Saturday, October 09, 2004

How would Kerry have known?

Babble on.

I haven't watched any of the U.S. presidential debates because, quite frankly, I can't stand listening to either of these men speak in public. I support many of his administration's foreign policies, but listening to George W. Bush stumble from point to point makes me cringe. John Kerry's a better public speaker by far, but he's such a 'nuanced' weasel that I can't watch him either.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I will refer you to the debate transcript for one specific point:

KERRY: The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein, it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President. That was the objective.

And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq. And right now, Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead. That's the war against terror.


Now Doug at Loose Coins has done a stand-up job correcting Kerry on the true goals of U.N.-sponsored sanctions against Iraq. I'd like to bring your attention to something a little different.

Kerry says the Duelfer report told us all that sanctions worked. Assuming we concede his limited definition of 'worked' - that is to say sanctions eliminated the Baathists' weapons of mass destruction - it took a war to confirm it.

Think through the implications: if Kerry had been president would Hans Blix have ever even gotten into Iraq, let alone been able to assure the world of Saddam Hussein's compliance?

Whether you agree with Bush's methods or not, he has verifiably eliminated the risk of WMD in the hands of a sociopathic tyrant in Iraq. How exactly would Kerry have achieved that goal?

Babble off.

10 Comments:

At 10:59 p.m., Blogger Dex said...

Summit at the UN laced with words and hope for the best.

 
At 4:46 p.m., Blogger Doug said...

How's that working out for Darfur?

How exactly would Kerry have achieved that goal?Perhaps with a more sensitive regime of sanctions? Oh, oh, I know! A comprehensive array of entitlements for Saddam! Better yet - sit him down with Kerry and make him listen to nuance until trying to figure out what he's hearing gives him an aneurism.

The trick of course is that verification wasn't possible without Saddam's cooperation. That's why cooperation was mandated in the imposition of inspections, and it's why inspections failed. Allowing a few more decades to "let inspections work" would have failed for the same reason - sanctions did not change the will or intent of Saddam.

 
At 9:06 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Kerry says the Duelfer report told us all that sanctions worked. Assuming we concede his limited definition of 'worked' - that is to say sanctions eliminated the Baathists' weapons of mass destruction - it took a war to confirm it."

Bang on, Damian. Saddam's repeated non-compliance with UN resolutions had created the environment where only regime change could ensure disarmament. As I've tried to point out at other blogs, what has also been forgotten in the WMD debate is the fact that there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Iraq did in fact retain WMD stocks of Anthrax and VX from the first Gulf War era.

This circumstantial case was developed by UNSCOM from 1991 to 1998, and has been completely shunted aside in the eagerness to discredit the Bush administration's separate (but at times overlapping with UNSCOM's findings) case for regime change.

UNSCOM did everything but conclusively prove Iraq was still holding on to stocks of Anthrax and VX. All that was missing was the stocks themselves, which was something Saddam was never going to allow to be found, and UNSCOM had virtually no hope of finding. David Kay, who today is sounding more and more like he has caught a bad case of Scott Ritter-itis, said before UNMOVIC inspectors were re-admitted to Iraq in the months before regime change that it was a wasted exercise. Kay said back then that while he believed Iraq still possessed chemical and biological agents, there was simply no hope of finding them in a country the size of Iraq, when so much was at stake in continuing to hide them.

Not finding actual WMD stocks after regime change does not establish these agents were not there. Such a conclusion completely ignores the logical scenario that the stocks were destroyed once Saddam realized regime change could not be staved off diplomatically by his friends.

To all those who have been converted to the group think that Saddam was telling the truth all along about his WMD, I suggest you do some reading at the UNSCOM and UNMOVIC home pages. Of particular interest is UNSCOM's final summary of its inspection history (a 1999 document), and UNMOVIC's " Cluster Document," released only 2 weeks before the coalition invaded.

