Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has been making the rounds claiming that the US has in fact discovered banned weapons in Iraq. The claims are based on the continuing sporadic appearance of pre-Gulf War I munitions containing variously disintegrated chemical weapons, and the Pentagon has said that the claims are crap: the munitions in question, mostly artillery rounds, are unusable and have been for years.
Santorum somehow roped House intelligence committee chair Peter Hoekstra into going along with this idiocy. Both men could have saved themselves considerable embarrassment, assuming they’re capable of it, had they read this site’s commentary on similar claims made by California Republican Chris Cox, then the House homeland security committee chair and now the SEC boss, more than a year ago.
In February of 2005, Cox told an audience at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that continuing discoveries of the same munitions made fiction of “leftist” claims that there Iraq had no banned weapons. The speech transcript is unfortunately no longer online now that Cox’s House website is gone, but fortunately Radley Balko was present to record and transcribe the relevant portion for posterity.
I called Cox’s office at the time to ask what the hell he was talking about. His press secretary pointed me to this story at Fox News, from May of 2004, about an attempt to use one of the rusted-out rounds as an IED.
I called the Pentagon to ask about the story and the press duty officer actually laughed when I asked him if the report was significant. Apparently not much has changed during the following year: a Fox News reporter contacted the Pentagon to check on Santorum’s and Hoekstra’s claims and was told that the munitions were no longer serviceable and were “not the WMDs for which this country went to war.”
In fairness to Santorum and Hoekstra, they refrained from echoing Cox’s claim that the Iraqis were planning to fill knock-off perfume bottles with chemical weapons and smuggle them onto Middle America’s department store shelves.
An annex to Volume 3 of the Duelfer report, the final gasp of the Iraq Survey Group, addressed the particular details of the Cox Bomb and the general details of other similar discoveries. The gist is that, as the Pentagon reiterated to Fox yesterday, the munitions were no longer usable for their intended purpose — i.e., as artillery rounds — and posed little threat as unconventional IEDs because even if the chemical components remained intact, which isn’t the case, the sudden detonation prevents them from mixing and activating.
But the stupidity of Santorum’s, Hoekstra’s and Cox’s harping on the subject goes beyond the question of whether the stuff is usable or not. What I wrote in response to Cox is as true now as it was then.
More relevant to the Congressman’s remarks, though, is the report’s conclusion that the Iraqi government were probably unaware that the particular shell referenced by Cox, along with others discovered by the group—a total of 53 as of the completion of the report—still existed. Most of the shells found were partially destroyed or otherwise unusable, many were unmarked, and the total represents a tiny fraction of what the Iraqis were known to have possessed at one time and to have destroyed either under UN supervision or, according to multiple Iraqi sources, independently.
What this suggests, of course, is that the only remotely likely scenario in which the munitions could have been used against the US or anyone else is the scenario under which that actually occurred: an invasion of Iraq by the US which permitted insurgents and looters to obtain the forgotten and lost munitions for use—probably, according to the report, without even realizing the shells contained the chemicals— against our troops.
I’m not going to hold my breath, but it’d be nice if some enterprising reporter were to confront Santorum and Hoekstra with that particular inconvenient truth.