WASHINGTON -- A week after the release of chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq Charles Duelfer's report and subsequent testimony to Congress, Johns Kerry and Edwards continue to quote from Duelfer's report --very, very selectively. Edwards said Sunday, "The point of all this is Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction."
President Bush fielded questions in this line during Friday's debate and did so quite effectively, despite the time constraints inherent in the forum. He told one questioner that "I tried diplomacy. I went to the United Nations. But as we learned in the [Duelfer] report … Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason. He wanted to restart his weapons programs."
Bush mentioned the report again specifically near the end of the debate, and referred to its content several more times. Kerry, on the other hand, only repeated the fact that the inspectors had found no WMD stockpiles in Iraq.
For those voters who are content with the one-line Kerry/Edwards interpretation of the report, we can leave it at that. But for those who might be interested in more nuance and intelligent thought, Duelfer's very thorough report is well worth a bit more perusal.
Despite United Nations sanctions on Iraq, Duelfer finds, Saddam Hussein raised nearly $11 billion from the thoroughly corrupt U.N. oil-for-food program and in 1999 began buying long-range missile components and other illegal arms on a large scale.
"Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem," the report says. "Indeed, Iraq was designing missile systems with the assumption that sanctioned material would be readily available."
The report specifically names the governments of Syria, Belarus, Yemen, North Korea, the former Yugoslavia, and possibly Russia as dealing directly with the Hussein regime. Illicit visits to Iraq by officials and arms merchants from all over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are also documented in detail. In addition, private companies from at least 14 countries -- including some of our dearest friends and allies -- offered or sold components to Iraq that could have been used to produce weapons of mass destruction, according to the report.
Most telling of all, out of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the body Kerry and others insist Bush ought to have gone to for permission to do anything short of moving his left pinky toe -- it's likely that only the U.S. and Britain were not on the take from Hussein.
THE REPORT QUOTES HUSSEIN, speaking at an audio-taped gathering of leaders of the Iraqi armed forces in January 2000, boasting that despite efforts by the United States to isolate his regime, he was able to purchase nearly any type of military equipment he wanted.
"We have said with certainty that the embargo will not be lifted by a Security Council resolution, but will corrode by itself," Hussein said in the speech, a quotation Duelfer included on the cover of the chapter in his report demonstrating the ineffectiveness of sanctions in isolating Hussein. He told many of his top deputies, including Tariq Aziz, that he wished to rebuild his WMD programs when the time was right and he was no longer under scrutiny -- when the U.S. took its eye off the ball, to use a familiar phrase.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials managed to deduce from Duelfer's report that their inspections regime was effective in keeping Hussein from acquiring banned weapons.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector from 2000 to 2003, said the report indicates that "international inspection is another means of war without fighting," adding that Hussein would have been contained had his inspectors been allowed to remain in Iraq.
"Saddam would have remained, but he would have become like Castro or Qaddafi, in power but not a threat to his neighbors," said Blix.
(It's worth remembering that Libya had clandestine weapons programs it only admitted to last year after pressure and negotiations by the Bush and Blair administrations -- both of which assumed Qaddafi had a chemical program, but had no idea about the nuclear program he eventually disgorged.)
In a statement you won't see quoted in the nightly news, Duelfer told a congressional committee last week that, by 2001, "My personal view is that the sanctions were in free fall. They were eroding. There was a lot of corruption. Were it not for 9/11, I don't know that they would exist today."
So what is the significance of the Duelfer report? Is the answer:
"The president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Or is it:
"What Saddam Hussein was doing was trying to get rid of sanctions so he could reconstitute a weapons program, and the biggest threat facing America is terrorists with weapons of mass destruction."
Incidentally, which of these answers from the two Presidential candidates reveals the intellectual ability to grasp the nature of the threat the U.S. faces in a post-9/11 world?