Color me skeptical…

I’m reading an AP release from this morning titled “U.S. Report Finds No Evidence of Iraq WMD.” Clearly more bad news for the President.

I used to read an article like this and feel informed. These days I’m skeptical—wondering what they left out, what they misrepresented. Too often I’ve gone back to the original report only to find that the reporter has gotten things wrong.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs had deteriorated into only hopes and dreams by the time of the U.S.-led invasion last year, a decline wrought by the first Gulf War and years of international sanctions, the chief U.S. weapons hunter found.

I hope this is correct. My concern has been that the year we spent in preparing to invade Iraq allowed him time to hide or move WMD, and that they are out there waiting to be used against us.

And what ambitions Saddam harbored for such weapons were secondary to his goal of evading those sanctions, and he wanted them primarily not to attack the United States or to provide them to terrorists, but to oppose his older enemies, Iran and Israel.

So Saddam did have ambitions. He just wasn’t able to act on them while the sanctions were in place. And what does “oppose Israel” mean? Is that code for “attack Israel?” He’s done that before, and as far as I know Israel hasn’t been attacking Iraq.

The report of weapons hunter Charles Duelfer was presented Wednesday to senators and the public in the midst of a fierce presidential election campaign in which Iraq and the war of terror have become the overriding issues.

“War of terror.” Freudian slip? Note to self: find and read the report.

The report chronicles the decay of Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs after its defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. By the late 1990s, only its long-range missile efforts continued in defiance of the United Nations; even then, Iraq’s ballistic and cruise missile designs had not proceeded far past the drawing board. Saddam’s other plans would have to wait until he was free of the sanctions and free of international attention.

Ok, so after a decade he was still violating the cease fire agreement. And he didn’t abandon his plans; he just put them on hold until the sanctions were lifted. I’m sure glad he’s no longer in power.

Duelfer’s Iraq Survey Group drew on interviews with senior Iraqi officials, 40 million pages of documents and classified intelligence to conclude that Iraq destroyed its undeclared chemical and biological stockpiles under pressure of U.N. sanctions by 1992 and never resumed production.

Hmm. David Kay supervised over 1,000 investigators for over a year and managed to inspect only a few percent of Iraq’s known weapon sites. (I’m sure there weren’t any unknown weapon sites, as Saddam was very candid with us about everything). Here I am being skeptical again, but how did Duelfer’s team manage to get to all the rest, plus translate and study 40 million pages of documents in about the same amount time? I’m just asking.

The U.S.-led invasion pushed one of Iraq’s leaders into seeking chemical weapons to defend the country. But it doesn’t appear that Saddam’s son Odai located any.

I hope this means he sought them outside Iraq, because if he was looking for them inside, it means he thought they were there, which means they may still be there. You see, I’d much rather that there never were WMD and that Bush was wrong than to learn that he was right and they are unaccounted for.

Iraq ultimately abandoned its biological weapons programs in 1995, largely out of fear they would be discovered and tougher enforcement imposed.

“Indeed, from the mid-1990s, despite evidence of continuing interest in nuclear and chemical weapons, there appears to be a complete absence of discussion or even interest in BW at the presidential level,” according to a summary of Duelfer’s 1,000-page report.

Okay, a 1,000 page report that just came out yesterday. Summary or not, I’m going to reserve judgment on a lot of this until we get a chance to sift through that report. Oh, and “evidence of continuing interest in nuclear and chemical weapons” is not positive trait in a mass murderer.

And Iraq also abandoned its nuclear program after the war, and there was no evidence it tried to reconstitute it.

This has never added up to me. If Saddam didn’t have any chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and if he was so eager to have sanctions lifted, why all the cat-and-mouse games? Why not grant the inspectors access, prove you are clean, get the sanctions lifted, and then go about your business of building weapons and destroying Israel? It’s what I would have done.

Saddam’s intentions to restart his weapons programs were never formalized.

Oh that makes me feel better. What does that mean anyway? How do you formalize intentions? “I, Saddam Hussein, being of unsound mind, do hereby declare formally my intentions to resume building illegal weapons in violation of the cease fire agreement at such time as the Great Satan stops looking over my shoulder.”

Uh huh.

“The former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions,” the summary says. “Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policymakers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.”

Bulletin: It was supposed to be a secret! If you write it down, the Great Satan may figure it out.

Duelfer’s findings contradict most of the assertions by the Bush administration and the U.S. intelligence community about Iraq’s threat in 2002 and early 2003. The White House had argued that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and production lines and had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

More properly, the Bush administration’s assertions based on U.S. intelligence reports. (Can you say, “slam dunk?” I knew you could.) And I’m still not convinced that this is the final word.

The United States led an invasion into Iraq in March 2003, taking the capital, Baghdad, within weeks. Since then, the United States and its allies have fought a dangerous insurgency of Iraqis as well as Islamic extremists who have come to Iraq to kill Americans.

“…as well as Islamic extremists?” I guess the insurgents (the word terrorist is way too judgmental) aren’t actually Islamic extremists then. Hmm. And they have come to Iraq just to kill Americans. I guess they didn’t get John Kerry’s memo about Iraq having nothing to do with the War on Terror.

Before the war, Saddam’s chief success was in manipulating a U.N. oil for food program that began in 1996 to avoid the sanctions’ effects for a few years, acquiring billions of dollars to import goods such as parts for missile systems. Duelfer also in the report accused the former head of the U.N. oil-for-food program of accepting bribes in the form of vouchers for Iraqi oil sales from Saddam’s government.

“Once the oil for food program began, it provided all kind of levers for him (Saddam) to manipulate his way out of sanctions,” Duelfer told Congress on Wednesday.

Now wait. I thought Saddam kept his nose clean this whole time because of those powerful sanctions. Now you tell me he was gaming the system and that the sanctions weren’t effective? And the U.N. was corrupt and playing along the whole time? I’m shocked. All this time I thought they were obstructing the War on Terror for purely principled reasons.

He said he believed sanctions against Saddam – even though they appeared to work in part – were unsustainable long term.

Yep. And this is the point people keep missing—the point John McCain made so well at the Republican convention: it wasn’t a choice between war and containment. It was a choice between war and relying on an evil man to deny his nature.

We did the right thing.

Update: Buried near the end of a second AP release, coming five hours later, is a single sentence which confirms my point:

The Duelfer report said that Saddam’s intentions were “preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction when sanctions were lifted.”

I repeat: we did the right thing.

Update 2: Oh my, be sure to go read Captain Ed and Cassandra on all the evidence coming out about Saddam bribing France et al to keep the U.S. from invading, and Saddam’s plans to rearm as soon as the sanctions were lifted. I’m telling you, folks, not going into Iraq would have been a huge and costly mistake.

Anyone other than John Kerry still think the French are our allies?

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