Discovery and Dignity
There's a joke I use to emphasize perspective of scale: it's a small world…but I wouldn't want to paint it. I used to have to paint and repaint ships as part of my job. Complex three dimensional spaces are hard to envision for most people, but the complexity of painting a large space is within the comprehension boundaries of folks.
Today a friend of mine dropped a small case during a visit and he couldn't find it. I checked and discovered that the couch had swallowed it, as couches like to do. The biggest problem he had finding the case was that from the time he had last seen it, we had gotten into a car, driven a few miles, walked two city blocks, and eaten lunch in a crowded restaurant. He spent a lot of time looking in the wrong places.
The United States has risked its reputation on discovering Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The former regime had quite some time to contemplate its demise. Reports today came out that one of Saddam's sons emptied the Iraqi Central Bank's cash reserves the night before the bombs started dropping. For more than a decade before that night, the regime of Saddam Hussein watched large weapons production facilities get blown up any time they were detected.
Ten years ago, I participated in the destruction of the nuclear weapons production facility in the first strike of Operation Southern Watch; we left the cafeteria and the waste storage intact. That was low hanging fruit, since then, the availability of strategic WMD targets was eliminated. This is not news and this should not be viewed with surprise. Saddam Hussein stopped providing us with strategic targets. In all the history of armed conflict, there has never been as extensive a proving ground for the practice of strategic deception as Iraq. By Darwinian effects alone, the surviving WMD production capacity has to be hard to find.
Many commentators are crowing these days that the United States forces have not found WMD; for many of them, that is the only shred of dignity they have left. Can you imagine putting years of your time into opposing any war, anywhere only to find the effect of your actions was to keep a fascist regime of murdering and mutilating thugs in power? So now these commentators have to hold onto this last argument and hope that they can hold off the justified accusations of fraud. Do they really think that not yet finding WMD is justification for their years of empowering the political imprisonment of children in Iraq? Are they seriously asking us to believe that Saddam Hussein was guilty of every other kind of atrocity and crime up to the day the troops crossed the border, but he had seen the sweet light of reason on WMD?
After WWII, the US Coast Guard obtained a sail training ship from the Nazi Kriegsmarine, for decades afterwards the crew of the USCGC Eagle was surprised to be discovering swastikas that had been painted over. In all likelihood, we are going to find WMD evidence in the next six months. After that, we will likely be finding WMD caches every few months for the next several decades. It will be more dangerous than chipping paint, and we will probably lose people doing so. Every time it happens, some commentator who cannot find their pen in a couch will make snide remarks trying to salvage their dignity. It does not matter, though. Because the important part is not that the United States can find WMD, but that the US will not be held hostage by the threat of violence. This is why we went to war in Iraq, and why we are committed to developing democracy there. We will leave when it suits our interests to do so, and not because it would gladden the hearts of compromised commentators everywhere.