Memo To: Political Journalists
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Sloppy Questions, Sloppy Answers
What got me going again on “Weapons of Mass Destruction” last weekend was FoxNewsSunday with Tony Snow questioning Chairman Pat Roberts of the Senate Intelligence Committee about WMD and whether the intelligence was faulty. Roberts replied: “Let me refer to the capture of the documents. I think most of that is certainly old documents. We have 10 years of intelligence reporting, not only from the United States but from the U.N. and from the inspection team and from the Germans and from the Russians, even from the Chinese, certainly the British, that he had the weapons of mass destruction.”
Now I note Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in his Pentagon briefing Tuesday, says that “virtually everyone” had agreed that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction programs.” I’m happy to say reporters did ask if there was any significance in his saying “weapons programs” instead of “weapons” and he dodged that one.
My problem, ladies and gentlemen of the political press, is that this mantra EVERYONE knew Saddam possessed WMD has been repeated endlessly for months, but journalists have never ask exactly what WMD Saddam possessed. Iraq has NEVER denied it had WMD programs, only that it had no WMD weapons.
The point is that only if you define mustard gas as a WMD can we say for sure that Saddam possessed WMD. W.Patrick Lang, who was the top Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Iraq/Iran war, was on LateEdition with Wolf Blitzer recently and he said flat out that the military does not consider mustard gas a WMD.
I've been saying for the last year that Saddam tried hard to acquire nuclear and weaponized chem/bio that would be considered WMD, but that in each case he failed and abandoned the programs before achieving weaponization. Still we have the chairman of Senate Intelligence saying the United Nations agreed Saddam “had the weapons of mass destruction.” If you were to ask Hans Blix of UNMOVIK or Muhammad Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency exactly what WMD Iraq possessed, they would tell you they know FOR SURE that Iraq NEVER possessed nuclear weapons and that they have no clear evidence he ever had chemical or biological weapons. Blix would tell you Iraq had WMD programs and that they possessed several of the ingredients that would be necessary to produce a chem/bio weapon. Indeed, if you go back and read the last Blix report to the UN Security Council, you will find that he said it would only take another few months to clear up the issues surrounding the missing precursors.
Then there was Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations, on ABC's This Week, saying what Roberts had said, that the world KNEW Saddam had "VX and anthrax." But the intelligence agencies had to know VX and anthrax had never been weaponized. They had programs in the 80s to attempt weaponization, but found it impossible to do so. Don’t take my word for it, reporters, go ask Scott Ritter, who was our chief chem/bio weapons inspector for several years. He will tell you exactly that. Ritter has been precise in arguing that Saddam had been "qualitatively" disarmed by 1998 and that if he had attempted to reconstitute "programs" to develop WMD, we would have been able to tell from satellite photos. You cannot "weaponize" anything in mobile labs. And Ritter had said over and over again that the precursors would have degraded long ago and could not be reconstituted in any event.
Unless you journalists ask precise questions about WMD, you get sloppy answers. On This Week I noted that George Will was very careful to say that even Hans Blix told us Iraq had "programs" of WMD. George of course got word from his Pentagon pals before the show that the new mantra would be “programs” instead of “weapons.” He was being precise, but misleading his audience at the same time by slipping in the difference with nobody on the panel noticing. If he were really precise, he would have said Blix did not say they had weapons, only programs to develop weapons, programs that had been shut down 15 years ago. Blix is now saying he believes all that may remain is the "debris" from those old programs.
Why is all this of any importance? It is because we have a constitutional issue that the Senate Democrats have not yet grasped. Last fall they agree to vote for the use of pre-emptive force because President Bush assured Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. John Kerry that he would not pull the trigger unless both Houses were formally notified by him that "diplomacy had failed." He did send the formal letters before dropping the bombs on Baghdad, but of course Rumsfeld knew that diplomacy had not failed. It was working like a charm, as the French diplomats pointed out at the UN Security Council. Rumsfeld said Tuesday in that briefing: "If he had in fact disarmed, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose by cooperation with the U.N. inspectors, yet he continued to lie and to obstruct the U.N. inspectors." That's news to me. As far as I could tell, Iraqi cooperation was complete, with the lies coming from the other direction.
For heaven's sakes, Iraq had officially invited the CIA to come directly to look for WMD, bypassing UNMOVIK and swooping down on any suspected sites, but that is the last thing the Pentagon intellectuals wanted. If CIA agents had fanned out over Iraq with chem/bio experts at their side, they would have found nothing – no weapons and no weapons programs -- and Mr. Bush would have been hard pressed to explain why we had to start bombing. I wish you folks would begin pointing this out to the chairman of he Senate Intelligence Committee or he may be the last man in town to get the word.