Those Pesky Syrian WMDs

| April 30, 2005 | 3 Replies

The New York Times has decided that today’s the day for another blistering editorial about the unsuitability of John Bolton. Among his many sins, the Times notes, is his alleged penchant for exaggerating intelligence. The editorial says, in its final paragraph:

In a recent Times article, Douglas Jehl reported that Mr. Bolton repeatedly clashed with intelligence officials in 2002 and 2003 because they thought he was stretching the evidence as he sought to deliver public warnings about Syria’s pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Syria is clearly a bad actor that shipped military and civilian material to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions. But policy makers need to keep the threat in perspective lest they be sucked in again by their own exaggerations.

Yes, well, the boilerplate accusation that the Bush Administration exaggerated intelligence to suit its own world view is certainly shopworn enough to look reasonable when applied to Bolton.

But I’m not sure the editorial board’s memory, or evidence, on Syria, is very good.

The ISG report (which most folks know at the Duelfer Report) basically said that there wee no official transfers of WMD between Iraq and Syria because none of the Iraqis to whom the investigators spoke could or would tell them of one. In other words, the Iraqis didn’t admit it, so it wasn’t true. The editorial also says:

Never mind that American military leaders said that he could not have pulled that off during the war, when his regime was collapsing too fast to salvage much of anything, and that reconnaissance craft had seen no major arms shipments at the borders. Perhaps the wily dictator had spirited off the weapons before the war began.

Now if you ask those folks this editorial describes as a “die-hard”, like me, we would have told you that. In fact, I’m pretty sure we might have mentioned a time or two that given the nearly one year between the time we said we were going to invade Iraq and the time we actually invaded, Hussein would have had plenty of time to truck all sorts of things into Syria. So, yeah, that “perhaps” is exactly what we’ve been saying.

The Times talks about “American military leaders”, but doesn’t name any. On the other hand, the Israelis seem full of information that the ISG didn’t appear to consider very heavily or wasn’t able to verify, which is why it left the report inconclusive. You can do what the Times didn’t do and read over this article from Insight Magazine and check the reports for yourself. While you’re there, notice the quotes from an “American military leader” that fly in the face of the Times’ assertion.

Larger than that, though, the Times seem to have completely forgotten this foiled terrorist attack from April of last year. The captured man fessed up to a plot, sponsored by Syria, to kill upwards of 60,000 people in Amman, Jordan. The attack was to use a potent cocktail of chemical and biological weapons, and explosives. Where did he get these chemicals? Jordanian intelligence was firm in the belief that they came from Syria, and no one has managed to disprove them to date. The problem is, Syria really doesn’t have a chemical weapons program. So how’d they manage to cook up that large a quantity of bad stuff without a program?

No one’s really tried to answer that question, have they? It’s one that ought to be answered at some point very soon. Perhaps the Times could look into it for us – unless, of course, the answer would make them look bad.

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