Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Verdict Is In

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
The Verdict Is In

Sanctions worked. Weapons inspectors worked. That is the bottom line of the long-awaited report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, written by President Bush's handpicked investigator.

In the 18 months since President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, justifying the decision by saying that Saddam Hussein was "a gathering threat" to the United States, Americans have come to realize that Iraq had no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. But the report issued yesterday goes further. It says that Iraq had no factories to produce illicit weapons and that its ability to resume production was growing more feeble every year. While Mr. Hussein retained dreams of someday getting back into the chemical warfare business, his chosen target was Iran, not the United States.

The report shows that the international sanctions that Mr. Bush dismissed and demeaned before the war - and still does - were astonishingly effective. Mr. Hussein hoped to get out from under the sanctions, and the report's author, Charles Duelfer, loyally told Congress yesterday that he thought that could have happened. But his report said the Iraqis lacked even a formal strategy or a plan to reconstitute their weapons programs if it did.

For months, administration officials have tried to deflect charges that they invaded Iraq under false pretenses and have urged critics to wait for Mr. Duelfer's verdict on the weapons search. The authoritative findings of his Iraq Survey Group have now left the administration's rationale for war more tattered than ever. It turns out that Iraq destroyed all stockpiles of illicit weapons more than a decade ago and had no large-scale production facilities left after 1996, seven years before the invasion. This was a matter of choice by Saddam Hussein, who desperately wanted an end to sanctions and feared that any weapons programs, if discovered by inspectors, would only keep them in place.

Even after U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, a period when Western intelligence experts assumed the worst might be happening, the Hussein regime made no active efforts to produce new weapons of mass destruction. The much-feared nuclear threat - that looming mushroom cloud conjured by the administration to stampede Congress into authorizing an invasion - was a phantom. Mr. Duelfer found that even if Iraq had tried to restart its defunct nuclear program in 2003, it would have needed years to produce a nuclear weapon.

Since any objective observer should by now have digested the idea that Iraq posed no imminent threat to anyone, let alone the United States, it was disturbing to hear President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to try to justify the invasion this week on the grounds that after Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq was clearly the most likely place for terrorists to get illicit weapons. Even if Mr. Hussein had wanted to arm groups he could not control - a very dubious notion- he had nothing to give them.

Administration officials will no doubt point to sections of the report citing evidence that front companies were supplying Iraq with banned materials, and that Iraq had money and expertise that could be used to make weapons. They will also point to Mr. Duelfer's speculation that support for the sanctions was eroding. But nothing in the voluminous record provides Mr. Bush with the justification he wanted for a preventive war because the weapons programs did not exist. And as the war continues to bog down, the power of nonviolent international sanctions looks more muscular every day.