Monday, September 2, 2013

WMD 10 Years On

Commander K. at GWB Library, SMU, Dallas, TX


An awful lot of nonsense has been written about WMD in Iraq.  Lets' take just a few recent examples.

Albert Hunt in a recent editorial wrote, "All this is being debated in the context of George W. Bush’s extraordinary duplicity a decade ago when the United States invaded Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction that proved to be a myth."  Source:

Or this from NY Times reporter Mark Landler, "Unlike Iraq in 2003, the triggering event in Syria a decade later is not a shaky argument that the government possesses weapons of mass destruction...." Source:

Tim Weiner in his jeremiad against the CIA writes, "The United States has squandered thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars on its misadventure in Iraq.  This is part of the price we pay in blood and treasure when the CIA gets it wrong.  To project force without good intelligence is folly: leaders mislead, generals blunder, soldiers die.  Great powers lose force, flounder and start to fail."  Source: Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner, 2007

Many people, operating on the theory that if it rhymes it must be true, accept the notion that "Bush lied, and people died."  In Britain Tony Blair takes the heat.

"Deluded Power", Patty Warashina, Bellevue Arts Museum
In popular culture many revile President George W. Bush as a warmonger who fought an unnecessary war in Iraq.  Vice President Dick Cheney is painted as a demonic fiend waging wars in the service of Haliburton and the big oil companies.  These attitudes are summed up visually by the Northwest artist Patty Warashina's 2006 work "Deluded Power". Why is it that unconventional artists often have such conventional politics?

So who is really more deluded about WMD?

"Let Freedom Reign."
George W. Bush Library

First, the Iraqi WMD WERE NOT A MYTH, THEY WERE REAL.  It is indisputable that Saddam DID in fact have weapons of mass destruction.  He used them in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980's.  He also used them against his own people -- gassing and killing 3,000 people in one day in a single day in Kurdistan -- more than twice as many as allegedly used by Assad recently in Syria (Source: BBC documentary The Iraq War, see below).  More Kurds were killed by Saddam's chemical weapons than ALL those that have died in Syria's civil war up to this point -- about 138,000 (Source: Christopher Hitchens, see video below).

Second, Intelligence is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted; it is not a science, but rather a dark art and always has been.  George Washington said, "The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further argued."  Procuring good intelligence, however, has never been easy (think Little Big Horn, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, etc.).  Sixteen different national intelligence agencies around the world believed that WMD would be found in Iraq.  Expecting 100% certainty in these in the area of military intelligence is absurd.

Third, George Washington notwithstanding, the ultimate importance of Intelligence in war is also vastly over-rated.  Espionage stories sell lots of books and movies tickets, but ultimately it is the warriors who win victory.  The late John Keegan wrote, "Intelligence in war, however, good, does not point unerringly the path to victory.  Victory is an elusive prize, bought with blood rather than brains.  Intelligence is the handmaiden, not the mistress, of the warrior." Source: Intelligence in War, John Keegan, 2002,  The victory of liberty in Iraq, however flawed, has been purchased with much blood.

Fourth, on the point of invasion in 2003 The Iraqi Army itself was unsure whether or not they had chemical weapons.  "British intelligence famously believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. It turns out that Iraq's own generals thought so too.
On the eve of war in March 2003, Lieutenant General Ra’ad al-Hamdani of the Republican Guard feared that Saddam would try to gas the Anglo-American invaders and end up poisoning Iraqi troops by mistake. He was worried enough to approach the dictator’s feared son, Qusay.
“Sir, tell me honestly, do we have Weapons of Mass Destruction?” asked the General. “If we use chemical weapons, they will blow back on to us. I’m worried our troops will be affected.”
But Qusay Hussein was able to offer reassurance. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “We don’t have WMD. Not even chemical weapons.”  The fascinating and often heart-breaking BBC documentary called The Iraq War is available below.

CK and Vincent Driano
George W. Bush Library
The real question is "What really happened to the Iraqi WMD stockpile?".  Was it destroyed by the regime because Saddam worried that 1) its use would be met with a swift and devastating retaliation and 2) it would blow back into their faces creating lots of friendly fire casualties?

Why did Saddam order the destruction and/or removal of WMD from Iraq?  Is some of Saddams's stockpile being used by Assad in Syria today?  Lots of questions and uncertainties remain, but it seems clear that the credible threat of Western intervention made tangible by the policies of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were exactly what compelled Saddam to destroy and/or dispose of his own stockpiles.

A very obvious point is all too often missed with regard to WMD in Iraq.  Is it not inarguable that the absence of WMD in Iraq was not just a very good thing, but our goal from the start?  It may have been an intelligence failure by the West, but it was firm leadership and the willingness to use Western power that drove Saddam to destroy and dispose of his own WMD.

As the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in 2008, "We were never, if we are honest with ourselves, "lied into war".  We became steadily more aware that the option was continued collusion with Saddam or a decision to have done with him."

There were, in fact, many reasons OTHER than WMD, that justified an invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Here are some cited by Hitchens...

"A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial. (He invaded two of his neighbouring countries, Kuwait and Iran -- CK)

The Kurdish and Shi'ite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide.

A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was (perhaps overhastily) dismantled."

