Chaim Kaufmann
College of Arts and Sciences, Department of International Relations

Lehigh University, USA

The Marketplace That Failed: Iraq, Threat Inflation, and the Nuclear Program That Did Not Exist


In the short run, the SecondGulf War has been a great success for United Statesarms. Critics charge that, over medium and longer time frames, the President Bush’s new National Security Strategy and its call for preventive military action to forestall “rogue states” that seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction risk embroiling the United States in an open-ended series of adventures that could overstretch the nation’s capabilities and ultimately undermine the very national security that the strategy is supposed to safeguard.[1]

As Jack Snyder has recently pointed out, the arguments used to justify both the Bush Doctrine and the war in Iraq – wildly inflated threat assessments, “paper tiger” images of opponents, the domino theory, and the “Big Stick” theory – closely resemble the complex of “myths of empire” that led past challengers for European or global hegemony such as France, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union to overstretch their national capacities and encircle themselves with rings of enemies.[2]

While no one claims that democracies are wholly immune to myths of empire, until now the standard understanding has been that – unlike authoritarian regimes and early-stage transition democracies – mature democracies such as the United States are substantially protected from myths of empire and excessively risky or expansionist foreign policies by their strong civic institutions and robust “marketplaces of ideas” which make it difficult for unfounded, mendacious, or self-serving foreign policy arguments to go unchallenged for very long. This same marketplace of ideas argument is also used to explain the reasons for the “democratic peace,” why democracies tend to win the wars they do get into, and the causes of at least some ethnic conflicts.[3]

For this point of view, the two striking features of debate over Iraq are the extreme degree of the threat inflation employed by the Bush administration, and the more or less complete failure of the democratic marketplace of ideas to contain the administration’s dubious threat claims or their effectiveness in mobilizing support for policy. The record of 2002-2003 suggests that the executive branch may have more ability to control foreign policy debates than our theories allow for.

On all four main dimensions of the Iraqi threat – that it was supposedly developing nuclear weapons; that it possessed chemical and biological arsenals of devastating power; that Iraq was assisting Al Qaeda; and that Saddam Hussein was an almost uniquely reckless aggressor who could not be deterred, especially once nuclear-armed, even by America’s vast nuclear and conventional superiority – the administration’s claims were either based on dubious logic, on dubious evidence, greatly exaggerated, or just altogether false.

Of these four, the nuclear dimension is both the most important and the most egregious. The inflation of the alleged nuclear threat is the most important because only nuclear blackmail could possibly have restored to Hussein his long-lost capacity for regional aggression; only possession of a nuclear deterrent could enable him to commit or support terrorism with impunity; and only nuclear weapons could frighten the American public to a degree qualitatively more terrible than September the 11th. According Greg Theilmann, a senior analyst who retired from the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research in September 2002, “the Al Qaeda connection and the nuclear weapons issue were the only two ways that you could link Iraq to an imminent security threat to the U.S.”[4]

An NBC poll that same month showed that 82% of Americans thought that “strong evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons or is about to develop nuclear weapons” would justify using force to depose Hussein, compared with 59% who thought that administration “belief” without proof would justify war (apparently no poll at the time asked whether war would be justified if Iraq did not have an active nuclear weapons program).[5] Many of the 77 Senators and 296 Representatives who voted in October 2002 to authorize the President to use force against Iraq said that the nuclear threat was the main or one of the main reasons for their votes.

The Bush administration’s assertions about Iraqi nuclear programs were also the most egregious of the four threat claims, since this dimension of the threat was not merely exaggerated, but actually did not exist. Evidence available before the war not only to the administration but also to outside analysts showed beyond reasonable doubt that Iraq in 2002-2003 did not have an active nuclear weapons program, and was not a threat to produce a nuclear weapon in less than a very long time frame.

Yet the administration succeeded in persuading most of the American public – even if very few foreigners – that its claims about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program and other supposed threats were both accurate and sufficient justification for war, and in either persuading or intimidating almost all potential political opposition.

Not one of more than 30 Senators and 100 Representatives who attended hearings in July-October 2002 questioned administration claims on the Iraqi nuclear threat,[6] and as early as September 2002, 69% of the American public believed that Iraq already possessed nuclear weapons.[7] Even after resumed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections had begun to demonstrate that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program, the administration was largely successful in persuading the public to ignore those findings. In four polls in February 2003, from 61% to 90% responded that they believed that Iraq was actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons.[8]

Why Evaluation is Important?

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The inflation of the Iraqi nuclear threat is important now not for the substance of what Iraq did or did not have, but as an example and a warning of the possible difficulty of containing myths of empire that may bedevil future American foreign policy debates.