If the contents of these don't convince you that Saddam has been wrongly exonerated by the Leftist media, at least you can try to be marginally consistent, and call the UN inspectors liars along with Bush.

Mike

 
At 10:59 a.m., Blogger Doug said...

While essentially true, Mike, that's not entirely accurate. We know that he had materials that were either undeclared or declared but unaccounted for, but I'm not certain that anyone concluded that he had "retained" VX. VX is highly unstable, and requires elaborate -- and difficult to hide -- facilities for storage. There does seem to be evidence that he maintained a program for developing weaponizing methods and to improve his product's stability, but the idea of Saddam having maintained a stockpile isn't very credible.

Likewise, there was a significant amount of mustard gas from the Kuwait invasion unaccounted for, but it only has a shelf life of a few years - if he had squirreled it away, it had gone bad long before the war. The problem was never what weapons he did or did not have - it was his determination to posess them, coupled with a proclivity to use them and refusal to provide the necessary confidence that he had genuinely abandoned them.

 
At 4:14 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug:

Have to disagree with you. Let's get the secondary one out of the way first, the Mustard agent. UNSCOM actually found some undeclared Mustard-filled artillery shells in 1997. The stuff was still 96% pure, eight or nine years after its manufacture. That being said, I've never gotten worked up over Iraq's Mustard agent. It really is a true battlefield WMD, with little cross-over value as a terror agent against civilians. From a terrorist's perspective, it's not particularly desirable because unlike VX or Sarin, Mustard doesn't kill the majority of victims exposed to it.

Now, the question of VX. I agree, with reservations, that " ..... I'm not certain that anyone concluded that he had "retained" VX." The same is essentially true of Anthrax. No one could say for certain that Saddam retained either agent, because the only proof of retention was to find the stuff, and UNSCOM simply couldn't, as I've noted above. Consequently, the case for continued retention of these agents was circumstantial, but extremely believable.

You mention that VX is difficult to stabilize and store. Both true, but again, there is considerable cause to believe Iraq had managed to do just that. The question of shelf life of all Iraqi WMD was a canard put forward by Scott Ritter and other pro-Saddam accomplices, to try to defuse the evidence of continued retention of WMD stocks. Ritter knew that if he could convince people that Saddam's Gulf war era stocks had been rendered harmless by time, a significant part of the case for war would be neutralized.

Ritter and his pals deliberately conflated all chemical and bio agents to make this claim, knowing full well that it likely didn't apply to Iraq's Anthrax and VX, the two most worrisome chemo-bio agents. If you want confirmation of this, get a hold of Ritter's 1999 book " Endgame," and see what he has to say on VX and Anthrax, particularly in the appendix.

For reasons I can't quite fathom, no one bothered to mention in the shelf life debate that the U.S. is still struggling to render and dispose of its VX. It has over a 1000 tons of it in a facility in Dayton Ohio alone. And its taking them forever to get rid of it, with plenty of concern from the locals about the safety of the process. Doug, all of the U.S. VX was made in the 60's and 70's, using 50's and 60's technology, and all of it was stabilized. To suggest that Iraq hadn't managed this same technology is dubious.

It's worth mentioning that the state of Iraq's known VX capability had gone from an initial Iraqi admission of cursory research prior to 1991, with no production, to a determined research and production effort, finally resulting in an admission from Iraq in 1995 that it had lied, and in fact had produced at least 3 tons of VX. But the evidence is Iraq continued to lie. Even after being caught in their lie by 1995, Iraq stubbornly claimed it had never weaponized VX, and that the entire VX program had been abandoned as a failure. In the UNMOVIC " Cluster Document," released a mere two weeks before the Americans and British invaded, UNMOVIC stated the obvious: (I'm paraphrasing, but not the words in quotes) It would have " made no sense " for Iraq to lie about having a program which in its own estimation was a failure.

