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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Washington File

16 June 2003

"Past the Point of Justifying," by Senator John McCain

(The Washington Post 06/15/03 op-ed) (910)
(This column by Republican Senator John McCain from Arizona, first
published in the Washington Post June 15, is in the public domain. No
republication restrictions.)
(begin byliner)
Past the Point of Justifying
By John McCain
Like many Americans, I am surprised that we have yet to locate the
weapons of mass destruction that all of us, Republican and Democrat,
expected to find immediately in Iraq. But do critics really believe
that Saddam Hussein disposed of his weapons and dismantled weapons
programs while fooling every major intelligence service on earth,
generations of U.N. inspectors, three U.S. presidents and five
secretaries of defense into believing he possessed them, in one of the
most costly and irrational gambles in history?
After the first Persian Gulf War, the discovery of Hussein's advanced
nuclear weapons program following years of international inspections
surprised everyone. When U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, they
catalogued Iraq's continuing possession of, or proven failure to
disclose, one of the biggest chemical and biological weapons arsenals
in history.
Critics today seem to imply that after seven years of elaborately
deceiving the United Nations, Hussein precipitated the withdrawal of
U.N. inspectors from his country in 1998, then decided to change
course and disarmed himself over the next four years, but refused to
provide any realistic proof that this disarmament occurred.
I am not convinced. Nor was chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix,
who recently catalogued Iraq's failure to come clean on an array of
weapons programs the United Nations believed were continuing. Nor were
Congress and President Clinton, who advocated regime change in Iraq in
1998 -- before the U.N. inspectors left.
While war was never inevitable, it was, in retrospect, the most
telegraphed military confrontation in history. Hussein had plenty of
time to destroy or disperse weapons stocks and to further conceal
weapons programs, which often rely more on human knowledge than
physical infrastructure. If Hussein had the weapons destroyed or
concealed, reconstituting them would have required primarily the
skills of Iraqi scientists. Precious few Iraqis would have been
involved in the actual destruction or concealment. That's why
capturing and interrogating Iraqis involved in concealment -- as well
as scientific personnel -- is essential.
Despite highly intrusive inspections after the Gulf War, U.N.
inspectors were shocked in 1995 when an Iraqi defector revealed the
existence of Iraq's enormous biological weapons program. Until we
capture Hussein or prove him dead and eradicate the remnants of his
apparatus of terror, which continues to coordinate daily attacks on
U.S. forces in Iraq, Iraqi scientists will not feel free to talk, and
warped dreams of outlasting America will persist.
We went to war in part because Hussein failed to account for his
weapons, had proven his willingness to use them and behaved in a way
that encouraged governments around the world to believe he possessed
them. Our intelligence about a hostile foreign government is never
perfect. When it tends overwhelmingly toward one conclusion -- in
Iraq's case, that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction --
should we give the benefit of the doubt to a dictator with a record of
deceit and aggression?
It is certainly appropriate to examine the quality of the intelligence
that influenced the administration's decision to go to war. It is
appropriate to examine what went right and what went wrong in the
prosecution of the war and in its aftermath. But I find it impossible
to credit as serious the suggestion that this war shouldn't have been
fought because, lacking better intelligence, we ought to have assumed
Hussein's good faith.
We should not let legitimate debate about the search for weapons
minimize the task now at hand: the reconstruction and democratization
of Iraq. Discovering the truth about Iraqi weapons is important,
securing Iraq's democratic future even more so. This will be the final
measure of our victory, not how many gallons of anthrax we find. The
United Nations found a lot, and we will either find more or find out
where it went.
We fought this war to defend the security of the United States against
the threat from Hussein's proven weapons programs and his refusal to
come clean, his record of aggression against his neighbors, the utter
collapse of containment, the possibility of his cooperation with
terrorists, and his brutal oppression of the Iraqi people.
Does anyone believe that the United States, the Iraqi people or the
Arab world would be better off if Hussein were still in power, if
8-year-old children were still held in Iraqi prisons, if Hussein were
still threatening his neighbors? Hussein alone was responsible for
this war, and we need make no apologies for supporting the use of U.S.
military force to rid the world of his murderous regime.
It is too early to declare final victory in Iraq. But we're well past
the point of knowing that our war to liberate Iraq was right and just.
The discovery of mass graves filled with the bodies of murdered
children should have convinced even the greatest skeptic. We made
America more secure, liberated millions from a reign of terror and
helped create the prospect for the establishment of the first Arab
democracy. That should make Americans proud -- and critics of the
administration's decision to go to war a little more circumspect.
(The writer is a Republican Senator from Arizona.)
(end byliner)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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