April 30, 2003 | Scripps Howard News Service

Bombs, Bugs and Poisons

“We have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction. …Does it matter that we were misled into war?”

– New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 4/29/03

“Nissar Hindawi, a leading figure in Iraq's biological warfare program in the 1980's, says the stories and explanations he and other scientists told the United Nations about the extent of Iraq's efforts to produce poisons and germ weapons ‘were all lies.' …He said military officials had asked him to tell inspectors that he was the head of a single-cell protein facility. The plant, in fact, had made botulinum toxin and anthrax. He said he had had no choice but to lie, just as he had no choice but to work in the program. ‘It was that or else,' he said.”

– New York Times reporter Judith Miller, 4/27/03

Perhaps Paul Krugman just doesn't have time to both read The New York Times and write a column for it. Or maybe it's too much bother for him to attempt to unravel Saddam Hussein's plots and plans. How much more satisfying to charge that that trigger-happy cowboy George W. Bush “hyped the threat Saddam posed” and tricked Americans into going to war.

Let me try to explain what has so far been revealed by The Times' Judith Miller in a manner simple enough that even a Bush-bashing Times columnist might get it: The fact that huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) haven't been found does not mean that Saddam did not have scientists working feverishly to develop such weapons. On the contrary, scientists such as Nissar Hindawi are now confessing that they were doing exactly that. Once Saddam had combined the ingredients, the formula and the expertise, who knows when he might have turned the product over to terrorists to use against Americans? Who knows how many Americans a suicide-terrorist with a genetically-altered disease might manage to kill?

Krugman and others in the Appeasement Movement apparently believe we should accept such risks. But most Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike – would probably prefer to have leaders who don't permit the development of horrific WMD by mass-murdering, American-hating dictators who conspire with terrorists – and there's no longer a shred of doubt that Saddam did conspire with terrorists, including al Qaeda.

Is it not also curious that the same people who, just a few weeks ago, were arguing that Hans Blix's inspectors should “be given more time to do their job” are concluding that American forces – after less than 2 months in Iraq – must have completed a thorough hard-target search of a nation the size of California? They further leap to the conclusion that whatever hasn't been found was never there, ignoring the obvious — and disturbing — possibility that WMD have simply been well hidden or, worse, transferred to other countries.

Those who have acquitted Saddam of the charge that he was developing WMD need to answer these questions:

  • Why did Saddam force the removal of the UN inspectors in 1998? If he had nothing to hide why didn't he want inspectors looking?
  • Resolution 1441, every member of the Security Council agreed that Saddam was “in material breach” of his obligation to disarm. Were all of them misinformed?
  • What did Saddam do with the WMD for which he never accounted? Did he destroy them in secret and without keeping records? For what possible reason?
  • Why did Saddam allow Iraq to endure years of economic sanctions if he could have shown that he had given up his WMD? 
  • Why did he refuse to allow his scientists to be interviewed by Blix's inspectors if the testimony of those scientists would have cleared Saddam of the charges against him?
  • Why did Saddam have several hundred military intelligence operatives assigned to monitor and deceive the UN inspectors?

Finally, let's pretend for a moment that Krugman and his friends are right — that America went to war against a regime that didn't actually have the capability to do us serious harm. In that case, the US military action in Iraq – like US military actions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and elsewhere – was altruistic. In that case, America sacrificed blood and treasure to liberate the Iraqi people from one of the world's most brutal dictators.

There was a time when Times columnists – liberal and conservative alike — believed liberation was a good and noble thing. Krugman should ask himself: When did that change?

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times reporter, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism, and a Scripps Howard columnist.