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January 29, 2004

Add Conventional Wisdom to the Fire

Remember when I expressed my desire for somebody to investigate what David Kay meant by his suggestion that Iraq was more dangerous than we'd thought before the war? Well, some guy named Justin Katz has done some of that investigating in a piece on TechCentralStation.

I don't know whether it's an effect of the media's biased conventional wisdom or what, but I've been surprised at the degree to which some have conceded a new political reality in response to the errors that Kay has suggested. Maybe it's because I supported the toppling of Hussein on humanitarian grounds long before the debate began in earnest, or maybe it's that I always considered any WMDs in his hands to be too many, but it seems to me that anybody who based their support for the war, tentatively or not, on some of the larger stockpile estimates understood neither the argument for war, nor the nature of WMDs, nor the nature of intelligence work. As I argue on TCS, even proof of programs and short-term potential to produce is sufficient justification, because 1) we couldn't maintain sanctions forever, and 2) we just couldn't know whether those programs were implemented to produce.

Even now, and even granting every one of Kay's assessments, remembering the dictator around whom these events took place ought to make any reasonable person wary of declaring the war's premises false. Craig Henry wonders what would have happened to con-artist scientists if Saddam demanded a demonstration. At the very least, it would seem likely that they'd have held some not-insignificant amount of substances.

More fundamentally, we in the public sector ought still to be a bit more circumspect about the information as it filters to us. Indiana University Professor Eric Rasmusen has done some analysis of the likelihood of Kay's claim, with due consideration to the inspector's self interest.

Look, for some reason that I can't fully articulate, I trust Mr. Kay, who seems like a uniquely even-handed government player. He's been pretty open about the limitations of his claims. Nonetheless, unless those claims are restricted to an absense of major production on a nearly industrial scale, the situation in Iraq during the '90s will certainly be an intriguing chapter in the history books — more incredible than fiction. Perhaps the C.I.A. ought to employ Tom Clancy.

Colin Powell, in his U.N. presentation, told of Iraq's removing topsoil to hide chemical weapons activity that was performed there. Remember Steven Hatfill? He was one guy under intense scrutiny, and the FBI searched his apartment — which, as I understand, is much smaller than Iraq — multiple times before believing that it was clean. At one point, the theory was that he built a custom box in order to produce anthrax under water!

Are all of Iraq's scuba suits accounted for?

Posted by Justin Katz at January 29, 2004 11:24 AM
Middle East