Last month the New York Times reported that US troops had in fact discovered chemical weapons in Iraq after all. Five thousand munitions containing nerve and blister agent were uncovered between 2004 and 2011. The revelation made headlines for a day or two before vanishing again.
As it turns out, the Bush administration knew about these weapons and, counter-intuitively, chose to keep them secret. Conjecture abounds as to why Team Bush would choose to withhold vindicating evidence. Some have suggested that no one wanted to look backwards at yesterday’s controversy.
The news was not entirely groundbreaking. In 2006, a congressional report was issued concerning the discovery of a mere five hundred such chemical weapons, a tenth of the current total. A few Republican legislators trumpeted the find but the media predictably pooh-poohed the whole thing. The munitions were old, you see, and old munitions didn’t “count” because they were degraded to the point of impotence and because they were not the ones we were looking for. After all, they were manufactured prior to Saddam’s 1991 ceasefire agreement. We didn’t send our sons and daughters into harm’s way to find a few dusty old duds, they opined.
With the discovery of ten times the original five hundred known in 2006, the mainstream media have changed their tune, though only slightly. They are no longer claiming that the weapons were harmless because they are known to have injured at least six US soldiers and an undetermined number of Iraqis, but they’re still claiming that pre-1991 weapons don’t “count.”
“The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale,” write Pulitzer Prize winner CJ Chivers.
I can’t decide whether Chivers is deceitful or just another lazy journalist. Actually, those were exactly the weapons we were looking for. In November of 2002, President Bush asked the UN for, and received, Resolution 1441, which found Iraq in material breach of Resolution 667, the 1991 ceasefire agreement that ended the Gulf War. Resolution 667 demanded that Saddam destroy all of his chemical weapons and document the process to the satisfaction of UN weapons inspectors. He failed to do this.
If Chivers had even bothered to read the resolution he would have known that it said: “Decides, … to afford Iraq, by this resolution, a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council; and accordingly decides to set up an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established by resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions of the Council.”
The diplomatic push of 2002 was the world’s final warning to the dictator that he had to forfeit those weapons known to be in his possession in 1991. The resolution is crystal clear. Over and over again it refers to Saddam’s failure to discard his pre-Gulf War weaponry. CJ Chivers is not just moving the goalposts, he’s rewriting history.
The idea that Saddam didn’t have any WMD was a little wacky, and yet it was those of us who insisted that he did who were portrayed as conspiracy theorists grasping at straws. He used those weapons against Iranians and Kurds. We know that they existed in 1991. Did they simple evaporate?
We now know that they did not. Quoted in Chivers’s story was Jarod Taylor, a former Army sergeant who handled some of the weapons. He remarked, “I love it when I hear, ‘Oh there weren’t any chemical weapons in Iraq. There were plenty.’”
Yet I found myself reacting to the New York Times story with a sense of indifference. I spent the better part of five years arguing about the unpopular Iraq War, usually swimming against the tide. Debates tended to begin and end with cheap witticisms about Bush lying and kids dying. It wore me down until I simply didn’t want to discuss it anymore.
The whole Iraq mess is (sort of) in the rearview mirror now and I’m glad of it. I certainly never expected that it would take eight years and cost us the lives of 4,806 brave warriors to achieve something that resembled victory, albeit a fragile one. America has moved on to arguing about other things which is fine by me.
So when the Times revealed that Saddam’s WMD were in fact not phantasmal, as we had been led to believe, I wondered if it was worth dredging up an old debate.
Yes, I decided. Because the truth matters.
The public deserves to know what really happened though it may never hear it because the Iraq War narrative is now so thoroughly rehearsed that it actively resists change. Tomorrow’s history books will probably tell an oversimplified and basically inaccurate story about an evil Texas oil man who sent his troops on a fool’s errand. That’s not the case and it’s important that the lie doesn’t become the “truth” because of constant repetition.
The effects of the pernicious “no WMD” lie have taken its toll on many veterans. I personally know people with whom I served who consider their wartime service to have been basically worthless because it was all predicated on the supposed falsehood of Iraqi WMDs. I often wonder how much of our current epidemic of suicide among veterans is attributable to people who are broken in and body and spirit but can’t even name a single valid reason why they were sent to war in the first place. A little dose of truth might soothe them.
Other people have had their professional reputations besmirched. Tony Blair, for example, was one of Britain’s most beloved prime ministers until he decided to take America’s side against Saddam. He’s now dismissed as a lying war criminal. George Tenet, former Director of Central Intelligence, is now the laughing stock of Washington because he told President Bush that Iraq’s WMD were a “slam dunk.” Tenet was right. Where does he go to get his reputation back?
The leadup to the Iraq invasion may seem like ancient history now. Heck, most kids in high school today can’t even remember it. It’s not too late however, to insist upon the truth because truth has a value of its own.