- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The United States has been in Iraq for seven weeks now, and we have still to turn up weapons of mass destruction — WMD for short. The majority of the sites identified by U.S. intelligence as potential hiding places for WMD have been searched unsuccessfully, and the 75th Exploitation Task Force responsible for finding the nasty stuff has reportedly been scheduled to ship out of Iraq next month. International critics of the Iraq war are rubbing their hands in glee. But not so fast. This is not over yet, and though the hunt for weapons has not been successful up to this point, we don’t know what the future holds.

Does any of this matter given the other horrors of the Saddam regime we have uncovered? Does it matter given that the Iraqi people will have a far brighter future than the one they were destined to under the Ba’ath Party dictatorship? Some say, no.

On April 27, columnist Tom Friedman wrote in the New York Times about the murder of political prisoners in Iraq, “that skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me.” And in an article on Sunday in The Washington Post’s Outlook Section, Michael Schrage of the National Security Studies Program at MIT argued that “the real story here is less about the failure of intelligence, inspections or diplomacy than about America’s tolerance for state sponsored ambiguities explicitly designed to threaten American lives.”

It is certainly an argument that in the war on terrorism, we can scant afford ambiguity. As we just saw tragically in Monday’s deadly attacks in Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda and its friends are very much alive. Yet, there’s a lot of ambiguity in this world, deliberate or not, and the strategic case for eliminating it is problematic. That’s why the administration went to great length to make the specific case in Iraq.

An accounting will have to be made if we were ultimately to come up empty-handed in Iraq. Either a massive intelligence failure has occurred and needs to be investigated, or the problem is the removal, looting and destruction of evidence — which in some instances clearly has taken place. The American people, who continue to rally around the president and the war effort, will need to be told, and so will America’s allies in the war.

The word and credibility of any number of high-level Bush administration officials rest on the case they have made regarding Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. On Feb. 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell spent more than one hour at the United Nations making the case that Iraq had not been forthright about its WMD programs and in an elaborate slide show demonstrated where and how some of these weapons had been hidden. Mr. Bush himself made the case eloquently before the American people in the State of the Union address and on the eve of military action in March.

Thankfully, we did get a break this week, the capture of the woman scientist known to American officials as Dr. Germ, one Rihab Rashid Taha, No. 197 on the U.S. Central Command’s most wanted list. This gruesome designation describes her role as a top scientist in Iraq’s biological weapons program. As reported by Jerry Seper in The Washington Times yesterday, she was the director of a factory that produced anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin. Nice.

Though pretty grim looking from her pictures, Dr. Germ is a great catch. She turned herself in after the surrender a few weeks ago of her husband, known to the Americans as Missile Man, a top general involved in Iraq’s long-range ballistic missile program. For one thing, this lovely power couple will not be around to render their services to terrorist groups or other rogue states, shutting off one potential source of proliferation. But they could also reveal a great deal about the Iraqi WMD program if they talk. The more of their colleagues we capture, the better our chances of uncovering the truth, if we can turn them into witnesses.

Given Saddam’s proven history with the use of these weapons against Iranians and against his own Kurdish population, it does seem highly likely that we will ultimately find the evidence that Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell promised us. So, let us not rush to judgment. It also needs to be recalled that certain members of the U.N. Security Council wanted to allow the U.N. inspections teams months to complete their mission, arguing that the deadlines proposed by the Americans and the British were too tight to do a proper job.

It may take months to find and document what we are looking for. And if we don’t, let’s burn that bridge when we get to it.

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