George W. Bush did something brilliant in 2002 that he doesn’t talk about now. In fact, he and his supporters try to pretend it never happened.
The “something” was getting UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq. As a result of George W. Bush’s saber rattling, in September 2002 Saddam Hussein had agreed to allow inspections for the first time since 1998. In August 1998 Saddam Hussein suspended cooperation with the weapons inspection teams. The inspectors left the country in December 1998 hours before the United States and United Kingdom began three days of air strikes.
In our current argument about whether “everybody was wrong” about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, there’s hardly ever a mention of the weapons inspections. Considering that the UN inspectors were the ones with the most up-to-date information at the time of the invasion in March 2003, I think it’s important to look at what the UN believed in the run-up to the war..
And the fact is that the UN didn’t agree with Bush at all.
This document from the Arms Control Association, dated October 2002, provides an assessment of what the UN believed to be true about Iraq’s weapons at that time. The document is well worth studying. It provides side-by-side comparison to what the UN believed and what Bush and Blair were claiming in October 2002, when Congress passed the infamous war resolution that gave Bush authority to invade. There is a huge difference. For example, this is part of the UN’s assessment of biological weapons:
In a final January 1999 report, UNSCOM concluded it had â€œno confidence that all bulk agents have been destroyed; that no BW munitions or weapons remain in Iraq; and that a BW capability does not still exist in Iraq.â€
UNSCOM further added, â€œ[I]t needs to be recognised that Iraq possesses an industrial capability and knowledge base, through which biological warfare agents could be produced quickly and in volume, if the Government of Iraq decided to do so.â€
I left a lot out, but essentially the UN assessment boils down to “We don’t know for certain that Saddam Hussein has destroyed his biological weapons, as he claimed, and we think he retains an ability to make more, although we don’t know for certain he has done so.”
The Bush/Blair assessment, however, states with certainty that Saddam Hussein had an active and expanding biological weapons program, and in addition he had mobile biological weapons laboratories. Further,
CIA Director George Tenet has said that Iraq possesses â€œan active and capableâ€ biological weapons program.
A January 2002 CIA report also noted that Iraq is continuing work on its L-29 unmanned aerial vehicle program, which Baghdad is believed to have modified for delivery of chemical or biological agents.
The September British report described Iraq as having a â€œuseableâ€ biological weapons capability that could be deployed within 45 minutes
The rest of the assessments are similar. The UN was cautious and conditional, stating over and over again that Saddam Hussein might have certain weapons, but it cannot be verified without further inspection. The Bush/Blair assessments say with certainty that Saddam does have these weapons, and more, and the ability to deploy them.
Here are some of the UN’s other assessments in 2002:
About 500 R-400 aerial bombs, including 157 filled with biological agents, have not been accounted for.
Samples of warhead remnants left over from unilateral Iraqi destruction activities suggest that Iraq, despite its claims to the contrary, may have weaponized VX. Iraq admits to producing 3.9 tonnes of VX, but it has not accounted for its alleged unilateral destruction of 1.5 tonnes. …
Iraq has not provided enough evidence to give UNSCOM confidence that all chemical weapons production equipment has been accounted for …
UNSCOM asserted in its final assessment of January 1999 that it could not verify that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed all of the components and capabilities it had claimed to.
In a February 1999 report after leaving Iraq in December 1998, the IAEA declared that no evidence suggested Iraq had succeeded in producing nuclear weapons.
The same report concluded that IAEA activities â€œhave revealed no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material, or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material.â€
Wait a minute … didn’t George Bush say in his 2003 State of the Union speech that
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.
? … I’m not sure where to put the question mark, but let’s go on … yes, that’s what he said. I’ve written about this before. Back in 2003 I combed through the IAEA web site archives to see if Bush was telling the truth. And what I found was that the “confirmation” Bush referred to was from 1990. Before the bleeping Gulf War. But the more recent reports from the IAEA, up to 1998, said no such thing. The 1990 document seems to be missing from the site now, but you can read about what the IAEA believed, and when, on this page. If you scroll down to Section II, Assessment of Iraq’s past nuclear programme, you can find a summary of what the IAEA believed to be true in 1998, which was the most up-to-date “confirmation” at the time Bush gave the SOTU address. And in 1998 the IAEA had concluded “There were no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.”
