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Most Americans Still Believe Saddam Had WMD in 2003

AP’s Charles Hanley has a long piece expressing dismay that a new poll shows half the American public still believes Saddam had WMD at the time of the 2003 invasion.

Do you believe in Iraqi “WMD”? Did Saddam Hussein’s government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003? Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq. People tend to become “independent of reality” in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull.

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration’s shaky WMD claims in 2002-03. “This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence,” Massing said.

Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania’s Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan’s Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. “I think the Harris Poll was measuring people’s surprise at hearing this after being told for so long there were no WMD in the country,” said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware.

The question asked, however, wasn’t whether Saddam had an ongoing nuclear program or whether he had massive stockpiles of new chemical or biological weapons but rather he had weapons of mass destruction. Given only the choices Yes and No and Don’t Know, it’s befuddling that half those surveyed answered other than Yes.

As best we can determine at this point, Saddam himself believed he had ongoing nuclear, biological, and chemical programs. When all the WMD programs he had going in 1991 were cancelled and whether all the stockpiles he had documented were in fact destroyed is still unknown, perhaps unknowable. There is much speculation that they were shipped to Syria or elsewhere but virtually no evidence of that.

Regardless, I suspect that if Americans were asked whether Saddam’s WMD were a sufficient threat to the United States to justify going to war, the overwhelming majority would say No. A ny variant of the question that does not get to that essential formulation is meaningless.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. walter66 says:

    yup, should have let the UN weapons inspectors do their job.

    This guy said this and that guy said that……all meaningless BECAUSE the UN weapons inspectors were sent there to prove or dis-prove wmd claims.

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  2. Pug says:

    Technically, it is correct that Saddam had WMD. I believe what was found were some old, pre-Desert Storm mustard gas shells, etc.

    But I think you may be missing the point. I think most of those answering yes are not basing their answers on technicalities. They really do believe we found WMD.

    Call it the “Fox News Effect”.

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  3. Jody says:

    Pug – to substantiate your insinuation, can you identify some factually incorrect report related to WMD presented on Fox News?

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  4. walter66 says:

    if we lowered the threshold of what constitutes a wmd, say to a pocket knife with a 2″ blade…..we could get a 100% on that poll

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  5. walter66 says:

    hey, if you think about it if we lowered the threshold of what constitutes “most” to 50%……

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  6. walter66 says:

    Most Americans Still Believe Saddam Had WMD in 2003

    using that logic one could say……Most Americans Still DO NOT Believe Saddam Had WMD in 2003

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  7. LaurenceB says:

    James is precisely correct. I would have answered Yes to this completely meaningless question.

    To differentiate the “Brainwashed by Fox” public(assuming they exist) from the thinking public, I would sure like to see a pollster ask the question as James poses it. Oh well.

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  8. Pug says:

    …to substantiate your insinuation, can you identify some factually incorrect report related to WMD presented on Fox News?

    I guess you’ve never watched Sean Hannity?

    There was a study (which I can’t cite because I don’t have time to look it up) that found Fox News viewers much more likely to believe we had discovered WMD.

    I remember Shemp Smith hyperventilating over a little truck found in the desert in the early days of the war as a “mobile weapons lab”. Saw that one myself.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    walter: WMD has almost meant chemical, biologicial, and nuclear weapons.

    And, yes, 50% is “most” when the rest are divided between two other choices.

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  10. LJD says:

    yup, should have let the UN weapons inspectors do their job.

    That would be funny, if it weren’t for the seriousness of the problem.

    The U.N. was NOT doing their job. They were lining their pockets to the benefit of Saddam Hussein, and at the expense of the Iraqi people. Had Saddam cooperated with inspectors, and not spent his days playing shell games, we may have gotten an answer to the WMD question.

    I remain unconvinced either way. Certainly Saddam had all the time in the world, during the run up to the war, to conceal his programs. He had a lot of practice. I’m not saying this because I was brainwashed by Shep Smith or Sean Hannity. I say it because I choose to remain open-minded on the subject. Something these anti-war liberals are supposed to be- open minded. Yet, as we see in the comments here, they are more concerned with ‘being right’ than they are the truth.