The current episode represents arguably the most extreme threat inflation and the worst failure of the democratic marketplace of ideas during America’s career as a superpower. While it is hard to make such qualitative judgments in a reliable way, and threat inflation was certainly endemic during much of the Cold War, most of those episodes involved exaggerated versions of real threats, rarely ones wholly without foundation. At least some Cold War threat claims that later appeared inflated were over issues on which reasonable people could disagree, sometimes because information needed to settle them was not available at the time. To paraphrase the famous Reagan campaign advertisement, it was undeniable that the “bear” really did exist, and that its nuclear claws at least were quite sharp indeed.[9]

Such a severe failure of the marketplace of ideas to contain “myths of empire,” even in a mature democracy, must give us cause for concern on two fronts, one theoretical and one practical. The first is that the supposed protective virtues of the marketplace of ideas may have been over-rated, and that we may be at risk for repeated, equally severe failures.

The second is that the Bush Doctrine’s legitimation of preventive use of force substantially expands the potential, compared with previous American grand strategies, for getting the United States involved in multiple military adventures. This in turn greatly increases the possible consequences if democratic processes and the marketplace of debate fail repeatedly to weed out unwarranted or exaggerated threat claims and policy proposals based on them. Before the Bush Doctrine and Iraq, the idea that the United States might embroil itself in the sorts of over-extension and self-encirclement that got Wilhelmine Germany and others into so much trouble appeared impossible. Perhaps the most important recent change in the America’s national security position is that, despite its sole superpower status, we now cannot exclude this as an eventual possibility.

Although top administration officials have disavowed any intention to open new military confrontations, the logic of the Bush Doctrine as well as the apparent preferences of at least some officials show signs of propelling the United States toward more ambitious adventures against North Korea, Iran, and perhaps other targets. In January 2003 an American intelligence officer who had attended recent White House meetings on North Korea was quoted as saying:

“Bush and Cheney want [Kim Jong-Il’s] head on a platter. Don’t be distracted by all this talk about negotiations. There will be negotiations, but they have a plan, and they are going to get this guy after Iraq.”[10]

The main constraints thus far on military action against North Korea appear to be the likely heavy costs and U.S. inability to obtain backing or basing rights from any of North Korea’s neighbors. In May 2003 South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun went so far as to seek a pledge from President Bush that the United States would not use force against North Korea unilaterally; Bush refused.[11]

Since May, administration officials and some in Congress have also begun to call for regime change in Iran, although this may actually reflect an older preference: as far back last August, a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Teheran.”[12] Administration officials have not so far advocated a U.S. military invasion, although they have advocated arming proxy forces on the models of Afghanistan and some late 1990s proposals for deposing Hussein.[13]

All of this makes it important to get into the record now just how unfounded the administration’s threat claims about Iraq have been. In order for the democratic marketplace of ideas in American foreign policy to begin to recover successful functioning, it must first be supplied with the raw material of arguments compelling enough that those in power can be forced to confront and debate them, and in the process account for their own assertions.[14]

Any proposed future adventures will certainly be accompanied by claims about the severe national security threats posed by the new targets. These may or may not be similar in form to the claims made about Iraq, but in any case war advocates’ chances of prevailing in political debate will certainly be affected by whether American publics and elites still accept Bush administration arguments about the Iraqi threat as basically credible or at least debatable, or whether key parts of their case for invading Iraq are regarded as having been decisively discredited.

Despite an increase in expressions of skepticism since the war, the administration still has not been forced to confront a comprehensive rebuttal of official claims on any of the four dimensions of the alleged threat. On at least one dimension, however – the alleged nuclear threat – administration claims were wholly without merit. The administration made two main claims about Iraqi nuclear threats. The first was that before the First Gulf War Iraq had been very close to completion of a nuclear weapon. The second was that in 2002-2003 Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program which was so far advanced that officials, while declining to provide a specific timetable, spoke as if Iraq could complete a nuclear bomb at almost any moment. The first of these claims was greatly exaggerated, while the second was simply false.

The evidence shows that, regardless of whether Hussein was still interested in acquiring nuclear weapons if he could, there simply was no meaningful Iraqi nuclear weapons program in 2002-2003, and almost certainly had not been one since the end of the First Gulf War in 1991.

Exaggerated Claims: Iraqi Nuclear Progress Before the First Gulf War

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In September 2002, President Bush claimed that after the First Gulf War International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors had found that that Iraq was six months away from developing a [nuclear] weapon.”[15] This claim was of no direct relevance to current threats, but is important because it largely became conventional wisdom, and especially because it was used to imply that a resumed Iraqi effort could produce results very quickly. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

“Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent - that Saddam is at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain. Before Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the best intelligence estimates were that Iraq was at least 5-7 years away. …. The experts were flat wrong.”[16]

Actually, the inspectors found that the pre-war assessments were basically on target. IAEA inspections after the First Gulf War showed that Iraq was at least four years away, on optimistic assessments – for Iraq – of producing enough U-235 to build a weapon.

