Last fall, the New York Times ran an impressive investigatory piece on Iraqi chemical weapons from the Saddam Hussein era, documenting previously undisclosed discoveries made by U.S. soldiers.
A wide variety of Republicans, regrettably, misunderstood the piece. The right celebrated the news as proof that the Bush/Cheney administration was right all along about Saddam’s WMD stockpiles. Conservatives far and wide proudly proclaimed, “We knew it! Take that, liberals!”
The right was confused. The NYT piece, though important, referenced pre-1991 weapons. Everything Republicans said in the lead up to the 2003 invasion was still completely wrong.
With this in mind, over the weekend, the New York Times had another fascinating, well-researched piece on Iraq’s abandoned chemical weapons, and Republicans, apparently having learned literally nothing in October, are once again very excited by the prospect that Bush was “right all along.”
Once again, Bush was not right all along.
[N]ote that the Times story says that these weapons were manufactured before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, from 1991 to 1998, U.N. weapons inspectors uncovered Iraq’s secret biological weapons program and a project to enrich uranium – and then eliminated vast stockpiles of chemical and biological agents.Such pre-1991 chemical-weapons shells (often empty) were found by U.N. weapons inspectors just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States. The Bush administration, by contrast, staked its WMD claims on an active, on-going program that was restarted after the Kuwait conflict.
The fact that the right hasn’t given up isn’t admirable; it’s sad. Pouncing on details Republicans don’t understand actually has the opposite of the intended effect – these bizarre, misguided celebrations serve as a reminder of just how spectacularly wrong they were, are, and will continue to be.
To reiterate some of the points from our discussion in October, 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 it’s still wrong. Saddam had a chemical-weapons program, but it was inactive and several years old by the time the Bush/Cheney era began. When the Republican administration insisted that Saddam had an active WMD program that Iraq might use to attack the West and/or share with al Qaeda, all of those arguments were brazenly untrue.
For the right that keeps misreading New York Times articles, 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 – cough, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), cough – 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.
Maybe their supporters should do the same.
Postscript: Just to be clear, none of this is to suggest the New York Times’ reporting is unimportant. On the contrary, these recent articles are fascinating. They just don’t say what Republicans want them to say.