June 22, 2006

The Santorum Code

We've now had roughly 15 hours since Senator Rick Santorum and Rep. Pete Hoestra announced in a hastily-called news conference that a newly declassified portion of a report from the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) confirmed that approximately 500 chemical weapons have been recovered in Iraq since 2003.

Since that time, the major media outlets have greeted this story with a virtual news blackout, leaving this story to the blogosphere to analyze.

Predictably, reaction to this story seems to fall along party lines. Many conservative bloggers covering the story see this as an absolute vindication of the Bush Administration, and are ecstatic. Quite a few others are more cautious, hoping to see more in the way of details released from the still-classified NGIC report from which the summary was culled.

On the other side of the political spectrum, many liberal blogs seemed almost rudderless in the hours after the story broke, almost as if they were waiting for guidance from either the silent media or equally quiet top-flight liberal blogs. Since then, they have mostly seemed to fallen in line behind Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post, who is taking the position, "nothing to see here/this doesn't count."

So what do we really have, and what do we really know?

We know for a fact that under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi began cultivating the development of chemical weapons in 1971. An article from the United Nations News Centre tells us further (h/t Flopping Aces:

Iraq first started exploring chemical weapons in 1971, and reviews developments through the establishment of a “large-scale chemical weapons programme” in 1981. The capacity expanded from there to the point that “according to Iraq, the use of chemical weapons achieved its major purpose and made a significant impact on the outcome of the Iran-Iraq war.”

According to declarations made by Iraq, in the period from 1981 to 1991 the chemical weapon programme produced approximately 3,850 tons of the chemical warfare agents mustard, tabun, sarin and VX, the report states.

Of the total of some 3,850 tons of chemical warfare agents produced, approximately 3,300 tons of agents were weaponized in different types of aerial bombs, artillery munitions and missile warheads.

In the period from 1981 to 1991, Iraq weaponized some 130,000 chemical munitions in total. Of these, over 101,000 munitions were used in combat, according to Iraq, in the period from 1981 to 1988.

Iraq declared that some 28,500 chemical munitions remained unused as of January 1991; about 5,500 filled munitions were destroyed by coalition forces during the war in 1991, while another 500 filled munitions were declared destroyed unilaterally by Iraq. “These last two figures were partially verified by United Nations inspectors,” the report states.

The bulk of the destruction of some 22,000 filled munitions occurred under the supervision of the UN inspectors in accordance with Security Council resolution 687 (1991) – the "ceasefire resolution" which ended the war – in the period from 1991 to 1994. During the collection of chemical weapons for destruction after the 1991 war, Iraq stated that it was not able to locate some 500 chemical munitions.

Iraq claimed it had 28,500 chemical weapons in 1991, and about 5,500 were destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War bringing the total to 23,000. Iraq then claims to have destroyed 500 munitions on their own and 22,000 weapons were destroyed under the supervision of U.N. weapons inspectors. This leaves us with roughly 500 chemical weapons that Iraq was unable to locate.

Are these same 500 chemical weapons that Iraq was unable to account for the same 500 chemical weapons that Santorum and Hoekstra revealed that U.S. forces have captured, and the same 500 that Dafna Linzer claims were buried in the desert near the Iran-Iraq border during their 1980-88 war?

If it can be verified that these are the missing 500 munitions from Saddam's declaration to the United Nations, then the accounting of Saddam's known weapons of mass destruction should be very close to complete. There should be no more significant caches of chemical weapons found in Iraq. It took 15 years and a war, but his chemical weapons have apparently all been accounted for and no significant quantities of thes munitions seem to have fallen into the hands of the various terrorist groups that Saddam cultivated in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

This news in and of itself would seem to be a significant victory.

But this is not how this story has been presented by Rick Santorum and Pete Hoekstra. They make the presentation that the 500 weapons found by U.S forces since the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces justify the WMD rationale, one of several reasons and by far the one most publicized used to justify this conflict.

I wish that this did justify that rationale, but it does not.

Our rationale was based on the thought that Saddam was continuing to develop and experiment with weapons of mass destruction, and that he continued to have the capability to build chemical and biological weapons. Saddam, indeed, led the world to believe that he still had this capability, and it wasn't until after the war that we discovered that he may have been bluffing all along. We have found no more modern (post 1991) chemical weapons in Iraq. We have found no smoking gun showing concrete proof of more recent development, and it is quite possible we never may.

It does, however, seem to close the book on the WMDs known to have existed in Iraq as of January 1991, as declared by the government of Saddam Hussein. The 500 munitions Saddam's Army could not locate seem to have been recovered by the U.S military. While small quantities of these weapons may still turn up, no significant caches should remain to be discovered.

That fact alone, that we recovered these approximately 500 "lost" munitions, is reason enough to celebrate, but it neither proves nor disproves the existence of a post-1991 weapons program.

If any significant future caches are found, however, then the game will indeed be afoot, and both the media and doubters in the blogosphere will be out of valid excuses.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 22, 2006 11:30 AM | TrackBack

What's this? A reasonable post at CY? The 4 horsemen must be on their way.

Posted by: jpe at June 22, 2006 11:29 AM

Hmmm. Interesting.

Posted by: The Heretik at June 22, 2006 11:33 AM

I don't remember the issue to have been about post 1991 weapons. Everyone seems to rewrite history. I remember the issue and it was give us the weapons, let us look for them or ELSE.

ELSE happened. Without 911 we probably had the time and resources to play around another ten or more years.

With 911 we had to face an active and agressive enemy and it would have been imprudent to leave a mad dog at our backs.

