The thought that as part of this process, some of those materials could leave the country and [end up] in the hands of terrorist networks would be a very unhappy prospect.' Yet this "unhappy prospect" was most likely to occur during the turmoil of war or in the first chaotic days and weeks after.
On April 17 Rumsfeld noted that the Pentagon's WMD teams "for the first time in the last few days" had been able to start looking at suspected sites. But, he added, "I don't think we'll discover anything, myself. I think what will happen is we'll discover people who will tell us where to go find it.' Imagine if Rumsfeld had said that before the war.
As of this writing, there have been no confirmed sightings of WMD in Iraq. Last week, the New York Times, in a story reviewed by military censors, reported that an American military squad hunting for WMD, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, had found an Iraqi scientist who claimed to have worked in a chemical weapons program. This scientist, according to MET Alpha, led the Americans to a spot where illegal weapons-related material had been buried. (Judith Miller, the Times reporter embedded with this MET, was not allowed to interview the scientist.) The day the story ran, Rumsfeld refused to comment on it.
Perhaps the MET Alpha discovery will be the WMD prize the Bush administration has been seeking. But until now the WMD indicators have not been encouraging for the White House. A front-page story in last week's Washington Post begins, "With little to show after 30 days, the Bush administration is losing confidence in its pre-war belief that it had strong clues pointing to the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction.'
The Post went on: "If such weapons or the means of making them have been removed from the centralized control of former Iraqi officials, high-ranking U.S. officials acknowledged, then the war may prove to aggravate the proliferation threat that President Bush said he fought to forestall."
Whether biological and chemical weapons and the remnants of an active nuclear program are found or not, Bush and his national security team have already violated their pre-war commitment to the United States and the world. Even if the MET teams and the come-lately reinforcements uncover WMD caches, they will likely never know what they missed - and where and with whom it might be today.
From The Nation