October 11, 2003


Speaking of playing a busted flush, Charles Krauthammer, in a much-lauded piece, continues to hype the Kay report.

The fact that Hussein may have decided to go from building up stocks to maintaining clandestine production facilities... does not mean that he got out of the WMD business. Otherwise, by that logic, one would have to say that until the very moment at which the plutonium from its 8,000 processed fuel rods is wedded to waiting nuclear devices, North Korea does not have a nuclear program.

That's a false analogy, as Krauthammer certainly knows.

As Krauthammer documents in the piece, Kay has proven -- to no one's surprise -- that Iraq retained some chemical and biological research capability, in defiance of UN resolutions.

But surely Krauthammer, a self-proclaimed med school veteran, knows the difference between research, already proven in Iraq's case, and "production." (Between science and engineering, in other words.) Kay found no evidence of a "clandestine production facility," just the potential and probable intent to build one in relatively short order (presumably after sanctions are lifted). So why would Krauthammer say something that was completely unsupported like that?

The analogy to Korea is particularly false. In Iraq's case, it hasn't been established at all that they had the biochem equivalent of plutonium in "processed fuel rods." Far from it. Kay has so far established they had the equivalent of plans for processing nuclear fuel. Nor did they have any of the various NBC equivalents of "waiting nuclear devices" (no missiles, bombs, or spray tanks, just plans to make them later.) Those would have to be built from scratch, too. If North Korea's nuclear program only had what Iraqi had on the chem/bio side (never mind nuclear)... in other words, plans for a fuel processing facility and blueprints for a nuclear device... would anyone see them as a serious threat yet?

The "just in time delivery" comparison is misleading, too. Kay's own report states quite clearly that the Iraqis themselves thought they were 2-6 months away from having a mustard gas weapon (probably spray-tank or artillery-delivered, useless against anything but defenceless Kurds or Shiites) and two years from a deliverable nerve agent, assuming the world looked the other way. It's reasonable to assume that biological agents or an effective radiological weapon, requiring about the same industrial investment, would have taken about as long as nerve gas, and nuclear weapons would have been about five years off (as the British believed them to be pre-war). Calling being two years away from any weapon that could be used by a terrorist or to threaten Israel or to deter an invasion as being "just in time" does not help anyone's understanding of the situation.

If people want to argue that Hussein, by virtue of being Hussein, was a threat to regional stability demanding prompt international action, then that would still be hard to argue with. But it's becoming increasingly clear that in meeting that threat the United States had all the time in the world (and hence didn't necessarily have to rush ahead despite poor post-war occupation planning, or lack of UNSC approval), at least in terms of anything Iraq was doing or capable of doing while they waited.

It's notable in this context that the American doctrine of pre-emptive war is extending even farther post war. For the upshot of now saying that President Bush never claimed Iraq was an "imminent threat" is the corollary that the U.S. now believes that ANY threat, so long as it is "real and growing," is justification for American military action against another country. This can only contribute in the long run to clandestine procurement of deterrent weapons by all those regimes that fear they may one day be seen as a "real and growing" threat before they ever really have the chance to do any threatening.

PS: I find Kay's claim that his team (which has asked for an additional $600 million to complete his work) has only physically inspected 10 per cent of Iraq's munitions so far to be rather amusing. Either Iraq had the capability to find these weapons in their own stocks, or it didn't. Presumably some records, or someone who knows what they said, still exist somewhere. Otherwise those alleged weapons would be as lost to the Iraqis as they are to the Americans. A weapon that you've lost and can't find is surely just as useless as one that was never built. In this case, a whole-stock inventory, sooner or later, is probably required... but for it to be a real capability, Kay will also have to establish that the mustard shell they find in the corner was also known to be there by someone who could have used it. One shouldn't automatically assume that such weapons, if ever found, resolve into some kind of real capability.

ADDENDUM: This is why I'm thinking that this weekend's PR offensive, which seems to be focussing on the argument that Kay verifies the U.S. fears about Iraqi capability, is misguided. The message being sent in arguing that Kay proves that Iraq was a threat by virtue of its *capabilities* alone, is in effect that any country that could put together its own weapon capable of hurting Americans within two years, is now a criminal state subject to invasion. This is an impossible standard of behaviour for other nations to meet... if only because ANY nation that has industrialized has that capability; ie it could probably put together a convincing biological or chemical weapon in two years. It would seem much wiser from an international relations perspective to refocus the issue the other way... that the Hussein regime was criminal by virtue of its *intentions* (as demonstrated by violation of UN resolutions, threats against Israel and the United States, treatment of minorities, etc.), and start discounting Kay and the "WMD" issue. The message then would be, "act like a rogue state, with bad weapons or without, and you'll be treated like one," which at least would be a standard the rest of the world would understand and could conceivably comply with.

Posted by BruceR at 11:48 AM


No offense, but the Star's big piece on American military procurement in Canada does the best job of playing a busted flush I've seen outside of Atlantic City poker tables.

I mean, what do you do when you assign your major investigative effort for the week to an interesting issue and find not much of anything? Play it up, of course.

The Star's investigation shows that the U.S. spends about $400 million US a year in Canada on documented defence buys. The Star "estimates" (guesses) that there's another $400 million in undocumented subcontracts within between multinationals and their Canadian subsidiaries, too. That's out of a total US budget of $165 billion... or about 0.5 per cent, assuming you accept their assumptions. Although there's no figures to back them up, Canadian exporters are quoted saying that they doubt that number's going to change much at all because of the Iraq war, because business is business.

Erm, that's about it. For this we get the front page headline, "Canada didn't go to war, but our businesses did?" Come on. Getting 0.5 per cent of the U.S. defence procurement pie isn't particularly impressive, given the common border, extensive industrial integration, etc. etc. Would anyone on either side of the border really be deeply alarmed if it ever doubled to a whole 1 per cent?

Posted by BruceR at 10:17 AM