As it turned out we got to fight the enemy in the mad dogs own junk yard and our yard staid quite nice.

Posted by: RFYoung at June 22, 2006 12:58 PM

I guess we will have to wait for the testimony that only time can produce...

Posted by: Old Soldier at June 22, 2006 01:28 PM

I'd agree with jpe, although I'll attempt to be less sarcastic. Congratulations for making a good analysis. You made exactly the point that seems to be missing from most right-wing blogs.

As to the numbers; well, when I read the memo itself, it says "Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent." My reading of that is that it's talking about things that have been found in dribs and drabs, and therefore *not* the ones Santorum is talking about, which came in a big lump. So we're already at 1000 shells that have been found.

I think your analysis is far too precise; you're ignoring the various "approximately"s in your sources. More importantly, I don't have as much faith in the Ba'athist bureaucracy as you do; I'd imagine that there was a continous "loss" of weapons as they got siphoned off by corrupt middle-ranking officers making shady deals without telling their superiors, and fiddling the books to cover their tracks.

I'm sure there are thousands more chemical weapons in Iraq, but this isn't relevant to the justification for going to war. The war was against Saddam Hussein, not Iraq, and Saddam Hussein didn't have access to the "lost" weapons. As long as he didn't build any more, I think we could have felt safe from him.

Of course, having thousands of loose chemical weapons is a bad thing, and worth cleaning up. Indeed, there are various reasons for invading the place, some of them even reasonable. The key point that pisses people off is that those weren't the reasons that were given. The reason that was given was bogus. That really shouldn't be forgiven.

Posted by: Mat at June 22, 2006 01:40 PM

Well, from your conclusions, you seem to have tasted the poison kool-aid also. There are lots of other reasons for having gone into Iraq. It is just no one remembers them. Too much McDonalds.

The Hobo

Posted by: Robohobo at June 22, 2006 02:00 PM

I think the Duelfer Reports that Hussein was, in fact, attempting to reconstitute his WMD programs, and that he was further along than even we realized. That was one of the primary issues, not that he had completely reconstituted them. I'd have to go back and re-read the report, and look again at our claims leading up to the war, but I don't believe anyone actually claimed the programs were active. Am I missing something?

Posted by: NukemHill at June 22, 2006 03:16 PM

What NukemHill said. At first, after Duelfer, it was all programs and no stockpiles, now it's all stockpiles and no programs.

Maybe it's just the champagne I've been guzzling, but you and Patterico and Allahpundit are looking a little hard to please...

Posted by: See-Dubya at June 22, 2006 03:37 PM

Being the forthright and totally standup guy Saddam is, we would of course be complete fools to not take Saddam's pre-91 accounting as anything but the gospel.

Want to buy any land in FL? Its kind of submerged real estate at the moment, but I can cut you a real good deal on it.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 22, 2006 04:55 PM

I've re-read the joint resolution. In retrospect, some of the language is a little vague, so there's plenty of wiggle room for all sides in this little debate. I'm leaving town before dawn tomorrow morning, but if I get a chance, I'm going to blog a little on this myself.

Language games can be sooooo much fun....

Posted by: NukemHill at June 22, 2006 04:59 PM

"coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent."

You're gloating because we've sacrificed 2,500 of our finest over 500 expired chemical munitions.

Maybe the MSM doesn't think this is a big deal.

Now is that time when you pretend like we were marching democracy all along.

Posted by: Cyrus McElderry at June 22, 2006 05:19 PM

Excellent summary, missing only one important point; the ISG report stated, quite specifically, that Saddam had the capability to restart his WMD program on almost a moment's notice. It suggests that he could have gotten Amthrax production up and going within a week, and been producing large quantities within a month...our 'fears' of Saddam were quite justified, as France and German were agitating to have the sanctions lifted, and once they were lifted, Saddam would have been free to reconstitute his army and WMD development.

Posted by: Steve at June 22, 2006 06:28 PM

I haven't followed the WMD story exclusively, so bear with me -

As late as 2000 - we have this gentleman (link) that says:

"The young engineer is quoted as saying Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will never give up his dream of being the first Arab leader to have the atomic bomb"

I Al-googled his name - and only this same article comes up - so was this man ever heard from again? Or was he discredited? Last name is Zweir-

Posted by: Enlightened at June 22, 2006 09:57 PM

Here's another (long and technical read)link that indicates Iraq's desire to produce a nuclear weapon. Interestingly enough, the author was a whistle-blower against scientists and intelligistas that chose to look the other way.

What I'm getting at in these links is the mind-set that everyone thought Saddam was just a blowhard loon that didn't need to be taken out.

IMO, on the contrary - these links prove his maniacal desire to have WMD.

This article covers all the way to 2001 - and we are to believe Saddam was HARMLESS?

"In July 1991, shortly after the Gulf War, news from Iraq confirmed what I had concluded twelve years earlier: That Iraq had decided to use the calutron electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) process to produce highly enriched uranium, i.e., the very same process that was actually used to produce the uranium-235 that was fissioned in the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima in August 1945."

Posted by: Enlightened at June 22, 2006 10:26 PM

Geez Cyrus....You have any more sour grapes you want to air now that you were proved wrong...again?

Do you have any clue as to how much damage a couple of gallons of sarin could do if stuck in a bottle with say something as simple as an M-80 attached to it? Do you know how many innocent people that would kill? That's why they are called Weapons of MASS Destruction. Get a clue.

Posted by: Specter at June 23, 2006 12:39 PM