(Washington, D.C.) At his press conference last Thursday, President Bush reiterated a commitment he has made repeatedly in recent months: Saddam Hussein will not be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
As the President put it: “The primary goal is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbor in the region and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction. And if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence.”
Unfortunately, there is now compelling evidence that Saddam not only is developing WMD, but that he has some. More worrisome still, it appears his arsenal includes more than just chemical and biological arms. Dreadful as these are, the Butcher of Baghdad may also have acquired atomic and perhaps even thermonuclear weapons, as well.
It has been universally recognized that, given the well-established state of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs before Operation Desert Storm and the international inspections that followed it, Saddam could resume production of various toxic chemical agents and strains of lethal viruses in fairly short order once he forced the withdrawal of inspectors with a mandate to conduct intrusive on-site monitoring. (This actually was the best-case assessment; given the comprehensive secretiveness and inveterate deviousness of the Iraqi regime, it is entirely possible that its covert programs in these areas were actually never suspended.)
Of even greater concern, however, was the prospect that — left to his own devices — Saddam would quickly reconstitute his bid to build at least crude atomic weapons. If a report in the Sunday Times of London is accurate, however, Saddam already has as many as three such weapons and perhaps as many as three of the far more powerful thermonuclear ones.
The Times article, entitled “Was this Saddam’s Bomb?” draws upon a wealth of circumstantial evidence and debriefings of Iraqi defectors by investigative reporter Gwynne Roberts. It features heretofore unpublished — and alarming — revelations by a man going under the alias of “Leone” who is described as “a military engineer who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission. Simultaneously…he worked for the Republican Palace in Baghdad.”
According to Leone, the Iraqi despot had more than one nuclear program. As the Times put it: “After [Iraq’s] defeat in the ensuing Gulf war, UN arms inspectors discovered an Iraqi crash program to build a nuclear bomb, known as PC3. But, according to Leone, they missed the most successful part of the programe. [Leone said,] They thought they had stopped the Iraqis from building the bomb, but they overlooked the military organization code-named Group Four. This department is a comprehensive section that was involved in assembling the bomb from the beginning to the end. It was also involved in developing launching systems, missile programs, preparing uranium, purchasing it on the black market, smuggling it back into Iraq.'”
Roberts was able to get confirmation of key parts of Leone’s story from other sources — including scientists who had also been involved in Saddam’s closely guarded WMD programs who managed to escape with their lives from Iraq. They validated his claim that in the years prior to the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein acquired perhaps as much as 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from South Africa via Brazil. His cadre of Western-trained physicists then secretly used some of this material to fashion a relatively unsophisticated Hiroshima-style “gun-type” atomic device. It was placed in a natural tunnel near Lake Rezazza some 150 kilometers southwest of Baghdad and, on September 19, 1989, it was exploded, unleashing a force equivalent to approximately ten thousand tons of TNT.
The Iraqis went to extraordinary lengths to conceal preparations for and evidence of this underground test. For example, the sorts of above-ground activity that might have been detected by spy satellites were masked as part of an agricultural project. The explosion itself was “decoupled” so as to reduce the chances that even nearby seismic monitoring stations would pick up and recognize the resulting tremor, which registered 2.7 on the Richter scale. And political prisoners were given the deadly job of cleaning up the radioactive residue of the test; they were subsequently liquidated by Saddam’s security forces as were all external signs of and access to the tunnel.
Lessons from Saddam’s Bomb
These revelations have a number of profound implications. For one thing, they strongly suggest that Saddam is already in possession of radiological, atomic and perhaps nuclear weapons. He may also have the capability to deliver such weapons — either by aircraft or perhaps via ballistic missile — to targets perhaps as far away as Israel and American troops or population centers in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait (whose liberation from Iraqi occupation occurred 10 years ago this week).
For another, Leone’s charges validate President Bush’s opposition to the fatally flawed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was rejected by a majority of the U.S. Senate in October 1999. As National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice put it in a White House press briefing on Thursday: “The President made clear when he was running for President that he did not believe that the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty furthered the non-proliferation goals that we do think are extremely important because it was not verifiable, because it didn’t include certain parties, and because it certainly did nothing about the states that we are most concerned about….” Any further thought of resuscitating this treaty should now be moot.
The Bottom Line
Finally, these revelations — taken together with other evidence that Saddam is back in the weapons of mass destruction business — oblige Mr. Bush to make good his threat that there will be “consequences.” Fortunately, many of his senior advisors (including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense-designate Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State-designate Richard Armitage, Under Secretary of State-designate John Bolton, Under Secretary of Defense-designate Dov Zakheim and a number of others said to be under consideration for top posts [notably, Zalmay Khalilzad, Jeffrey Gedmin and Douglas Feith]) have developed a blue-print for such consequences.
Specifically, in a February 19, 1998 open letter to President Clinton, they called for the United States, among other things, to: “recognize a provisional government of Iraq based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) that is representative of all the peoples of Iraq”; “restore and enhance the safe haven in northern Iraq to allow the provisional government to extend its authority there and establish a zone in southern Iraq from which Saddam’s ground forces would also be excluded”; and “lift sanctions in liberated areas.” In short, we must now help with the liberation of Iraq.
For, as a practical matter, the only hope for effectively addressing Saddam’s determination to stay in the WMD business is to put him and his ruling clique permanently out of business. Mr. Bush is putting into place the team with a plan to do it. There isn’t a moment to lose in effecting these “consequences.”