The New York Times has a powerful, front-page article today on Iraqi chemical weapons from the Saddam Hussein era. It’s an impressive piece of investigative journalism from C.J. Chivers – which the right is unwisely seizing on for reasons that don’t make sense.
The article itself doesn’t need embellishment. As Jessica Schulberg summarized, the Times’ report reveals that “between 2004-2011, American troops fighting in the Iraq War found over 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, and aviation bombs. The discoveries were never publicly disclosed by the military; U.S. soldiers who were exposed to nerve agents like sarin and mustard gas while attempting to remove conventional weapons were denied appropriate medical care and ordered to remain silent about yet another miscalculation of the Iraq War. “
The article deserves to be read and taken seriously. Some on the right, however, see a different kind of opportunity. As Simon Maloy explained:
[F]or many conservatives, the real news broken by the Times is that BUSH WAS RIGHT ABOUT IRAQ.It’s incredible that I have to write this sentence in October 2014, but here it goes. No, George W. Bush was not right about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Now, I know what you’re going say. “But look! The Times says they found WMDs in Iraq! The liberal media was wrong! Bush was right!” No, Bush was still very wrong. Very, very wrong.
Brad Dayspring, a Republican operative and former aide to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, argued overnight that “those who mocked any statement that there were WMD’s in Iraq … were/are wrong.” Someone at the conservative Media Research Center published a variety of triumphant tweets, including this gem: “Every single thing media told us about Iraq and WMD was wrong.”
I can appreciate why the right is still a little sensitive on this. A Republican president lied the nation into a disastrous war, the consequences of which we’re still struggling to address, based in large part on weapons stockpiles that didn’t exist. That conservatives are still searching for some kind of evidence to justify the catastrophic Bush/Cheney failure isn’t too surprising.
But today’s New York Times report does not offer the evidence the right wants to believe.
In the years following the misguided U.S. invasion, we’d periodically hear reports about American troops finding chemical weapons. This was usually followed by a variety of Republicans proclaiming, “A ha! We knew it! We were right all along! Take that, liberals!”
I specifically remember when then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and then-Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) held a press conference to declare, “We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
This generally turned out to be quite embarrassing for Republicans, who routinely failed to recognize the difference between old, inoperable chemical weapons from Iraq’s war with Iran, and the active, imaginary WMD stockpiles Bush used as a rationale for war.
The same is true today. Conservatives may hope to exploit the New York Times report, but the article references pre-1991 weapons. Everything Republicans said in the lead up to the 2003 invasion is still wrong.
Indeed, a little common sense is in order – if U.S. troops had found WMD stockpiles, the Bush/Cheney administration would have said so. Indeed, they were desperate to do exactly that.
But the WMD were never found because they didn’t exist. This is no longer open to debate. Strange figures on the fringes of American politics – including, apparently, Iowa’s Joni Ernst – occasionally suggest the non-existent weapons were secretly there, but these claims were discredited many years ago. Even Bush administration officials itself long ago abandoned this nonsense.
The fact that Republicans still don’t want to come to terms with this really isn’t healthy.
Schulberg added, “The existence of aging chemical weapons in Iraq was never the justification for Bush’s invasion, nor was it a secret. The secret was the harm that they were causing to U.S. troops and the subsequent failure to care for these individuals.”
There’s a real story here that warrants attention. It’s just not the story the right was hoping for.