Please stop missing the point on the Iraqi chemical weapons story

The New York Times has published a dynamite investigative report into the negligent and/or deliberate exposure of U.S. soldiers to Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of rusted out 1970s and 80s-era chemical munitions in the aftermath of the Iraq War:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

The report is scandalous from top to bottom, from the fact that it was our government, along with a few others, that sold or abetted the sale of these chemical weapons or their precursors to Saddam, to the treatment of those service members who were exposed to the chemicals after the war, to the fact that our failure to own up to the existence of these weapons likely prevented their systematic identification and destruction, which means that Daesh may well have their hands on some of them now.

But let me say this: if your reaction to learning that the U.S. military poisoned its own soldiers with rusted out, decades old Iraqi chemical weapons is, “HAHA LIBERALS, BUSH WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG” (no, literally, that’s the argument), please protest all those media lies and liberal perfidy about Iraqi WMD by never speaking or writing anything in public again. Because the thing about these chemical weapons is, we already knew Saddam had them, because WE HELPED HIM GET THEM. The Bush administration’s pre-war argument was never “we have to invade Iraq to clean up all these old chemical weapons stockpiles that we sold to them in the 1980s,” because nobody would have supported that rationale for the invasion. We were supposed to be worried about Saddam’s active WMD programs — nuclear and biological more than chemical — which we (still) know didn’t exist. And if you really, honestly, truly believe that the United States killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and countenanced the deaths of thousands of U.S. and coalition soldiers over chemical munitions that couldn’t be used in a military capacity (terrorism is another issue) anymore, then you’re either a sociopath or way more cynical about this country than I am.

You know how we know that these old chemical weapons don’t vindicate the “Saddam had WMD” argument? Because these discoveries were being reported in 2004, and nobody in the Bush administration had the chutzpah to try to claim that they’d been proven right after all (they seem to have wanted to ignore the existence of these weapons altogether). If the Bush administration itself wasn’t willing to be awful (or stupid, or awfully stupid) back then in service of its WMD case, why is anybody going there now?

Author: DWD

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