- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Before we rush to judgment that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq (not counting Saddam Hussein), and that our intelligence services gave the Bush administration incorrect information and so heads should roll, let us consider that David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, may have reached the wrong conclusion, or at least a partially wrong conclusion.

Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, cautioned: “The work to collect the facts from which final assessments have to be made and such corrections as may be necessary to our intelligence system — that has yet to come.”

Even Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who is calling for an independent investigation of any intelligence lapses, got Mr. Kay to agree with him when he said: “Saddam Hussein developed and used weapons of mass destruction. He used them against the Iranians and the Kurds. U.N. inspectors found enormous quantities of banned chemical and biological weapons in Iraq in the ‘90s. We know Saddam Hussein had once a very active nuclear program. He realized and had ambitions to develop and use weapons of mass destruction.”

To each of Mr. McCain’s points, Mr. Kay responded “yes,” or “absolutely,” or “clearly.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said, “I think there is some concern that shipments of WMD went to Syria.” Mr. Kay has told investigators WMDs were sent to Syria before the war with Iraq. He told London’s Daily Telegraph, “We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons. But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMDs program. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”

According to the intelligence news service Geostrategy-Direct, there are “satellite photographs of Iraqi convoys believed to be bringing missiles and WMD into Syria as well as assertions from Iraqi officials that ousted leader Saddam Hussein ordered such a transfer.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have been quoted in news stories as rejecting the notion Saddam Hussein would have “trusted” Syrian President Bashar Assad with Iraq’s missiles and WMD assets. Mr. Powell said, “I have seen no hard evidence to suggest that is the case, that suddenly there were no weapons found in Iraq because they were all in Syria. I don’t know why the Syrians would do that, frankly, why it would be in their interest. They didn’t have that kind of relationship with Iraq.”

That begs an important question. Those convoys of trucks might not technically have been carrying “weapons,” but they were probably carrying — as Mr. Kay agreed — sufficient chemicals and other elements that would go into weapons to be of concern. As for Middle East relationships, anyone familiar with the history of the region knows yesterday’s enemies can rapidly become today’s friends. Saddam Hussein sent his entire fighter airplane fleet to Iran in 1991 not long after concluding a massive and bloody 10-year war. Iraq was also pumping large quantities of oil through Syria, which the Syrian regime was selling at a tremendous profit. To suggest Saddam couldn’t ask for a favor from Bashir Assad, or threaten him if he didn’t take the weapons, or simply send his trucks across the unguarded border is not credible.

The American intelligence community is in serious need of restructuring. President Bush reportedly has agreed to support an independent inquiry into the prewar intelligence he received, according to a Jan. 31 report in The Washington Post. That will be a good thing as long as investigators keep it free of politics, which will be difficult in an election year.

But to assert the intelligence was completely wrong — as many Democrats now do because inspectors have not turned up the volume of weapons of mass destruction that everyone from the United Nations to President Clinton to Mr. Kay have said were there — is foolish and shortsighted. Nothing is gained by rushing. Much may be gained by allowing the investigation to take its course.

If we had discovered Adolf Hitler had been killing people other than Jews and that a million, not 6 million, had died, and that instead of Zyklon B gas he used other agents, would the United States have been less justified in removing him and his horrid regime from power?

Saddam Hussein is gone. It is a good thing for Iraq and the world. An assessment of our intelligence capabilities should continue, but that investigation should not be politicized. It is too important for that.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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