Saddam’s A-Bomb

SADDAM’S A-BOMB….In The Good Fight, Peter Beinart says that he originally supported the Iraq war because he thought it was the only way to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting a nuclear bomb. David Adesnik isn’t impressed with this argument:

Really, a nuclear bomb? I know that the President and others made ominous references to a mushroom cloud, but I also remember that almost all Democrats and almost all analysts rejected out of hand the possibility that Iraq had, or would soon have, a bomb.

….In order to make his chapter persuasive, Beinart should’ve gone back to the best liberal arguments on behalf of the war and evaluated their merits. His own writings would have been a good place to start. Also well-known is Ken Pollack’s book, The Threatening Storm, which Beinart cites in his chapter.

I remember thinking the same thing at one time, but it turned out that I was the one with the faulty memory. Here’s what Ken Pollack said in The Threatening Storm (pp. 173-175), published in late 2002:

There is a consensus that Iraq has resumed work on nuclear weapons….A recent defector who worked as a design engineer stated that Saddam had ordered the entire nuclear program reconstituted in August 1998, when he announced that he had ceased all cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors.

….Just to be clear about this: in 1990, Iraq built a workable nuclear wepaon. All it lacked was the fissile material. Iraq has natural uranium deposits….It also has the technology and the know-how to build a system capable of enriching that uranium to weapons grade.

….The U.S. intelligence community has estimated that it would take Iraq five to ten years from the start of crash program to enrich enough uranium to make one or more devices. If such a crash program started in 1999, Iraq might be able to develop such weapons by 2004.

It’s true, as David says, that a few months after The Threatening Storm was published UN inspectors had discredited the evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program. However, by then UN inspectors had pretty much discredited the evidence for chemical and biological weapons programs as well. They had also demonstrated that Saddam’s missile stock was only barely out of compliance with UN mandates and that the much-hyped drone program was a joke. In fact, they made it pretty clear that Saddam posed virtually no threat at all to anyone.

In that sense, there’s nothing unusual about the idea that Beinart believed Iraq was trying to build a bomb. Mainstream analysts did believe that Iraq had an active nuclear program, just as they believed he had an active chem/bio program. They were wrong about all that stuff, not just the nuclear weapons.