To these I would add the fact that Saddam Hussein was a clear supporter of terrorism throughout the Middle East, compensating the families of suicide bombers. B) Abu Nidal, whose ANO terrorist organisation, was responsible for the deaths sand or injuries of over 900 people, was living in Baghdad until his suspicious death in 2002. C)  Saddam had tried to send a terrorist team to kill George H.W. Bush in 1993 to which President Clinton responded with cruise missile strikes ( D) The West, led by the well-intentioned Bush Sr., had clearly erred by stopping short of regime change in the first Gulf war.

In spite of a devastating war and the many grave errors committed in the occupation, the economy of Iraq has grown dramatically over the past decade.  In 2001 Iraq had a GDP of $29 billion (Source:  By 2012 it had quadrupled to $130.6 billion (Source:  Last year Iraq's annual GDP growth rate was an enviable 10.2%.

Iraqi males are no longer being forcibly dragooned into military service.  Many Iraqi females, far more than under Saddam, are getting an education.  The genocide of the Kurds has stopped.  Iraq still has plenty of very serious problems but they are, for the most part, learning to work out solutions without resorting to mass violence or invasions of their neighbours.  Severe Sectarian issues persist in Iraq, but these, of course, preceded and were not caused by the Iraq war.  (For much more on Iraq today see the lively discussion evidenced by Iraq Ten Years On in video below.)

Millions of purple fingers have made an historic difference.  The Iraqi experience with democracy, tentative and halting as it has been, was a driving factor in launching the Arab Spring that still continues to sweep the Arab world.

Adolph Hitler unquestionably possessed advanced weapons of destruction, revenge Weapons, with which he hoped to turn the tide of the war.  These were developed by scientists such as Werner Von Braun at the Wehrmacht's Peenemunde facilities in Northern Germany.

V-1 Rockets, Flying Heritage Collection
Everett, WA
"The V-1 rocket was a highly effective weapon, hated and rightly feared by Londoners and the residents of other British cities it reached...Deaths inflicted by flying bombs are estimated at 6,184, the severely injured at 17,987." Source: Intelligence in War, John Keegan, 2002,

The research at Peenemude began as an army establishment.  The V-1 was viewed as a new species of artillery.  The V-1 was potentially a war-winning invention that "was reliable and cheap, cost about 150 pounds in 1944 values."  If mass-produced in quantity these could have disrupted the Allies invasion plans by devastating British port facilities, transports, etc.

These were the Vergultung ("Retribution") weapons that wartime diarist Iris Origo dreaded after hearing German propaganda reports about the incineration of Southern England in 1944 (see...

V-2 Rocket, Flying Heitage Collection
Everett, WA
The V-2 was an even more terrifying -- the world's first long range missile that operated from mobile missile launching platforms, the Meillerwagen (the prototype of Iraqi SCUD missile launchers).  This 50 foot high behemoth weighed 28,557 pounds and carried a 1,630 pound warhead.  These rockets hit their targets at 3,000 miles per hour with no warning.  Many fell on London  On Palm Sunday 1945 the last V-2 to hit London devastated The American Church in London ( killing nine people.

Fortunately, the Allies gathered early intelligence on the  German weapons programs and responded by bombing Peenemunde.  Shortly after D-day, Allied ground forces over-ran many of the German V-1 launching platforms in the Pas de Calais.  V-2 rockets were too expensive to be produced in sufficient quantity to make any strategic difference in the war.

Japanese Seaplane
National Museum of the War in the Pacific
Fredericksburg, TX
The Japanese also employed WMD in World War II against the Chinese in the war they fought from 1937 to 1945.  It has been estimated that from 50,000 to as high as 500,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese germ warfare program Unit 731 which conducted gruesome experiments and developed plague bombs  The Japanese also developed a class of 400 foot long Submarine aircraft carriers called I-401 that could have struck the U.S. West coast with conventional or biological ordinance (


What is the connection between World War II and Iraq's WMD?  Just this: Imagine a counterfactual history where Hitler and/or the Wehrmacht, convinced that the Allies are about to launch a cross channel invasion, order the destruction or disposal (exported to neutral Switzerland or Sweden) of the German rocket program.  Werner Von Braun is executed to prevent German secrets from leaking out.  How would this have altered the course of history?  Thousands of lives would have been spared and the Americans might not have succeeded in landing on the moon until the Reagan administration!

How would our current national debate over intervention in Syria have been affected if the Japanese had managed to attack San Francisco with a single biological weapon in 1945?

If your enemy is known to possess highly dangerous weapons, does it ultimately make any difference whether these are destroyed by military action or whether your enemy himself destroys/disposes of them?

In the case of Syria today, would it really make much difference whether Assad's chemical weapon stockpile were destroyed by American military action or by Assad himself, cowed by resolute and principled Western leadership?   Lord help us all!

Lots more rubbish, but I Love the woman from Kurdistan 
("Let's not waste that sacrifice that has been made" ) in the video below...

I miss Hitchens!

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on


Frost Prioleau said...

Good post
I recall hearing about planes which flew Iraq's WMD to Syria
Those WMD could well be the ones Assad now has
Diane and I also liked the GWBush museum in Dallas
She was told it was not allowed to put her feet up on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office!

Jak Severson said...

See, now, for the most part, I found this to be a well reasoned argument, except for the part about Bush having a library. That's got to be a myth. Right? Like the WMD thing? I mean one with books?


Andrew Roberts said...

Extremely good post

Bang on!