WMD: Proving a Negative

A regular reader e-mailed me this Roger L. Simon post which asks a pretty fair question:

How could David Kay possibly know there are no significant WMDs in Iraq?

I have lived in California for over thirty years (a state which, as we have heard ad nauseum, is about the same size as that Middle Eastern country) and I wouldn’t know where to begin to find WMDs here, if someone really wanted to hide them, even if I had five thousand people working with me, make that thirty-five thousand (which Kay didn’t). A suitcase or two or even five of biological weapons could disappear in the Sierra Nevada or—more to the point perhaps—in the Mojave or Anza Borrego Deserts, not to mention Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Monument, in a heartbeat. As most in my generation know, acres of marijuana fields have been growing secretly in Humboldt County for decades. Repeat: that’s acres. So I don’t get it? Maybe it’s easier to find WMDs than pot plantations, but I wouldn’t think so. Nevertheless, Dr. Kay was supposed to have wrapped this up in six months. I don’t believe it. I think his report is factually meaningless, but what do I know?

Roger got 83 comments on the post, so there may well be a brilliant answer in amongst them. I’m not willing to take that chance.

I’m sure we’ll keep looking for WMD. Don Rumsfeld –who certainly has more information than I do on the topic– still thinks we’ll find them. President Bush apparently doesn’t. I’m honestly not sure it much matters. The fact is that we know Saddam had chemical weapons in abundance–he used them against both the Iranians and the Kurds in the late 1980s and still had them in the mid-1990s when the UN inspection teams were running around the place. We know he had a nuclear program that the Israelis destroyed in 1981 and another one ongoing that he’d managed to hide from us until we found it after the 1991 war. And we know he didn’t live up to his treaty obligations in terms of dismantling and documenting that process.

At this stage, after nearly a year in country with teams aggressively looking for them, the working assumption has moved from “He definitely has WMD” to “He sure as hell used to have WMD and where the hell are they now?”

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.