    WMD are not a joking matter. They are terribly horrible, torturous if you will, weapons of terror. Again, the obligation was Saddams, not ours to try to ‘catch’ him red-handed. Hell, the violations were clearly there. For some reason the left just wants to ignore them- as if more of the same would have produced a different result.

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  11. legion says:

    Well, if you ask Dick Cheney, we’ve lowered our standards to one percent… (insert snarky Bush IQ comment here).

    I agree that the question, as asked by Fox, is meaningless. Technically, “WMD” does include the 10+ year old unusable mustard gas stocks. But what do Americans actually think of when you say “WMDs”? Now _that_ would be an interesting poll question…

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  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    To those who think 10 year old mustard gas is harmless, I invite to to investigate deaths cause by old mustard gas shells from WWI in France James, obviously does not spend much time reading other blogs, ie; Captains Quarters. If he did, he would have read interpreted captured Iraqi documents indicating the movement of large amounts of material to Syria just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Anti-war at any cost people hitch their wagon to the WMD theory the war was about such weapons. Fact is, Saddams failure to comply with UN resolution 1441 and 17 resolutions prior to that, is the true cause of the conflict. Had Saddam not be captured and still leading the insurgency, I am sure we would have seen the use of WMD by now. Saddam was a monster who was directly responsible for the deaths of millions of human beings. The cost to remove him from power has been minuscule compared to what it would have cost had he remained in power. To think otherwise is to ignore history.

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  13. walter66 says:

    James sez…..”walter: WMD has almost meant chemical, biologicial, and nuclear weapons.”

    and pocket knives with a 2″ blade are almost meant to be wmds

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  14. James Joyner says:

    walter: The modern definition of “WMD” has always included NBC weapons. Some also include radiological weapons, aka “dirty bombs.”

    In the pre-nuclear era, the definition was somewhat different:

    Weapon with the capacity to inflict death and destruction indiscriminately and on a massive scale. The term has been in currency since at least 1937, when it was used to describe massed formations of bomber aircraft. Today WMDs are nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons-frequently referred to collectively as NBC weapons. Efforts to control the spread of WMDs are enshrined in international agreements such as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968, the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. -Britannica

    The only controversy is how wide to use the term, with some including more things. Of course, if one widens the definition, it is even more clear that Iraq had WMD at the time of the invasion.

    WMD411 Definitions of WMD
    Produced by the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies

    Updated January 2006

    The most widely used definition of “weapons of mass destruction” in official U.S. documents is “nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.”

    The U.S. president has used this definition in communications with Congress.

    * “Letter to Congressional Leaders Reporting on Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” November 9, 2000, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, pp. 2842-2851.
    * “Statement on Domestic Preparedness Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” May 8, 2001, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, pp. 718-719.

    The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has used this definition in reporting on proliferation to Congress.

    * Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Related to Weapons of Mass Destruction, 1 January Through 30 June 2000.

    The U.S. Department of Defense has used this definition in a series of major reports to Congress on proliferation threats and on measures for countering proliferation.

    * U.S. Department of Defense, Proliferation Threat and Response 2001, “Message of the Secretary of Defense,” refers to weapons of mass destruction as those with “…capabilities to inflict mass casualties and destruction: nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons or the means to deliver them.” (page 4 on the screen)
    * U.S. Department of Defense, Proliferation Threat and Response 1997, “Message of the Secretary of Defense,” refers to “Weapons of mass destruction . . . nuclear, biological, or chemical . . .”

    The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, has used this definition, as well.

    * U.S. General Accounting Office, Weapons of Mass Destruction: State Department Oversight of Science Centers Programs (May 10, 2001), opening letter to Senators Mitch McConnell and Patrick Leahy, describing the document as reviewing U.S. programs to help former Soviet scientists who once developed “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons systems.”

    Some U.S. laws likewise use this traditional definition of WMD.

    * The Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act of 1992, Title XV of the Defense Authorization Act of 1993, P.L. 102-484 (enacted October 23, 1992), relates “to the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (weapons of mass destruction) and their related technology . . .”

    This definition of WMD is also used internationally.

    * Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) refers to WMD as “nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.”

    However, some more recent U.S. laws, official statements, and documents define WMD as including additional types of weapons, such as radiological weapons or conventional weapons causing mass casualties. Often these laws and documents are focused on responding to possible WMD incidents in the United States.

