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May 18, 2004

Sarin: The Facts, the Speculation, and the Spin

We watched Chris Matthews last night just to see what he'd say about the sarin, if anything.

He didn't bring up the topic himself, but his guest, Tony Blankley, did.

You won't be stunned to learn that Matthews immediately denigrated the discovery:

MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look. That‘s a much bigger story than the camera move. Here it is, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was deeply concerned over the inaccurate information given to him for his U.N. presentation on Iraq‘s WMDs in February of 2003. And, remember, this was the main argument for us going to war to the world.

Here it is.


POWELL: But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases deliberately misleading, and for that I am disappointed and I regret it.


MATTHEWS: Tony, he spent like—I mean, an enormous amount of time over at CIA headquarters trying to get the argument made correctly, and he‘s an honest man, I assume, Colin Powell, to make the case to the U.N. based on the best available intel. Now he‘s saying he doesn‘t believe in any of what the cause we made for war.

BLANKLEY: Well, and it‘s odd that it comes up just the week that now they‘ve announced that they have found one shell with sarin nerve gas. They had another one a week or two ago with mustard gas. Obviously, there‘s going to be found—there‘s now been found...

MATTHEWS: But these are tactical weapons of war. They‘re in any cache of weapons, aren‘t they?

BLANKLEY: Well, only in certain countries, like Iraq and Syria.


BLANKLEY: Obviously, my sense is that there are a lot of people in the administration


BLANKLEY: They know it‘s politically incorrect to say that we might still find them, but they still suspect they might still find them.

MATTHEWS: Still holding hope there, right? Cause to war.

That's what we'd call a clumsy shift in argument. For months, Matthews and the rest of the liberal media has been arguing strenuously that, of all the regimes in the world, Hussein's was one of the few not producing or maintaining WMD stocks.

It only takes the discovery of a single sarin shell to abruptly throw the spin into a squealing reverse and begin claiming that of course Saddam had sarin, everyone did. After all, aren't these mere "tactical weapons of war"?

Well, yes, Chris, they are. Any weapon which is not a strategic weapon is a "tactical weapon of war."

And if it's sarin, it's also prohibited WMD. A WMD "tactical weapon of war."

The left is forever raising the bar for evidence, and forever engaging in childish semantic games. The presence of sarin in Iraq doesn't prove the presence of sarin in Iraq. Furthermore, this was merely a "tactical weapon of war;" apparently the new sematic game will be that we went to war to stop Hussein's manufacture and retention of only strategic WMD's.

Tactical WMD's? Nothing to sweat about, apparently.

We're not sure if that's even worth mentioning. Hell, the sarin shell might not even turn out to be a sarin shell, or it might turn out to be so degraded it as to be proveably manfactured ten years ago and now utterly harmless.

Still, Jordan hasn't yet specified what chemical weapons were to be used in the terrorist attack that country spoiled. We're very curious if the agent was sarin. We actually suspect it was ricin, Jordan isn't telling yet.

And we're very curious if Chris Matthews can ever be made to understand that if you detonate enough "tactical weapons of war" in a civilian population center, that makes those weapons into stragegic weapons.

Strategic terror WMD's, as a matter of fact.

The weakness of Chris Matthews' artless repositioning would seem to indicate the left is not ready to even begin dealing with the possibility that Hussein had WMD, and that further discoveries will leave them sputtering and flat-footed.

But we guess we probably already knew that.

Update-- "Ideological Certainty:" In the comments, Tman makes the perfectly plausible case that this shell might have simply been abandoned by Hussein long ago, accidentally discarded amongst non-prohibited high-explosives shells and other conventional munitions, and thus would not indicate that Hussein deliberately retained a WMD capacity.

That's plausible. Hell, as much as it pains us to say it, at this point that seems probable.

Longshanks, on the other hand, points out that the "accidental discovery" theory, even if correct, would seem to indicate the possibility of a lot of these shells lying around. Which would seem to undermine the case that Hussein just "forgot" to destroy this shell.

We can't yet know who's right, and it's too early for the right to begin claiming vindication.

But we will say this: One of the more self-serving and ludicrous vanities of the left is that they are more empirically-minded than the right, that they adjust their thinking according to real-world evidence while the right, especially as embodied in the figures of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the rest, clings single-mindedly and simple-mindedly to its ideological dogma no matter what the real-world evidence might indicate.

This is ridiculous as a historical matter, but let's put that aside.

We are bemused that the "empircially-minded," "evidence-seeking," reason-and-facts-not-ideology left is so quick to insist that their ideological claims, which have by this point hardened into something resembling core religious dogma, are of course unaffected by the discovery of sarin in Iraq. Indeed, they will soon be arguing that the discovery of sarin even buttresses their claims that Saddam never produced WMD. We're not sure how, but they'll make that case.

We're willing to admit that the right's case for war is not yet vindicated, and that additional evidence must be obtained before making any firm conclusions.

Will Chris Matthews and the other hard-core ideologues on the left make a similar concession?

It would seem thusfar that they are not. They know that the sarin doesn't indicate anything much at all. They don't base that on any evidence, but upon their near-religious belief that Saddam was one of the few bad operators in the world not seeking or retaining WMD's.

WSJ: Precursors Discovered in Military Stockpiles: The key to this is remembering that many chemical weapons -- especially nerve agents -- are very similar to pestiticides and, indeed, can be chemically converted to one another without great difficulty. Remember all those early "WMD finds" which were discovered to be, upon further chemical analysis, merely pesticides?

Newsmax digests a WSJ report stating that many of these "harmless pesticides" have been discovered, hidden and camouflaged, in military stockpiles.

Yeahp, It's Sarin: Tests confirm that the agent was sarin, and this story reports that the exposed troops did indeed suffer the symptoms of sarin poisoining, although they're okay now.

Here's the thing:

The left kept telling us (correctly) that sarin degrades over time. They kept telling us this because they expected the sarin to turn out to be utterly degraded and harmless, and thus indicative of long-ago manufacture which would not prove that Saddam has lately been producing WMD's.

But the sarin did in fact harm the troops.

We have no idea what the degradation curve of sarin might look like. Perhaps sarin still retains some capacity to do harm ten or so years after manufacture.

But we'd like to hear that from a genuine expert.

More, More, More: Great catch. Saddam Hussein never admitted he had binary agent weapons, and the US, in fact, didn't think he did.

Turns out our intelligence was wrong: Saddam had worse weapons than we'd guessed.

NRO tipped us to that. And you must read this December 2003 article quoted in The Corner, in which an Iraqi terrorist leader boasts of having access to Saddam's WMD's:

When a reporter expresses skepticism, Abu Ali smiles and says, "Wait and see."

The Boy in the Bubble: Too many people have wrongly claimed for too long that hyperpartisan hack Josh Marshall represented a moderate, reasonable liberal politics.

We've mentioned that some time ago Marshall declared he would no longer even bother responding to the "lies" of the right. He would just ignore all arguments from the right entirely.

Well, apparently he's taken to ignoring purely factual reporting as well. Apparently now working under the principle of See No Sarin, Hear No Sarin, Speak No Sarin, Marshall can't even manage to mention the discovery, not even in a "so what, nyaah, nyaah, nyaaah" style post as offered by Oliver Willis.

Search for "sarin' on Marshall's site. Expect to be disappointed.

If you refuse to admit a fact, that fact doesn't exist.

Blaster Seems Determined to Own this Story, Dang Him: We're not sure if he's right -- perhaps he's overlooked a report or conference somewhere -- but Blaster seems to have discovered the LA Times flat-out lying about General Kimmel saying this round was from "the eighties."

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posted by Ace at 12:54 PM

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