That the Bush administration went to war with Iraq based on a mistake—or, perhaps, a lie—has long been obvious.  Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill writes that, just ten days after Bush’s inauguration, the National Security Council met to discuss how to dispatch Saddam Hussein.  That was over seven months before September 11.

The seizure of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer.  Just consider the elevated terrorism alert over the holidays; the parade of security forces on streets and rivers; the delayed and cancelled airline flights; the continued killings of American soldiers; the escalation of suicide bombings in occupied Iraq.

If Hussein threatened America’s security, it was as a brutal dictator whose country was making weapons of mass destruction and trafficking with terrorists.  The pitiful thug hiding in a small, underground chamber had no ability to threaten the United States.  With only two bodyguards and no satellite phone, Hussein was not even the center of the resistance.  His capture may have disheartened some opponents of the occupation, but evidence suggests that most insurgents are not fighting for him.  Moreover, some Iraqis, freed from any fear of a Hussein restoration, are now pushing the United States more forcefully to hold elections and yield control.

Before the war, President Bush said that “the threat from Iraq stands alone,” since that nation’s “weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant.”  He warned that Hussein had enough anthrax “to kill several million people” and sufficient botulinum toxin “to subject millions of people to death” and that he could produce ample quantities of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent to “kill untold thousands.”  Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz pointed to WMD’s as the critical issue—in contrast to human rights or terrorism—around which the entire administration could rally.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was quite specific in his lengthy presentation to the U.N. Security Council.  “Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters” of anthrax and had accounted for none of it.

Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard [gas], 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents.

Washington, added Secretary Powell, estimated that Iraq had stockpiled “between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.  That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.”  He calmly asserted that “Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons” and asked: “When will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg?”

We have yet to see the visible part of the iceberg.  Not one thimbleful of these materials has turned up.  The same goes for the “large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons—including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas; anthrax, botulism, and possibly smallpox,” of which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke.  None of these biological and chemical weapons has been discovered.  Reported David Kay, the head of America’s Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching for WMD’s:

information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW munitions was reduced—if not entirely destroyed—during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions, and U.N. inspections.

President Bush claimed that “we found biological laboratories.”  Where are they?  “We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile biological weapons production effort,” admitted Kay.  “Technical limitations would prevent any of these processes from being ideally suited to these trailers.” 

Of course, someone might eventually find something.  With so much time elapsed, the seizure of Iraqi government files, the capture of hundreds of Baathist officials, and a professed willingness to pay big bucks for information, however, the cupboard has remained surprisingly bare.

Hussein does seem to have preserved some elements of a weapons program in the hopes of a future revival, but, said Kay, “It clearly does not look like a massive, resurgent program, based on what we discovered.”  Charles Duelfer, former deputy director of the U.N. inspections program, said: “It will probably turn out, in my judgment, that there are no existing weapons in Iraq, and that mildly surprises me.”

President Bush has taken a different tack.  Pressed by ABC’s Diane Sawyer, he responded that there was a “possibility” Hussein could acquire them.  “So what’s the difference?” asked Bush.  It is a big difference.  Any number of governments on earth could do any number of bad things.  That does not mean that we must bomb them today.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration has never retreated from its claim.  In July, after the war had ended, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz testified that what the United States had done was to “remove a regime that was a threat to the United States.”  In a unipolar world dominated by the United States, which possesses the military capacity to destroy any antagonist, whom, exactly, did Saddam Hussein threaten?

Even if Iraq had WMD’s—a reasonable assumption, actually—no one has ever explained why Saddam Hussein could not be deterred, like Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, the two greatest mass murderers in human history (based on simple numbers).  In fact, Gen. Waffic al Samurai, head of Iraqi military intelligence during Gulf War I, reported that implicit U.S. nuclear threats deterred Hussein from using WMD’s then: “[T]he warning was quite severe, and quite effective.  The allied troops were certain to use nuclear arms and the price will be too dear and too high.”

Even though the world may be a better place with Hussein in custody, facing trial, that does not retrospectively justify our conflict.  In fact, we may have to wait years to discover all of the adverse consequences of loosing the Dogs of War in the Mideast.