SADDAM AND WMDs….I would like to join Tim Dunlop in ganging up on Matt Yglesias over this post of his today:

The other day I saw someone all upset by some kind of poll indicating that most American don’t think we need to find any WMDs in Iraq for the war to have been justified. I found myself actually agreeing with this proposition ? whether or not the invasion was a good idea has almost nothing to do with whether or not we find WMDs.

This is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, I’m afraid, but it doesn’t hold up to a moment’s scrutiny. Let’s consider the reasons for going to war with Iraq that George Bush gave in his State of the Union Address earlier this year:

  1. Saddam Hussein is brutal, thuggish dictator.

  2. He supports terrorist organizations that pose a threat to the United States.

  3. He has defied a long string of UN resolutions.

  4. He possesses weapons of mass destruction that pose an immediate threat to the stability of the Middle East.

Here’s the problem: how do you decide which countries the United States is going to declare war on? There’s a long list of countries that fit items #1 and #2, and there are quite a few that fit #3 as well (although the United States surely has no authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolution without the concurrence of the UN itself in any case).

Only when you put the first three together with #4 do you have a defensible case for removing Saddam Hussein from power, and George Bush knows it: out of the 1,200 words in his speech devoted to Iraq, virtually all of them addressed the subject of WMDs and the fact that Saddam was hiding them from inspectors. So if #4 isn’t true, then it means that we went to war either (a) just because we felt like it, or (b) based on wildly faulty intelligence. This is exactly the fear of both the American left and most of the rest of the world.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s unlikely that this will ever be resolved. We will probably find just enough evidence to convince the hawks that Saddam did indeed have WMDs, but not enough to convince anyone else that he posed a serious threat. And even if we find nothing, the idea that it’s all been secretly spirited away to Syria is already making the rounds, and will probably become the new and improved conventional wisdom among the hawks very shortly. We’ll know for sure that this is the case if intelligence reports from “sources within the administration” start popping up suddenly suggesting that Saddam’s weapons are now in Syria and pose a serious threat to the stability of the Middle East that can only be solved by marching on Damascus etc. etc.

Then again, maybe we’ll find the swimming pools of anthrax, we’ll cooperate with the UN on humanitarian aid, we’ll install a genuinely reformist government, and then we’ll leave in a couple of years. Hope springs eternal here in sunny Orange County.

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