Everybody is pretty much blogged out with Iraq, but I was still a bit surprised that this report on the Iraqi “mobile germ lab” trailers seems to have passed without notice. Given that the official position of the coalition governments, including the Australian government is still that these trailers constitute proof that Iraq had biological weapons, the report that
Engineering experts from the Defense Intelligence Agency have come to believe that the most likely use for two mysterious trailers found in Iraq was to produce hydrogen for weather balloons rather than to make biological weapons
is of interest in itself.
But the report is more interesting because the trailers represent the clearest illustration of the way in which we got into a war where the official pretext was Weapons of Mass Destruction. Unlike, say, the Niger uranium or the dodgy dossier, this process was largely public, or made so by leaks, from day 1.
It’s clear that the Administration honestly thought they had found the smoking gun when the trailers first turned up, then doggedly held to that view as the contrary evidence mounted (the absence of any biological evidence, even on the second truck which had not been cleaned; the insistence of the Iraqi scientists that the truck was used to produce hydrogen; the absence of crucial components etc). In defending its position, the Administration did its best to suppress any alternative view from its own agencies and to prevent outside experts from access to the evidence.
This was the same pattern as we saw in the leadup to the war. A year ago, nearly everyone (including me) assumed that Saddam was hiding weapons, so Bush Blair and Howard felt free to overstate the strength of their evidence, pointing to specific sites and making specific claims which can now be seen to be ill-founded. After Saddam called their bluff and the inspectors went in, the process became more and more dishonest and the pressure directed against sceptics intensified.
In retrospect, it’s clear that the UN Security Council majority was absolutely justified. On the basis of the case presented to them, which solely concerned Weapons of Mass Destruction, there was no justification for halting inspections and going to war.
Of course, there was a better reason for going to war, namely to replace Saddam’s government with a democratic or at least non-totalitarian one. But reliance on the WMD pretext undercut this rationale, since it had to be claimed that war would not go ahead if Saddam complied with the weapons resolutions. Hence, it was not possible to do the things that would be required for a successful war of liberation, such as establishing a provisional government and getting it recognised. Instead, the coalition decided to wing it, on the assumption that victory and the discovery of weapons would legitimate the war.
This assumption now seems to be unravelling. If there has been progress towards a sustainable democratic government in Iraq, it’s not visible in the reports we are getting here.