IRAQ AND WMD….Responding to my post last night about Iraq and al-Qaeda, James Joyner asks a question: If Britain believed that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no significant ties to al-Qaeda, why did Tony Blair support war against Iraq? Blair (and Bush) certainly believed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and dangerous thug, but it’s worth pointing out that the Downing Street Memos also make it clear that they believed something else: that Saddam was developing WMD capability. Here’s a summary:

  • Options Paper: “Sanctions have effectively frozen Iraq’s nuclear programme….Biological weapons (BW) and Chemical Weapons (CW) programmes have been hindered.

    ….However: Iraq continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, although our intelligence is poor….Iraq continues with its BW and CW programmes and, if it has not already done so could produce significant quantities of BW agents within days and CW agent within weeks of a decision to do so. We believe it could deliver CBW by a variety of means, including in ballistic missile warheads. There are also some indications of a continuing nuclear programme.

    ….For the P5 and the majority of the Council to take the view that Iraq was in breach of 687[,] they would need to be convinced that Iraq was in breach of its obligations regarding WMD, and ballistic missiles. Such proof would need to be incontrovertible and of large-scale activity. Current intelligence is insufficiently robust to meet this criterion.”

  • Ricketts Memo: “…even the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.”

  • Downing Street Memo: “The Foreign Secretary said….It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”

On the one hand you have this: “Continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.” “Could produce significant quantities of BW agents within days and CW agent within weeks.” “Programmes are extremely worrying.”

On the other hand, you also have this: “Sanctions have effectively frozen Iraq’s nuclear programme.” “Intelligence is poor.” “Even the best survey…will not show much advance in recent years.” “WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”

In other words, during 2002 Bush and Blair did believe that Iraq had active WMD programs ? although no apparent belief in actual stockpiles of WMD. However, even if their belief in Iraqi WMD was genuine, the memos prove beyond much doubt that they deliberately exaggerated the strength of their evidence and deliberately concealed known uncertainties. If these memos had been leaked before the war, it’s pretty clear they would have been a big net negative for the case against Saddam.

And remember, these memos are all from 2002. By the time the war started, after several months of highly intrusive scrutiny from UN inspectors, it’s doubtful that either Bush or Blair still believed even this much. It’s too bad we don’t have any later memos that would reveal their thoughts on the matter in March 2003.

UPDATE: Hmmm, it turns out everyone else is talking about this too. Read ’em all!

UPDATE 2: Laura and E.J. too. If the Downing Street Memos do nothing more than get people to genuinely accept the stuff that supposedly “everyone knows” anyway, they will have served a salutary purpose.

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