Brinkmanship with Iraq
Jude Wanniski
December 6, 2002


The Wall Street weakness of the last several days is directly related to the deadline Iraq faces on Sunday to make a full statement of its “weapons of mass destruction.” President Bush and his entire national security team -- including Secretary of State Colin Powell -- say that they know for sure that Iraq is now in possession of WMD. They are withholding their evidence, they are saying, until they see the 2000-page report that Baghdad will deliver to Hans Blix on Saturday. If the Pentagon intelligence material it knows Saddam possesses is not listed in the report, the administration will advise Blix of the discrepancy and ask him to swoop down on the site without delay. If Blix does so and finds what is supposed to be there, there will be a crisis, with the hawks insisting Saddam has clearly lied and that he is in material breach of UNSCR 1411. Then we get a battle at the Security Council on just what it is that Saddam has hidden and if it constitutes a material breach. 

Bill Gertz, the Washington Times Pentagon reporter who has for years been a transmission belt for the “leaks” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz wishes to disperse, yesterday morning specified that Iraq is in possession of “1800 gallons of anthrax spores” and that U.S. intelligence knows where it’s at. Of course, Iraq may include some large amount of liquid anthrax in its report and invite Blix to come destroy it if he wishes, but if it comes in “gallons” it is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is only the dry anthrax spores that can kill, and to kill en masse they have to be weaponized, which nobody has ever done. The Washington “anthrax terrorist” who sent spores through the mail did not find a way to put a batch of dry spores into a missile warhead and have it detonate in a way that would cause the spores to waft wherever the winds would take them, and become lethal when inhaled into a damp mucous membrane. The other candidate for “proof of material breach” seems to be materials for inflicting smallpox on a population, although in his article, Gertz mentions info on a nuclear program. The big snit about Iraq’s imports of aluminum tubing some months back dissolved when it was acknowledged they were the wrong size for producing fissile material. 

The most likely outcome will be that US intelligence misfired as it did in 1994, when the Defense Intelligence Agency was certain North Korea had developed an underground site for the development and launching of nukes. There was even some talk at the time of nuking the sites, but the UN sent inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the site, with North Korea’s permission of course, and they found nothing. Based on everything I’ve read and learned about the Iraqi programs in the last several years, my guess is that if there is something U.S. intelligence has come up with that is not on the 2000-page list, it will not constitute material breach even if the President insists on his “zero tolerance” standard. Pat Lang, the senior DIA official who was the expert on Iraq chem/bio programs that were underway in the 1980`s, told CNN”s Wolf Blitzer last weekend that while Iraq might conceivably have some hidden stockpile of nerve gas and thus may have a bio weapons program “in theory,” he dismissed the likelihood that it could be underway in practice. The net result will be another victory for Colin Powell in his struggle with the hawks, I think, and a recovery to the 9000 level by the Dow Jones Industrials by month’s end. To keep going up after that will require White House and Fed policy changes that still seem unlikely in the short term.