    * The definition in the U.S. Code, Title 50, “War and National Defense,” includes radiological weapons. It defines WMD as “any weapon or device that is intended, or has the capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release, dissemination, or impact of – (A) toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors; (B) a disease organism; or (C) radiation or radioactivity.”

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  15. walter66 says:

    so, after spending 16 months and 900 million dollars($900,000,000) the ISG turned up no stockpiles of these weapons means that Iraq had stockpiles of these weapons?

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  16. legion says:

    Exaclty, Walter. Bear in mind that this wasn’t simply the opinion of the UN teams, or Amnesty Int’l, or any other bleeding-heart Bushitler outfit – this was the administration’s own hand-picked group of investigators, and even they couldn’t back up the hype with a straight face.

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  17. walter66 says:

    The U.N. was NOT doing their job

    Iraq allowed UN weapon inspectors to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27 2002 to March 16, 2003. The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months.

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  18. Herb Ely says:

    The question asked, however, wasn’t whether Saddam had an ongoing nuclear program or whether he had massive stockpiles of new chemical or biological weapons but rather he had weapons of mass destruction. Given only the choices Yes and No and Don’t Know, it’s befuddling that half those surveyed answered other than Yes

    Exactly right – as far as it goes. The confusion, I suggest, stems from the Bush administration’s failure to ask the right question at the beginning. The administration was so focused on proving that Saddam had programs to develop WMD that it never asked if the Iraqi military was equipped, trained and ready to use WMD. townhall.com columnist Alan Reynolds has argued that had the administration, or Congress, read the October 2002 carefully, they would have recognized this. Bush wasn’t wrong about WMD. He was half-right. Unfortunately – for gaining public support for the war – he was right about the programs half and wrong about the WMD readiness half.

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  19. AP Does More Objective Reporting…

    Half of U.S. still believes Iraq had WMD
    By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
    Sun Aug 6
    Do you believe in Iraqi “WMD”? Did
    Saddam Hussein’s government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?
    Half of America apparently stil…

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  20. walter66 says:

    “Given only the choices Yes and No and Don’t Know, it’s befuddling that half those surveyed answered other than Yes”

    considering the ISG spent 16 months and $900,000,000 trying to find them……it certainly is befuddling

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  21. walter66 says:

    James sez…..”walter: The modern definition of “WMD” has always included NBC weapons. Some also include radiological weapons, aka “dirty bombs.”

    maybe you should be giving this list to your neocon buddy and main source of Iraq weapon intell Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi and his Iranian buddy “curveball”

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  22. walter66 says:

    Judy……from the story…..

    As Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas battled in Lebanon on July 21, a Fox News segment suggested, with no evidence, yet another destination for the supposed doomsday arms.

    “ARE SADDAM HUSSEIN’S WMDS NOW IN HEZBOLLAH’S HANDS?” asked the headline, lingering for long minutes on TV screens in a million American homes.

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  23. walter66 says:

    James sez…..”And, yes, 50% is “most” when the rest are divided between two other choices.”

    using the 50% rule……Most Americans DO NOT believe Saddam had wmd in 2003. It doesn’t matter if there were two or twenty two other choices………..all we need to know is that they didnt say yes that Saddam had wmd

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  24. walter66 says:

    hey James, let’s look at it this way……in an election there are 4 candidates…….candidate A gets 32% of the votes….the other 68% are split evenly between B,C and D

    did “most” Americans vote for candidate A or did “most” Americans NOT vote for candidate A?

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  25. James Joyner says:

    walter: If it was a congressional race, candidate A would be the winner.

    It’s not comparable, however. If a poll were divided 50Y-50N, I’d say it was a tie. If it’s 50Y-35N with 15 having no opinion, I’d say that “most” were Ys.

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  26. LJD says:

    Walt-

    Slow down, collect your thoughts, and write one post to make your point.

    You just appear to be a raving lunatic…

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  27. walter66 says:

    Most Americans Still Believe Saddam Had WMD in 2003……no, 50% and only 50% of Americans believe that Saddam had wmd……..50% is NOT most

    LDJ…..the best you can do is name call…..why am I NOT surprised?

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