The Chemical Weapons We Uncovered

Earlier this week, CJ Chivers reported that US troops were exposed to decaying Iraqi chemical weapons on multiple occasions (accompanying video above):

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

Murtaza Hussain pushes back on Iraq war supporters claiming vindication:

The inconvenient truth is that the U.S. was aware of the existence of such weapons at the Al Muthanna site as far back as 1991. Why? Because Al Muthanna was the site where the UN ordered Saddam Hussein to dispose of his declared chemical munitions in the first place.

Those weapons that could not safely be destroyed were sealed and left to decay on their own, which they did. The site was neither “active” nor “clandestine” – it was a declared munitions dump being used to hold the corroded weapons which Western powers themselves had in most cases helped Saddam procure.

The fact that people thoroughly invested in supporting the war apparently had no idea about this is in many ways emblematic of their complete cluelessness about the country which they helped destroy.

Jessica Schulberg argues along the same lines:

If the post-2003 discovery of a decaying chemical weapons program could serve as proof that the invasion was justified, the Bush White House would have seized the opportunity to proclaim so. By 2005, CIA weapons inspectors concluded in a 92-page report that the WMD investigation had “gone as far as feasible” and found no evidence of an active weapons program. The CIA report included an addendum: “military forces in Iraq may continue to find small numbers of degraded chemical weapons most likely misplaced or improperly destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War.”

Despite that, Abe Greenwald claims that the NYT report “partially vindicates” Bush. He insists that “Saddam’s old chemical weapons were always cited as a danger in the run-up to the war”:

The 5,000 undeclared chemical weapons constitute one of the administration’s few intelligence victories in Iraq. Why, then, the secrecy? Perhaps because Iraq was a leaderless country swarming with jihadists and roiled by civil war, and advertising the amounts and whereabouts of chemical weapons would have made things much worse.

Kevin Drum, on the other hand, suspects the administration was acting politically:

Iraq had no active WMD program, and it was an embarrassment to the Bush administration that all they could find were old, rotting chemical weapons originally manufactured by the West. So they kept it a secret, even from troops in the field and military doctors. But lies beget lies, and American troops are the ones who paid the price. According to Chivers, “The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.”

Today, the consequences of our lies continue to haunt us as the rotting carcasses of these weapons are apparently falling into the hands of ISIS.