The UN inspectors, with Iraqi input, were able to establish that Iraq had attempted to make VX using four different " routes." None of these known " routes" resulted in stablized, long term storable VX. Doug, what would have been the outcome for Iraq if they had admitted to a production process that resulted in stablized VX? The next question from the UN would have to be " Where is it, you ly'in bastards?" At that point, even the shameless Iraqis would have no grounds for continued denial on VX.

UNSCOM found large quantities of discarded VX stabilizer in soil samples taken where Iraq claimed to have developed VX. UNMOVIC mentions in the Cluster Document that the amount of stabilizer was far in excess to what iraq had admitted to making. Traces of VX degradation agent for VX were found on war head fragments, yet Iraq claimed it had never weaponixed or even tested VX in any war heads, using only an alcohol based test solution in VX-intended war heads. And lastly, Iraq was never able to account for its precursor stocks for VX. These would have been like gold for Saddam. VX requires 6 or 7 different chemical products to produce, only one of which was able to be home grown by Iraq. In the sanctions world of post 1991, Saddam was going to have a helluva time getting more. UNSCOM estimated the missing precursors could produce 50 to 100 tons of VX.

One other point concerning the viability of Iraq's VX. It seems in the literature produced after 9/11 that there is considerable agreement that Sudan was attempting to produce VX at the Shifa plant in 1998, when Clinton bombed it. Equally becoming more of a consensus all the time is the belief that Iraq was providing Sudan with the technical expertise to produce VX. Even Bush haters like Richard Clarke, who have taken great pains to parrot the " no Saddam/al Qaeda connection," concede an Iraqi hand in Shifa. (They simply argue that no one has proven Saddam knew bin Laden was so closely tied to the Khartoum regime).

My question is, why would Sudan want Iraq's help, if Iraq had only succeeded in producing VX with a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks, which was their bogus line to the UNSCOM inspectors? As UNMOVIC and UNSCOM pointed out, short shelf life VX made sense for Iraq to produce if you were fighting Iran, and using it up as you made it. Otherwise, it was worthless and costly to produce agent that would simply be rendered useless in weeks. Sudan would have no interest in such poor quality VX, yet we now know Iraq was mentoring Sudan in producing it.

Doug, when you apply reason to the known facts, I can't come up with any other conclusion. It's laughable to hear the cat-chasing-his-tale speculation from so-called experts as to why Saddam behaved the way he did for years "..... when we now know he had disarmed, as he said, back in 1991." The cat ceases to chase his tail, when we stop ignoring the evidence found by the UN inspectors. If one accepts that Saddam simply couldn't part with his most valued WMD stocks, Anthrax and VX, then everything makes sense.

Mike

 
At 8:50 a.m., Blogger Doug said...

Thanks for taking the time for a detailed, if lengthy, reply. I much prefer it to "Nuh-uh!" (which enforces my suspicion that I spend too much time trolling at Atrios).

Doug, all of the U.S. VX was made in the 60's and 70's, using 50's and 60's technology, and all of it was stabilized. To suggest that Iraq hadn't managed this same technology is dubious.

The atom bomb was made with 40's technology. The gun-type nuke is the simplest known, but Iraq hadn't mastered that. Again - the crux of the issue isn't what weapons he did or didn't have, but what his intentions regarding such weapons were, and how far he could be trusted. As the conditions you outline above indicate, he never acceded to the required transparency, so those questions were well-enough answered years before the war.

My question is, why would Sudan want Iraq's help, if Iraq had only succeeded in producing VX with a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks, which was their bogus line to the UNSCOM inspectors?

While most of your response is in agreement with my own thoughts on the matter, I do have an answer for this - they'd want his help because they could have it. He already had research and results that could serve as a springboard for their own program, and if 6-8 weeks was all the longevity it could manage, there was nothing requiring that it remain pegged there.

The enterprise does not become mutually beneficial until Saddam has a need for a facility outside of Iraq. The ability to have stockpiles outside of Iraq might have been a small incentive, but unlikely given his paranoia. Unimpeded stabilization and weaponization potential makes much more sense to me - with the research done, stockpiles are just a matter of producing them.

