Is it 20:20 hindsight?

Andrew Sullivan yesterday:

I’m aware of one person who clearly stated before the war that he believed that Saddam had no WMDs. That was Scott Ritter. This is not the same as saying that we didn’t know for sure, or should have waited some more; or that containment could have worked for a few months or years longer. I mean: an anti-war commentator, writer or speaker who clearly said that Saddam had no WMDs before we invaded and that therefore the war was illegitimate.

Robin Cook, in his resignation speech as Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom on 18 March 2003:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the
commonly understood sense of the term – namely a credible device
capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.

It isn’t just hindsight.  

9 thoughts on “Is it 20:20 hindsight?”

  1. The question itself is a red herring: it is a further desparate variation on the prevailing view in some quarters: that everyone thought Iraq had WMDs, meaning "everyone who is worth listening to", meaning "everyone we agree with". Now it has gone from "everyone thought they had them" to "no one knew for sure that they didn’t have them". Of course, few anti-war commentators or observers were in a position to know whether Iraq had WMDs, and to admit to uncertainty was an honest stance. And if there was significant doubt, is that not reason enough?Concrete reminders are very helpful though – thanks for posting this one: have you sent it to Sullivan (who claims he will post them)? 

  2.  Joschka Fischer
    "I am not convinced… I cannot go to the public and say these are the reasons because I don’t believe in them,"
    Find it and a "pop up" of the countries of the UN and their positions at
    George Galloway anytime
    “I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. "
    I mean, Andrew Sullivan??  JFW!!  Do a search of any antiwar site.
    Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN was so convincing the US had to go round the world bribing countries to join in and they couldn’t persuade Canada or Mexico.
    As Tom observes, it’s a red herring and one of the things it’s to put you off the trail of is that it was a war crime under  the Nuremberg Principles and the UN Charter.
    "Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions."
    (Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg  trials, in his opening statement to the tribunal)

  3. I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that I was convinced that Iraq had at least some WMD right up to the time after the invasion and occupation when the American and other coalition investoigators began to draw blank in their search for them.  I was convinced by Colin Powell’s presentation to the Security Council, all of which I listened to at the time:  I thought that if even 50 per cent of his evidence was correct, that would be enough to indicate that the UN weapons inspectors still had work to do (as indeed Hans Blix, their chief, also believed).  I was convinced by my prime minister’s assurances to parliament and in print that there was firm and credible evidence of Iraq’s possession of WMD.  I was convinced by the assertions in UN Security Council resolutions that Iraq had failed to comply with the requirement that he divest himself of WMD, resolutions for which every single member of the Security Council had voted, including France, Germany, Russia and China — it seemed to me inconceivable that the intelligence services of all the major powers could all be mistaken on such a major issue.  I was convinced by the knowledge that there were significant quantities of WMD and materials for producing WMD known to be in Iraq’s possession when the previous UN inspectors had been there but for which Iraq had failed to account.  I was convinced by the failure of the Iraqi government to produce documentary and eye-witness evidence to the inspectors and to the world that the remaining stocks of WMD and WMD materials had been destroyed, if they had been destroyed,  even when failure to produce that evidence was obviously extremely likely to precipitate an attack on Iraq by some of the world’s most powerful nations, almost certainly leading to the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s régime and his own and his family’s eventual deaths.  I was convinced by Blix’s belief that the UN inspectors’ work had not been completed and that they needed more time to complete it.

    Probably no single one of those factors would have been enough on its own to convince me of the overwhelming likelihood that Iraq had WMD and/or WMD materials;  but in combination they seemed to add up to a virtual certainty.
    I knew of Scott Ritter’s insistence that Iraq didn’t have any WMD, or at any rate none that could still be usable.  But Ritter’s first-hand knowledge was badly out of date compared with that of Blix and the then current teams of inspectors, and also compared with the information currently then available to all the western and other intelligence services, who obviously knew all the arguments advanced by Ritter and evidently were not convinced by them.  It seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, perverse to accept as likelier to be correct the arguments of a single man such as Ritter, who relied on what he had known several years earlier as an ordinary weapons inspector (sometimes a team leader but never the head of the whole UN Weapons Inspection organisation despite sometimes having been described as such), when that necessarily entailed dismissing as mistaken such a vast mass of almost universally accepted evidence pointing the other way.
    So I am not in the least contrite about having believed at the time that Iraq almost certainly had WMD. 

    I also accepted that this was a situation that was unacceptable, that would become increasingly dangerous if nothing was done about it, and that would be more costly in human, diplomatic and financial terms to address the longer it was left to fester.  But I was clear from the start that every possibility of resolving the problem by diplomatic and political means, including allowing the inspectors to finish their work and report their findings, should be explored and exhausted before there could be any question of a resort to the use of force:  and that even then, force should not be used unless it had been explicitly authorised by a new resolution of the Security Council. 

    Happily, I can’t be accused of having modified that view with the benefit of hinsight, since I went on record with my views in a letter published in The Times of 16 April 2002, almost a year before the illegal US-UK attack on Iraq in March 2003.  (See if that link doesn’t work.)


  4. And here’s an all American boy, Ray McGovern
    "….making alarmist claims that our allies know do not square either with the facts or the judgments of the US and wider allied intelligence communities. "

    I wasn’t even looking!!  Try putting "Iraq WMD 2002" into the AlterNet Search, then start at the back and you come up with a bunch.

  5. So let’s see, a survey of "all the people in the public eye who expressed an opinion in 2002 as to whether Iraq had WMD" reveals that some of them thought not. Apart from skewering Mr Sullivan’s absurd overstatement, this does not tell us very much.

  6. Robin Cook is a better example than Ritter, simply because there’s a better chance that he actually believed what he was saying. Ritter changed his tune about Saddam’s WMD, and his reasons for doing so weren’t convincing, for all that those reasons shifted his book in bulk to conspiracy buffs worldwide. None of his UN colleagues were remotely as certain, including the late David Kelly, who seems to have suspected quite strongly that Saddam HAD kept WMD from the inspectors, a separate issue for him from that of the government’s treatment of intelligence. Cook, on the other hand, made it clear that he regarded Saddam Hussein as a psychopath – Cook’s precise term – and his anti-war arguments were considerably more adult and sophisticated than most. (Although it’s not clear to what extent he saw himself as leader in the wilderness after his resignation, and courtesy of his wastefully early death, we’ll never know). 

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