Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Does This Change Anything?

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) have gone on the record (video courtesy of Hot Air) today as saying that the US has recovered more than 500 artillery shells containing sarin and mustard gas since 2003. That has quite a few folks atwitter over the ramifications of such a find.
The following are the six key points contained in the unclassified overview:

• Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent.

• Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.

• Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for Coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.

• The most likely munitions remaining are sarin and mustard-filled projectiles.

• The purity of the agent inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives, and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

• It has been reported in open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.
So, where does this leave us? Santorum has to provide the source materials that he's basing this presser on. That would be a start. I know that Ray Robison has been translating captured Iraqi documents for quite some time and has found a number of tantalizing documents that has shed some light on Iraq's WMD programs along with Iraq's contacts with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Macranger wonders why the Administration hasn't tried to get this wider coverage, and considers this vindication of the Administration's position on the threat posed by Iraq.

Does this change anyone's opinion on whether WMD were found? To the vast majority of media types, I believe the answer is no - as if the factual determination that WMD were discovered, it would undermine and obliterate the whole no WMD - Bush lied meme. For those who followed the various stories reporting scattered WMD finds (via Junkyard Blog), this is not news at all. This is yet another confirmation of the facts.

Raw Story is dubious about the find, despite the fact that Iraq was obligated to destroy all of its WMD stocks and capabilities under the 1991 cease fire agreement and subsequent UN resolutions.

Austin Bay notes that the degraded nature of the finds could be problematic, but Saddam was required to destroy all weapons, not just some portion of his stockpile according to UN SCR 687. He further states:
Barnes noted Saddam’s chemical weapons program could have been cranked up quickly. That’s correct. Saddam played games with UN inspectors and was playing possum with his nuclear and chemical programs. This is not a large trove of weapons. Artillery rounds are tactical weapons–but nerve gas is still nerve gas and it puzzles me as to why this information took so long to release.

Saddam used WMD and once the Desert Storm sanctions were lifted I believe he intended to reconstitute his programs. To believe otherwise about Saddam is to put you in league with goofs like Michael Moore and George Galloway.
It is a real puzzler as to why such information was kept hidden for so long.

Real Ugly American thinks that the publicity of the WMD finds will somehow embarrass Russia, China and France and that the issue was kept on the back burner out of a need to deal with the issue diplomatically. I'm not sure I buy that. Bureaucratic inertia to classify documents could just as easily explain matters and not some guy in government acting to classify documents that could prove useful to the Administration's case.

Where do we go from here? Santorum and Hoekstra have to put up or shut up. Produce the evidence. If this information can be confirmed, it could then shed light on the intel assessment debate - that they were right, wrong, or by a matter of degree. That has a bearing on the current debate over Iran and North Korea, which is something Ed Morrissey also notes.

It could also provide further insight into the intel gathering and processing capabilities, and suggest areas for improvement. A potential winner here could be the CIA, which has been lambasted for not getting the slam dunk that Tenet suggested.

The confirmation would have political ramifications as well, though while the anti-war left will remain unswayed by such evidence, the GOP could then play up the finds in order to sway the moderate middle to reject the anti-war left's candidates as the anti-war left was wrong on Iraq yet again (keeping up with the cut and run, unable to be trusted with national security, and doing what's best for the US, etc.)

While Patterico isn't impressed with the potential find, Sundries Shack notes that such a collection of artillery shells could still ruin quite a bit of territory dependent upon the condition of the WMD. It depends on the skill of those who are handling the weapons to know what kind of damage could be done.

Classical Values ponders the conspiracy of it all and awaits more details.

This much is certain: This is shaping up to be one interesting summer, and I fully expect the big news to happen when I'm unavailable to blog.

Others noting the story: Iowa Voice, Sister Toldjah, Stop the ACLU, Polipundit, Hugh Hewitt, Big Lizards, Instapundit, and Super Fun Power Hour.

Charles at LGF has a pdf of the document Santorum and Hoekstra refer to.

UPDATE 6/22/2006:
The Real Ugly American writes to note that I mischaracterized his post as he was
reporting what General Mcinerney said, not stating his own opinion. Apologies.

UPDATE 6/22/2006:
There's a bit more information about the age of these weapons, according to an unnamed Pentagon official:
A Pentagon official who confirmed the findings said that all the weapons were pre-1991 vintage munitions "in such a degraded state they couldn't be used for what they are designed for."

The official, who asked not to be identified, said most were 155 millimeter artillery projectiles with mustard gas or sarin of varying degrees of potency.

"We're destroying them where we find them in the normal manner," the official said.
To me, the existence of these older WMD shows that Iraq didn't comply with UN SCR 687, which required the destruction of all WMD - not some, or most WMD. That they're in a degraded state could suggest that they were mishandled and/or lost by the Iraqis at some point, but that doesn't excuse them from not destroying all their WMD stocks.

However, it does highlight that the intel on the matter was still faulty and the world didn't have a good gauge on Iraq's current WMD status in 2002-2003. This has repercussions relating to Iran, as we might be seeing the world err on the side of too much caution, permitting Iran to obtain nuclear weapons because no one is willing to take the chance of being wrong.

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