If his end of the bargain were a commitment to a continued effort at improving the product, I think that's sufficient carrot for Sudan to overcome any misgivings about the current state of his VX. As for bin Laden - I would have a hard time believing that 6-8 weeks would not be plenty for his purposes.

Again - I'm in firm agreement that he violated both the spirit and the letter of the cease-fire & associated resolutions, and that his removal was the only balm for it. It's clear that his intent to pursue VX never abated, and it seems very likely that a scaled-down VX research program continued under the sanctions and inspections. The only thing that I don't find credible is that he had (and still has) VX stockpiles hidden somewhere, and frankly it would make no further difference to me if he did.

 
At 10:47 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug:

Thanks for your reply, and I think it's a good one, but I still have a different take on this.

You said near the end of your response, "The only thing that I don't find credible is that he had (and still has) VX stockpiles hidden somewhere, ....."

I don't believe these stocks, if they existed still around the time of regime change, were hidden. I see no logic in this. Any WMD stocks remaining once Saddam realized regime change was inevitable had become a liability for Saddam, unable to affect the outcome, but definitely able to vindicate Bush and Blair if found. There was nothing in it for Saddam to hide them by that point. He wasn't going to be able to " come back for them," so to speak. Destruction was the only reasonable course of action.

Not to belabour VX much further, but I think there's a significant difference between the technological leap required to build a nuke, and that required to stabilize VX. If I buy your argument that Sudan was simply a safe lab for Iraq to further perfect its VX, then we're essentially agreeing that he still had VX, he was just keeping it in another country.

A key reason that I still disagree with you is the fact that you must apply your arguments concerning VX to the issue of Anthrax as well. That is, even if I were to buy your argument that Saddam had destroyed his VX back in 1991, it has no relevance if Saddam retained Anthrax stocks. Hopefully you follow me here. Obviously, there's a completely different body of evidence uncovered by UNSCOM concerning Anthrax retention, as opposed to VX. The motive for Saddam to retain both remains the same.

Do you see where I'm going with this? It becomes a situation similar to the Little Dutch Boy with the fingers in the dyke, to defend the " Saddam was telling the truth " premise. Those that choose to do so have to keep stretching credibility to explain away the numerous damning pieces of evidence that point to Saddam's continued retention of these agents.

I don't think you realize how far you have to go, and have gone, to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt. From a 1991 starting point, where we have Iraq declaring that it had no bio-weapons, period, and no VX, we move through 4 years of UN inspections and detective work, establishing lies of enormous magnitude, until Iraq is forced to admit producing huge quantities of Anthrax and substantial quantities of VX.

Yet still, we find people to this day, splitting hairs from this point forward. In other words, is it reasonable to debate whether Iraq managed to stabilize VX, when it's the last straw left to grasp that allows Saddam an out, when Saddam's starting point was " I didn't have any VX to stabilize." Is it reasonable to debate whether Iraq managed to dry Anthrax, when the initial starting point of the debate was, there was no Anthrax to dry?

This is why it's so difficult to make any sense of the explanations provided today to try to account for Saddam's past actions with our new hindsight "groupthink" that Saddam had unilaterally disarmed. We hear Duelfer and many others claim that Saddam placed the highest priority on retaining a WMD capability, defeating sanctions, and re-arming. Duelfer states in his report that Saddam believed WMD had actually saved his regime in the past.

If this is true, then there can only be two logical courses of action in 1991 for Saddam. Retain key stocks of the most effective WMD, or immediately and fully comply with inspections so that sanctions will end, and new WMD can be produced. This is where my cat-chasing-the-tail analogy is worth repeating. The known facts concerning UNSCOM's investigation of Iraq's Anthrax and VX do not correspond to Saddam's actions in responding to this investigation. To put this another way, you can't make Saddam's obstruction and deceit fit the premise that he had unilaterally disarmed in 1991. This obstruction and deceit does, however, fit the premise that he had opted to retain key WMD.