And I still don’t know why no one’s called Bush on the carpet for that little prevarication, which was the sentence before the famous Sixteen Words — “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Iraq has on the whole cooperated rather well so far with UNMOVIC in this field. The most important point to make is that access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect and with one exception it has been prompt. We have further had great help in building up the infrastructure of our office in Baghdad and the field office in Mosul. Arrangements and services for our plane and our helicopters have been good. The environment has been workable.
Our inspections have included universities, military bases, presidential sites and private residences. Inspections have also taken place on Fridays, the Muslim day of rest, on Christmas day and New Years day. These inspections have been conducted in the same manner as all other inspections. We seek to be both effective and correct.
In a nutshell, the report says Iraq’s documentation is a mess, and the inspectors had reason to believe Iraq might have this or that weapon, and inspectors were looking hard at these matters. But Blix didn’t claim to know what Saddam Hussein had or didn’t have at that point. It’s clear that estimations of what Saddam Hussein might have had were speculative.
By February 2003 the UN inspectors said U.S. “tips” about where Saddam Hussein was keeping weapons were “garbage.”
While diplomatic maneuvering continues over Turkish bases and a new United Nations resolution, inside Iraq, U.N. arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of U.S. intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases. …
… In fact, the U.S. claim that Iraq is developing missiles that could hit its neighbors â€“ or U.S. troops in the region, or even Israel â€“ is just one of the claims coming from Washington that inspectors here are finding increasingly unbelievable. The inspectors have become so frustrated trying to chase down unspecific or ambiguous U.S. leads that they’ve begun to express that anger privately in no uncertain terms.
U.N. sources have told CBS News that American tips have lead to one dead end after another. …
… So frustrated have the inspectors become that one source has referred to the U.S. intelligence they’ve been getting as “garbage after garbage after garbage.” In fact, Phillips says the source used another cruder word. The inspectors find themselves caught between the Iraqis, who are masters at the weapons-hiding shell game, and the United States, whose intelligence they’ve found to be circumstantial, outdated or just plain wrong.
So here we are, a month before the invasion, and the UN inspectors say that US “intelligence” on Iraq’s WMDs is wrong. But today Bush is claiming that “intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.”
So, is he lying? Or does he just have a real bad memory? Hmm.
But let’s put that aside for now and move on to March 7, 2003, just under two weeks before the invasion. Here is a transcript of a presentation made by Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector, to the UN. He says that cooperation between Iraq and the inspectors was not perfect, but “we have faced relatively few difficulties, and certainly much less than those that were faced by UNSCOM [U.N. Special Commission] in the period 1991 to 1998.” Blix goes on to detail what it was the inspectors were inspecting, and what they were looking for. Toward the end he says,
How much time would it take to resolve the key remaining disarmament tasks? While cooperation can — cooperation can and is to be immediate, disarmament, and at any rate verification of it, cannot be instant. Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions. It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.
Bush gave them thirteen days. Less than that, actually, since the inspectors closed up shop and departed in advance of the invasion, which began March 20.
In the past few days I’ve been particularly struck at the number of righties who justify the invasion because of what President Clinton believed to be true about Iraq’s weapons in 1998, more than four years before the invasion. Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest posted a detailed look at what Clinton said and believed in those days, which is (cough) slightly different from what righties are claiming he said and believed. But to me it’s absurd to argue about what anybody believed in bleeping 1998.
The invasion was in March 2003. What did the world’s intelligence community believe then? What did it believe in 2002, when the Bushies were preparing to invade? It’s clear the Bush/Blair assessment was considerably different from the UN assessment. The UN didn’t want that invasion; it wanted inspections to continue. And had Bush listened to the UN, and had not invaded, he’d probably be considered a hero today for enabling inspections to resume.
But that’s not what happened, huh?