Why Didn't the U.S. Seize the WMD Sites?

Chief weapons inspector David A. Kay’s recent testimony that there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should again focus attention on what was one of the most baffling aspects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq – our failure to immediately seize and secure the sites where weapons of mass destruction were believed to be stored. If there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and al Qaeda was present as well, then the first priority of the U.S. military in Iraq could only have been to seize those weapons to make sure they did not fall into the hands of terrorists. Instead, the weapons of mass destruction sites were treated largely as an afterthought to the invasion plan, with virtually no U.S. troops directed toward immediately securing the sites.

Most of the sites which were believed to contain deadly biological and chemical weapons were not even visited by the military for at least a month after the end of the invasion, and by that time both the weapons and al Qaeda were gone. Unfortunately, either the Secretary of Defense was frighteningly negligent in formulating a war plan which would have allowed those weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists, or it is hard to imagine anything other than that Secretary of Defense knew prior to the invasion that the weapons didn’t exist, and so there was no need to secure the sites.

The Administration says it believed it had credible proof of ongoing Iraq weapons programs and stores of ready-to-use chemical and biological weapons. The list of weapons of mass destruction the U.S. believed Iraq had was truly frightening – tons of biological and chemical agents that would cause painful and near instant death. The Administration further believed that there was credible evidence that Iraq had supported al Qaeda in 9/11, and continued to support and offer haven to al Qaeda terrorists. This was the only reason for invading Iraq – to keep the weapons of mass destruction out of al Qaeda hands.

In pre-war assessments by our intelligence agencies, the agencies believed it was unlikely that Hussein had passed on the weapons to al Qaeda, because of the danger of Iraq being blamed for any terrorist attack using the weapons. However the intelligence agencies believed that in the event of a war, this caution on the part of Hussein would be gone – Hussein was more likely to give the weapons to al Qaeda in the event of a U.S. invasion, because he would have nothing to lose.

This frightening possibility should have dictated our war plan. The greatest danger to our country was not that it might take three months to defeat Iraq instead of one and a half, but that as soon as we invaded the weapons of mass destruction would fall into al Qaeda hands. Given the extreme danger to our country, it is hard to contemplate having our military do anything other than seizing the weapons of mass destruction sites immediately, before anything else.

Instead, the war plan that the Secretary of Defense formulated for all practical purposes ignored the weapons of mass destruction sites. We didn’t immediately seize them – in most cases, our troops didn’t even visit the sites for a month after the end of the invasion, and in some cases three months after the end of the invasion. If there had been weapons of mass destruction, the weapons would have surely fallen into the hands of al Qaeda.

The casualness with which the U.S. war plan dealt with the weapons was truly frightening. If the weapons were there, this would have been one of the great disasters in the war against terrorism – we will have to live in fear of them for years to come. And we would have had only ourselves to blame for allowing them to fall into the hands of terrorists. The other possibility, unfortunately, is that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, or al Qaeda operatives, in Iraq. Unfortunately, it is hard not to conclude that the reason Secretary Rumsfeld didn’t bother targeting the weapons of mass destruction sites is because he knew, as Dr. Kay has now confirmed, that there would be nothing there.

I do not know which thought is more disturbing – that the weapons of mass destruction existed and fell into al Qaeda hands because of the casualness of the Secretary of Defense, or that the Secretary of Defense was misleading the President about their existence. Regardless, our nation deserves an answer.

Posted by at February 17, 2004 11:49 AM