 
At 11:06 a.m., Blogger Doug said...

I don't believe these stocks, if they existed still around the time of regime change, were hidden.

I'm plenty convinced that at some point he had stocks of VX, and probably maintained them into the first inspection regime. I don't think he had much time to ditch them at crunch time, however - I think they were gone before that. We've heard from more than one person in or near Saddam's inner circle that he didn't actually believe regime change was coming until some time after the initial attack; even when armor divisions were advancing across the sands, he apparently still thought that it could be staved off for a while (I wager the coalition of the bribed figures into that calculation).

We've heard that the military all believed that he had chemical, and probably bio, weapons - it appears that each unit knew they didn't have them, but thought the units to either side of them did. If the weapons were moved or destroyed when he thought the jig was up, someone had to do the moving or destroying. In all this time, despite all the other revelations, no one's said anything about this having happened, despite the movers or destroyers having presmably been pulled up on short notice.

The age-old problem with conspiracies is getting people to shut up; the more people involved, the less likely the conspiracy succeeds. It would have taken no small number of people to have developed, produced, stored, maintained, guarded, and moved or destroyed even a modest stockpile. That doesn't make it impossible that he did, just improbable. Just maintaining the R&D programs is a much more plausable proposition, and the Duelfer report seems to support this.

I've posted the key findings from the Duelfer report here - you can jump straight to the chemical section here.

Not to belabour VX much further, but I think there's a significant difference between the technological leap required to build a nuke, and that required to stabilize VX.

And you're dead right; however, my intention wasn't to equate nuclear tech with chemical, but to point out the logical fallacy of using US accomplishments as a timeline to Iraqi accomplishments. It doesn't matter if we accomplished stable VX in the 1800's, that has no bearing on whether Iraq had done the same by 2004.

If I buy your argument that Sudan was simply a safe lab for Iraq to further perfect its VX, then we're essentially agreeing that he still had VX, he was just keeping it in another country.

Nearly. I concede that he may have intended to store some product in Sudan, but that doesn't make sense to me as being his only motive. Remember, he was famously paranoid - if he weighed a possibility (or likelyhood) that he might get screwed out of whatever stock lay outside his borders, coupled with the fact that if he ever intended to use the product he'd probably have the uncertainty of bringing it across the border first, I'm not sure there's enough incentive left to actually enter the venture. If a stockpile were his only incentive, I think that a facility within Iraq starts looking more sensible, even with the risk of discovery.

An improved process is something he could keep, though - a reasonable payoff on the investment, which he could transport easily and couldn't really be screwed out of. Any potential production capacity or Sudanese stockpile would be gravy, but I don't think he'd want to count on having it if a need arose. I think it makes more sense for him to develop abroad and produce at home.

What we're agreeing on is that he never came clean with whatever he did have, never strayed from his intent to have VX, and probably didn't give up his development program. What we disagree on is whether he kept some finished product on hand until more recent times; as long as he maintained the intent and some capacity, I think that whether or not he had tanks full of the stuff is a pedantic point.

A key reason that I still disagree with you is the fact that you must apply your arguments concerning VX to the issue of Anthrax as well.

I'm afraid you're imposing an equivalence that doesn't really exist. My central reason for thinking that he ditched the VX stockpile is that it was too complicated to keep hidden. The latest date I think he would have kept it would be when he allowed inspectors back in with a quarter-million troops on his border; VX storage facilities would have been too big of a liability. Remember, he thought he could be protected at that point, but discovery of even a few hundred gallons of VX would likely have stripped away his protection.

By comparison, a little anthrax would have been relatively simple to keep around. It's not unreasonable to think that any significant stockpile would have been tossed about the same time as VX if he had it, but you can't produce anthrax without anthrax and I don't believe he would have entirely given it up. I have no idea how much, but I'm certain he kept some, and 100 liters would be as easy to hide as ten. I'd even be open to the suggestion that he handed it off to a neighbor for safekeeping, if only he weren't Saddam; he wouldn't place his capacity to reconstitute his stockpile in someone else's hands.

