Monday, January 6, 2014

WMDs in Iraq

In late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence agencies of not only the United States, but also of many other nations, obtained information revealing that Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq was manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including biological weapons, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons.

While Iraq's technological infrastructure was working at a furious pace to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a fission bomb, it was prevented from achieving that goal by the combat that would erupt in March 2003. It did, however, produce large numbers of usable biological and chemical weapons.

As the data became more clear, the United Nations, not the United States, issued several resolutions, which stated that Saddam's government would face consequences if it failed to open its facilities to weapons inspectors. The United Nations hoped to stop WMD production in Iraq and begin dismantling WMD stockpiles.

When Saddam Hussein and the Baath party proved consistently uncooperative, the consequences promised by the United Nations were delivered by a coalition of thirty nations when combat began in March 2003. In the following months and years, the war unfolded, first under the name Operation Iraqi Freedom, and later, in the popular press, simply as the Iraq War.

As the war unfolded, the conflict itself receded in importance, and the news media focused more on the political struggle within the United States. This struggle, over the continuation of the war, the importance of the war, and the justification for the war, became a rhetorical exercise, and the actual facts of the war were increasingly ignored.

The other countries in the coalition, however, remained focused on the reality of the grave threat posed by Saddam's WMDs. The United Nations directed several other governments, including some not part of the coalition, to begin dealing with enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons found hidden in various weapons depots around Iraq.

One of the governments, Germany, assigned the task of dealing with large quantities of WMDs began coordinating and training technicians and scientists to process stockpiles of lethal chemical weapons. A statement issued by the German government says that these

experts will be trained in how to use German technology to destroy the remaining chemical weapons stockpiles left over from Saddam Hussein’s regime.

As the various nations began the UN's work of neutralizing Saddam's vast store of WMD's, it became clear that there were more such weapons to be processed than could reasonably be handled by the member nations of the coalition. The decision was made to hand over the processing of chemical WMD's to the Iraqis, who by now were stabilizing their own free government in the wake of Saddam's demise. The German government stated that it

will provide Iraq with a mobile laboratory equipped with state of the art detection and measuring devices for the analysis of chemical warfare agents, to be used at the remaining chemical weapons sites in Iraq.

Because Germany was not part of the coalition in March 2003, it was seen as more objective or neutral in its handling of the WMDs, and it also gained thereby an opportunity to make an effort even though it had not been part of the initial coalition. Its statement continues:

In this way the Federal Government is making an essential contribution to the first phase of the safe and environmentally responsible disposal of chemical weapons in Iraq.

The technology provided by Germany not only helps to neutralize the caches of WMDs around Iraq, but to do so in a way which was safe and friendly to the environment. Because Germany, as a nation which was not part of the original coalition, had no vested interest in the amounts or types of chemical weapons, it was seen as being capable of producing a responsible inventory of Saddam's vast hoards of WMDs. The German government stated that

This will enable Iraq to analyse the highly toxic legacy of the Saddam regime and to draft a technical strategy for its safe and environmentally responsible destruction.

As an example of one of sites found to being hiding a large collection of WMDs, this description was released about one of the locations:

For many years, grenades filled with the nerve gas sarin have been stored in the bunkers of a former chemical weapons production plant in Iraq. The site also contains several hundred tonnes of chemical precursors for the production of chemical weapons. The exact composition and condition of the warfare agents are unknown. The Federal Government had agreed to assist Iraq with the destruction of its old chemical weapons stockpiles following the country’s accession to the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

As the Iraq war become history, and not a current event, time allows for a more detailed analysis of the data. The record will show that a collection of nations, working loosely under UN leadership, managed to deactivate and disarm a massive stockpile of chemical weapons. The region is today safe from WMD threats in large part due to the efforts of German technologists who began the work themselves and then turned over the completion to the Iraqis they had trained.

Competing Values - Political Matrices

Why are tensions and conflicts necessarily part of political life? If asked, the overwhelming majority of voters would certainly say that they desire justice, peace, prosperity, and security. But this apparent agreement does not lead to harmony. Why? At least two reasons are apparent: first, because each of these good-sounding concepts is susceptible to competing definitions (exactly what are justice, peace, prosperity, and security?); second, because while each of these four is desired, they sometimes are in conflict or in competition with each other.

Consider justice and peace. Both are desirable. But if military force is required to obtain justice, then the quest for peace might be compromised: hence the famous tension between peace lovers and peace makers.

Security and prosperity are both appealing; but an economic system which maximizes prosperity is a system which includes risk, and there compromising the sense of economic security.

Political conflicts can therefore arise among voters who agree about the importance of a set of values, but who weigh these values differently when they come into competition with each other.

Political scientists conceptualize this as a matrix with four dimensions. Consider each of the four axes:

  • In a system of freely-elected representatives, and of different layers of government, one value will be to move as much decision-making as possible to entities at the lower end of the scale: cities, counties, and townships should have more decision-making power than the state or federal government. Local governments are more accessible to citizens and more adeptly absorb petitions and appeals, and more flexibly respond to them.
  • As one nation-state among others, one value is to project an image of strength - politically, economically, and militarily. Weakness is provocative, and the failure to convince other nations of one nation's resolve and willingness to act is to invite aggression.
  • The liberty and dignity of an individual are maximized with economic freedom: therefore, one value is to keep taxation at what is agreed to be a practical minimum; to reduce or eliminate governmental spending, debt, and deficits; and to reduce regulation or interference in manufacturing, in consumption, and in the marketplace.
  • People enter voluntarily to various associations, the natural organs of society. There are a wide range of such groupings: clubs, teams, music groups, professional associations, chambers of commerce, religious groups, neighborhoods, etc. Just as individuals seek freedom, so the liberty of groups is also a value: cooperative activity should not be impeded by government; therefore, legislation prohibiting actions in private life is to be avoided, to the same extent as legislation prohibiting these social groups from regulating private life is to be avoided. Just as a government has no right to require or prohibit private actions within the private sphere, it also has no right to restrict a private and free association from determining private actions within the private sphere.
If each of the above is considered as an axis along which increasing or decreasing levels of preference for that one value, relative to the other three, is measured, then we have system for categorizing various political points of view. One voter may value the ability of the nation-state to robust among the other countries of the world, but this same voter may be willing to sacrifice the freedom which the private voluntary associations within society have. A different voter may value the primacy of local governments over national governments, and in the process be willing to sacrifice the notion of a free market, if it is the local and not the national government seeking to regulate.

To the extent that such a framework allows us to accurately characterize political disagreements, it also allows us to perhaps envision the types of compromise which might be negotiated to the satisfaction, if not to the delight, of various parties. To the extent that this framework is nuanced, it allows a more detailed and perceptive discussion than the polemics which distill disagreement to binary opposites: liberals/conservatives, Republicans/Democrats.