Given that WMDs are still a desert mirage, the debate continues as to rationale for the war. Or at least, it continues among principled proponents of the war on Iraq like Thomas Nephew, and principled opponents of the war like myself. In his latest post, he disagrees with Gary Farber's mea culpa and remains cautiously optimistic that we will indeed find WMDs yet. In the course of this, he also asks the pointed question:

And if Saddam didn't have WMD, why the song and dance with Blix? Why not just welcome UNMOVIC, say "knock yourselves out, help yourselves to the fridge," and have frequent photo ops with earnest good people from around the globe?

I can think of lots of good reasons why you wouldn't want a foreign spra-national body poking around your military sites, regardless of whether you have a WMD program to hide or not.

Just imagine. Tomorrow UN Inspectors demand to inspect the Nes Tziona facility in Israel, on suspicion of WMG program development. What reaction do you think the Israelis would have? Anything less than outrage and obstruction would be a dereliction of duty by Sharon. The problem is the a-priori assumption that such a weapons capability exists, and thus the creation of a catch-22. Thomas explictly writes in his argument "with regrets, for war":

SCR 687 called for the unconditional destruction of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical and biological weapons, and all ballistic missiles, and the unconditional cessation of attempts to acquire nuclear weapons... War, when it does come, will already be justified by common sense readings of a number of Security Council resolutions including SCR 687 and SCR 1441, and the aggregate impact of these and a number of intervening resolutions. It will not be pre-emptive, it will be punitive. It will finish a war interrupted in 1991, whose terms of cease-fire have been repeatedly violated by Iraq.

Note that this has always been a catch-22. If you don't have WMD, you still are guaranteed to fail according to these criteria. Apply them to the hypothetical scenario directed at Israel above. Let's say we have a similar SCR calling for Israel to renounce and unconditionally destroy all existing stocks of WMG. And unconditionally cease attempts to develop WMG. Apart from inflaming bloggers to furiously cry blood libel, is there any way that Israel could actually meet these conditions? The hypothetical Arab President of the United States in this bizarro world might well argue (from the perspective of his own self-interest) that Israel's history of aggression in the region (see: Suez Canal, attack on Iraqi nuclear reactor, etc.) as well as the "aggregate impact" of the previous UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied territory, etc - all amount to "finishing a war interupted in 1967". The most chilling aspect of this hypothetical is applying the words "it will not be pre-emptive, it will be punitive."

I for one am NOT comfortable with establishing this level of required compliance. Obviously the Israel analogy is incomplete, but the point is that precedent can and will cut both ways - and invoking all these rationalizations sets the bar far too low for my taste.

If tomorrow we indeed find that one of those creaky mobile labs really was once used for some WMD work. Will this really be a vindication? The threat as implied in the WMD argument for war was that of an immediate, weaponized arsenal, aimed at Israel and ready for export, as Iraq loomed on the verge of regional conquest. Today it looks a lot different. Isnt it time to admit that SCR 1441 was grossly misstated? And what do you make of the distance that the white house now is putting between itself and the whole WMD-as-casus-belli argument?

For me the bottom line comes down to two things - the fact that all reports of Sadam's WMD capabilities had always been filtered through the white house or 10 Downing. And the fact that Tuwaitha was looted. These demonstrate irrefutably to my mind that the rationale for war was wrong from the outset, and that having gone to war, we are demonstrably worse off.

UPDATE: The above was also posted to Thomas's coments ection. He replied therein:

I'd say that a key difference between Israel and Saddam's Iraq is that Israel is a democracy and Iraq wasn't. I give much less of a damn about a totalitarian dictatorship's sovereignty than I do about a parliamentary democracy's sovereignty. [BTW, I also don't think that {Sinai,Osirak} are remotely comparable to {Kuwait}; you admit the analogy is incomplete, so I let it go at that.]

I don't think my rationale "guaranteed Saddam would fail." If he'd really gone the "knock yourself out" route, you wouldn't have had inspectors noting the resistance they did (here's a 2d account), we'd have found those labs right away, and SCR 1441 would not have been breached.

I haven't made up my mind about the bioweapons labs; I'd like to know more about them. In general, yes, if they were used for WMD work after 1991, Saddam violated the terms of his probation. As you know, I consider bio and chemical weapons part and parcel of the WMD equation. Anthrax alone can cause mass death in small quantities (1 kg -> 60000+ dead in a metro area, even if the DHS et al gets their public health act together) ; in theory, such labs could produce mass quantities.

SCR 1441 was a last chance to come clean. Saddam didn't.

But we agree on many things. I'd prefer the WMD evidence to be stronger. I hold the Bush administration accountable for their claims. And I'm as appalled as you are about the Tuwaitha looting.

I completely agree! I'm not trying to draw equivalence between Iraq and Israel. But what Thomas or I feel about the relative merits of Iraq's or Israel's claims to sovereignity is ultimately irrelevant. The main point here is that the invasion was justified on the grounds of a SCR's authority - and one that did involve a catch-22 no matter how much cooperation the Saddamites gave us, because of the a-priori assumption that there were WMDs to find. There is no credible way that anyone can argue that had Saddam totally given free reign to the inspectors, and had they still found nothing, that there would still not have been cries of "deception!" "obstruction!" etc because not finding WMDs is a violation of SCR 1441. Regardless of whether the WMDs were not found via outright obstruction or simple non-existence. I don't like that precedent because it can and will be abused.

And the second main point I'm trying to make with my thought experiment is simply that SCR 1441 essentially argues that "cooperation with inspectors" is a valid rationale for invasion and regime change. Not presence of WMD per se, but as you pointed out, obstructing the search for WMD in and of itself. The WMDs were less important than the process of looking for them as an end goal. This is why I see it as a catch-22.

Of course there are major flaws in any analogy between Israel and Iraq on any grounds. Of course there are differences. But I am not making the analogy in order to defend or accuse Israel or Iraq - the analogy exists solely to demonstrate that the precedents set by the SCR 1441 affair are dangerous ones that are blind to those differences.

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