TCS Daily

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

By Duane D. Freese - September 20, 2002 12:00 AM

Give a person a fish, and he has food for a day. Teach a person to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime. So goes the old saying about teaching self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately, while such self-sufficiency is a good thing when it comes to, say, single mothers on welfare learning job skills, it becomes ominous when it involves a rogue nation having the technical know how to develop weapons of mass destruction. And that is especially so when we can only make educated guesses about what its capabilities are.

Like the protestors who shouted during Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony about Iraq Sept. 18, those who support "inspections" as the answer to Saddam Hussein's development and dissemination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have a naïve faith in two things: the technical ability of inspectors and intelligence to root them out and the eternal vigilance of nations to keep them under control.

One lesson of 9/11 is that even $30 billion can't buy you the precise information you need when you need it. As much as victims' families, with justification, can complain that intelligence agencies failed to share information and connect the dots, history is replete with such failures. Omniscience has never been a human strong suit.

U.S. intelligence for example, was surprised by India's nuclear tests in 1998, picking up on them only by seismic data after the event. Satellites meant to show preparations for such tests - including the cabling required - and human intelligence failed to pick up the fact that India had intentions to move forward. Final confirmation the underground tests - in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996 - occurred only 12 hours after when the Indian government admitted it.

Can the world afford to await similar developments with Iraq? Some pundits, such as the Washington Post's William Raspberry, seem to think so. They espouse a better sorry than safe response to Iraq, demanding a "smoking gun" that Iraq has and intends to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

The fact that Iraq has systematically violated UN resolutions concerning such weapons, thwarted inspections, concealed its intentions and at the same time raped, tortured and murdered hundreds and possibly thousands of individuals who might shed light on its duplicity isn't enough of one. That's just Hussein being Hussein - the "slimeball," as Raspberry called him in a Sept. 14 column - not a threat to Western civilization. Bush is warmongering by confronting him.

Raspberry apparently draws comfort from the assessment by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reported on Sept. 9, that while Iraq could build a nuclear bomb in a few months, it "does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons." The assumption is that it would have to import such material, which is hard to do, or otherwise take years developing the capacity to make it itself.

Only the assumption may be fatally flawed. As The Times of London reported a few days later Iraq may well not have to import such material after all. It may have the capacity to produce fissile material today. According to an Iraqi scientist involved in Iraq's nuclear weapons program who defected, Iraq knew how to "fish" for such materials itself in its own waters, so to speak.

Khalid Hamza, who defected to the West in 1994, noted that while arms inspectors may have dismantled the German centrifuge used for creating fissile material in 1998, before they were withdrawn, "We videoed as it was put up, so we could build identical ones."

He suggested that Iraq had hundreds of copies already and that the IISS had "missed a few tricks" the Iraqis had up their sleeves.

Such inside information makes the reports of Iraq importing steel and aluminum piping for such centrifuges the kind of connecting the dots that was lacking at 9/11. And there is even less uncertainty about Iraq having chemical and biological capability, facilities for which are even easier to hide.

If the Bush administration is "warmongering," as Raspberry seems to believe, it is warmongering against the potential loss of not thousands but hundreds of thousands of lives. With weapons of mass destruction, the administration can't afford, as Raspberry proposes, "to wait until Hussein does something before you take care of that weasel." Such a blind course would lead to a day that would live not merely in infamy but reproach for the rest of this nation's history.

But what about intelligence tied to new inspections? Won't getting inspectors in protect American interests?

Again, history is not kind. Inspectors failed to uncover the full extent of the Iraqi biowarfare program for years. It took four years for inspectors to develop the evidence that Iraq engaged in biological warfare and gain a confession to that effect. It is likely to do no better now.

As Richard Butler, who headed up arms inspection in Iraq in the late 1990s, noted in an interview with CNN last fall: "Iraq's record with dealing with inspectors, the group I led in the past, was very bad. Iraq cheated and deceived the inspectors, and it's not easy to think that they would behave differently in the future. The new inspectorate, which was established to replace the previous one, has much weaker power than those under which I operated. There is, therefore, considerable doubt in Washington and elsewhere that future inspections would be very effective. I believe the new inspectorate is competent, but it would not be able to do an effective job unless it had strong political support from all members of the Security Council."

And as importantly, even if inspections are successful for a time, the question is: for how long? Knowledge doesn't evaporate. So, Iraq's production of weapons of mass destruction can at most be stalled and degraded by inspections, not eliminated as a threat.

That's why regime change - as President Clinton and Congress declared back in 1998 and the Bush Administration continues to pursue today - is really the only viable long-term course. And any further waffling by the Security Council and United Nations should lead the administration to act sooner rather than later.

As Rumsfeld told Congress, you usually find your smoking gun after its been discharged. Iraq's scientists know how to fish; the United States can't just cut bait and wait for Hussein to land the big one.



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