Duelfer disagrees with me on this, incidentally - the ISG is of the opinion that he did discard all bio agents. The report's supposition that Saddam divested in 1995 with the hope of getting sanctions lifted seems to be reasonable speculation, I just don't believe that he ever would. In contrast, VX can be produced without having any VX at all.

I don't think you realize how far you have to go, and have gone, to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt.

I don't think you realize that I haven't given him the benefit of the doubt. Let me lay it out in no uncertain terms - he never complied with inspections; he never upheld the cease-fire; he never gave up the intent to have these weapons, or the programs that could refine and produce them; he lied about all of the preceding from day 1 of the first inspection regime until today. With all of that, the difference between having a stock of any given agent and not having it is hardly worth noting - stockpiles could be reconstituted in days or weeks, provided that he had seed strains, growth media, precursors and so forth.

I simply credit him with being prudent enough to have ditched those stocks that represented the greatest liability; VX wasn't worth the hassle to keep laying about. With his access to the materials to produce it curtailed, every liter produced meant less of whatever he could get available to development programs. Unless and until he forecasted a need to actually use it, keeping stock produced was a waste of materials that put him at risk. Brutal, obstinate, belligerant, deceptive; those adectives fit him. Stupid does not.

 
At 11:38 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug:

I might not have been completely clear when I stated my belief that Saddam destroyed his remaining WMD stocks when regime change became inevitable. I certainly include in this time frame the UNMOVIC inspection period from November 2002 to early March 2003. This is in response to your comment that " The latest date I think he would have kept it would be when he allowed inspectors back in with a quarter-million troops on his border;" I have often mentioned this as a likely destruction phase in past comments.

If Saddam still retained stocks, that would definitely have been a logical time to destroy them, before allowing UNMOVIC in. That doesn't harm my case, which is predicated on the belief that Duelfer, Kay, Blix and the others are wrong to claim Saddam unilaterally destroyed all stocks in 1991. Obviously, it matters greatly when Saddam unilaterally disarmed. If he did so in late 2002 or early 2003, with regime change staring him in the face, then Bush was right, and the "experts" couldn't be more wrong.

I'm not sure I agree with you on the question of storage problems and concealment for the VX. VX can be stored in munitions, particularly in binary form. If I recall my reading correctly, the environmental conditions of the storage area are important, but people generally have a faulty vision of the size and extent of Saddam's missing WMD stocks. 10,000 litres of Anthrax could easily fit in a single tractor-trailer rig, but could kill millions. Similarly, 50 tons of VX could be stored in a single modest sized underground bunker. I believe this was an incentive for Saddam to retain key stocks; the ease of hiding such easily hidden material. When you say " VX wasn't worth the hassle to keep laying about, " that conflicts with what Duelfer and others continually bombard us with, that Saddam viewed these weapons as paramount in his struggle to maintain power in Iraq.

If Saddam had nothing left by 1991 in the form of WMD stocks, there would have been absolutely no reason for him to not fully comply with inspections, in the spirit of a Ukraine or South African level of cooperation, so that he could finance and re-start these programs. Destruction without accompanying cooperation by Saddam makes no sense. Non-destruction accompanied by obstruction and non-cooperation makes complete sense.

I guess you and I could go around in circles forever on this. Thankfully, we're both of the same mind that Saddam was in blatant and egregious non-compliance of his obligation to disarm, and needed to be removed. We only disagree on whether he still possessed viable agent, yet still agree that in the end, it doesn't matter to us. My problem with that is, the Left has made sure it means everything in the minds of many.

 
At 11:54 a.m., Blogger Doug said...

The same left who thinks that guns are the problem, and not people? Who would have imagined.

 

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