David Kay, the senior U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, was in Washington yesterday to give progress reports to two Congressional committees. So far, no nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons have been found in Iraq -- feeding skepticism about President George W. Bush's primary reason for going to war there. Now, Bush reportedly wants to spend $600 million to continue the weapons search, a move some critics say is nothing more than an expensive effort to legitimize the invasion.
Washington, 3 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Part of the Bush administration's request for $87 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is money to pay for continuing the search for illegal weapons that Bush says Saddam Hussein possessed before he was deposed as president of Iraq.
"The New York Times" -- citing anonymous sources -- says Bush wants to mount a major weapons hunt at a cost of $600 million in the current fiscal year. The search already has cost $300 million and is causing the president political embarrassment because it has so far turned up no conclusive evidence against Saddam Hussein.
Yesterday, David Kay, a former UN weapons inspector who now reports to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), briefed the intelligence committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Kay leads the Iraq Survey Group, a team of 1,200 multinational inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.
Afterward, Kay told reporters that no banned arms have been found yet in Iraq but cautioned that his team's work is far from over. "We have not found at this point actual weapons," he said. "It does not mean that we've concluded there are no actual weapons. It means at this point in time -- and it's a huge country with a lot to do -- that we have not yet found weapons."
Kay did say numerous activities and equipment related to WMD programs have been uncovered. And he said mobile trailers that have been found could be possible evidence of Hussein's biological-weapons program. "We have found a large body of continuing activities and equipment that were not declared to the UN inspectors when they returned [to Iraq] in November of last year. This includes substantial equipment and activities in the chemical and biological area, a much more substantial activity in the missile area," Kay said.
On the issue of whether Hussein had been trying to develop a nuclear-weapons program, Kay said investigators have found no evidence yet, beyond a possible tentative and primitive restart.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that the search for weapons and weapons programs is far from over in Iraq, and that its lack of results so far does not mean that the Bush administration has given up hope.
"They have a lot of work left to do. They have a lot of people left to interrogate. They have a lot of leads still to worry through. They have a number of suspect sites that they've not yet visited -- [that number is] quite low at this stage, but there are still a few. And I don't think the administration is having trouble coming to conclusions. I think that -- what I've said, I believe: We'll all know, we'll all know exactly what that group finds," Rumsfeld said.
After the Kay hearing, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, said the inconclusive search for WMD in Iraq should lead lawmakers to rethink the idea of such preemptive strikes.
"To be where we are today without any evidence, talking about intent, talking about facilities but nothing we can point to and then asking for another six to nine months and a good deal of money leads me to believe that we need to do some serious thinking about the doctrine of preemption," Rockefeller said.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts, expressed disappointment at Kay's findings but said there is more work to be done. "I'm not pleased by what I heard today, but we should be willing to adopt a 'wait-and-see' attitude," he said. "That's the only alternative we really have. There's much more work to be done. My hope is that we will have a more definitive kind of conclusion in the next few months."
Military and foreign-affairs analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say they are not surprised that the Bush administration remains intent on finding evidence of the weapons or weapons programs, given the political damage the president has suffered so far.
Retired General Edward Atkeson, who served as an intelligence officer both for the U.S. Army in Europe and for the CIA, told RFE/RL he wonders how UN delegates would react if Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked for a similar amount of money for the UN's own weapons inspection program during the 1990s. "I think if the UN were to go to its constituency and ask for $600 million to do an investigation, they'd laugh them out of New York," he said. "But somehow [the United States is] in such a situation now that we're just giving money away."
Atkeson believes the continuing search for WMD in Iraq is meant only to salvage the reputation of the Bush administration by showing it had a solid reason for invading Iraq. He said the money would be well spent if there were any evidence that Iraq actually possessed WMD at the time of the Iraq war -- particularly nuclear weapons.
"The greater issue is, do those things really exist? And if there's a chance that they do, and we need to get them and get them out of there, that's probably worth the money. But simply answering the political question, I wouldn't give 10 cents for that," Atkeson said.
Ted Galen Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private policy center in Washington. He said there is a "fair amount of data" indicating that Iraq had active programs to develop biological and chemical arms.
Indeed, that point was emphasized yesterday by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "There was incontrovertible evidence before we went to war -- completely incontrovertible -- that Saddam Hussein had had chemical-, biological-weapons programs. He had concealed them, and he was plainly in material breach of the obligations upon him both fully to disarm and fully to comply with the inspectors, and nothing that has happened since March can alter the truth of that," Straw said.
But Carpenter noted that U.S investigators have yet to turn up any of the products of these efforts. He believes further searches for illegal weapons programs in Iraq would be pointless unless there is credible evidence that nuclear arms might be found. But he added: "I know of no reputable analyst who believed that Iraq actually had nuclear weapons in place. So it would make no sense whatever to spend money looking for them."
Carpenter said that at most, a continued weapons search in Iraq might find an embryonic nuclear-weapons program, not bombs themselves. That, he said, would make Hussein no different from many other government leaders who would like to add nuclear weapons to their arsenals, if only they had the means to do so.