There are three main challenges to would-be nuclear proliferators: weapon design, “weaponization” or actual fabrication of the weapon, and obtaining the necessary fissile material – either plutonium or U-235 – for the bomb core. Basic design is today considered only a moderate technical challenge, and Iraq probably had a viable bomb design. Iraq probably had not succeeded in weaponization by 1991, but it is likely that it could have by the time it produced enough fissile material to make the issue relevant.[17]

The main challenge in nuclear proliferation, however, is obtaining the fissile material that forms the bomb core. This can be done by any of four methods – extraction of plutonium from spent reactor fuel (the easiest method),[18] or uranium enrichment by gaseous diffusion, electro-magnetic isotope separation (EMIS), or gas centrifuge cascades.[19] Iraq had no chance at the first two approaches, because Israel destroyed the incomplete Osiraq reactor in 1981, while gaseous diffusion is too expensive and technically demanding for a country at Iraq’s level of economic development.[20]

Iraq tried the third and fourth approaches, but both programs were plagued by difficulties in importing critical components that could not be produced domestically, other materials shortages, and quality control problems.

Iraq began an EMIS effort in 1982; although so inefficient as to be generally regarded as obsolete, its attraction was that it could be done with mainly indigenously produced components.[21] In Iraq 1987 hired a Yugoslav firm to build the first of two planned production-scale facilities. By 1991, however, only 8 of 90 separators for the first plant had been completed, and these achieved only about 20% of their planned separation efficiency.[22] Maintenance and malfunction problems were serious, as they had been for the United States during World War II.[23] The IAEA’s bottom line on Iraq’s EMIS effort was that it “would have required extraordinary good fortune” to achieve enough enrichment for ?-1 weapon per year by 1994, although a rate sufficient for 1-2 weapons per year might have been achieved by 1995.

A gas centrifuge enrichment effort was begun in 1987. In 1989 plans were made for a 120-unit pilot cascade and a 1,000-unit production facility to commission in 1993. The centrifuge program, however, was heavily dependent on foreign assistance, especially from the German firms H&H Metalform and ROSCH, and was hampered by difficulties in importing key components, including duraluminum for cylinders, maraging steel for rotors, carbon fiber winding machines, frequency converters, balancing machinery, and other items. Quality control problems were also serious. The only working centrifuge was actually assembled by a German scientist in mid-1990; the Iraqis themselves failed to produce centrifuges of usable quality.[24] The IAEA assessed that the program was “behind schedule and it is doubtful whether the lost time could have been made up.” Iraq’s goal of ? weapon per year by 1994 probably could not have been met, although this rate might have been achieved by 1995, with expansion after that.[25]

The most thorough independent analyses are comparable to those of the IAEA, suggesting that if both enrichment programs had progressed on schedule, Iraq could have completed enough separation work for its one weapon by early 1995.[26] Given the known delays and roadblocks in both programs, it would actually have been later. Actual fabrication of the weapon would likely have taken one year or less, so Iraq could probably have produced a weapon around 1996 or slightly later.

Separate from the two main programs, in August 1990 Hussein apparently ordered a “crash program” to divert the highly enriched uranium (HEU) cores of the two Tuwaitha research reactors to quickly build a single crude weapon. Inspections right after the war showed that this fuel was all still accounted for, meaning that no work beyond planning was actually done.[27] In fact, the program probably was not feasible for lack of sufficient fissile material, and because Iraq was unable to build the any of the 50 centrifuges needed for further enrichment of the material.[28]

Bush administration officials never really explained how they arrived at their aggressive estimates of Iraqi nuclear progress. One possibility would have been to accept the planned “crash program” at face value, ignoring its actual record and technical barriers. Another would have been to adopt claims made by the first Bush administration in late November 1990 that Iraq might be within six months to year of producing a nuclear weapon.[29] (In 1990 as in 2002, inflation of the Iraqi nuclear threat came in politically useful. A poll in mid-November 1990 had shown that 56% of Americans opposed going to war to re-capture Kuwait and 62% opposed doing so to protect oil, but 54% were willing to fight to stop Iraq from developing nuclear weapons.[30])

Thus both in 1990-1991 and 2002-2003, U.S. administrations promoted threat assessments that supported their policies, while discounting or ignoring contradictory assessments.

The Destruction of the Iraq Nuclear Program, 1991-1998

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What progress Iraq had made before the First Gulf War was undone by the war and by inspections afterwards. The research reactors and some other facilities were destroyed by bombing. The Iraqis made a brief effort just after the war to move some key EMIS equipment, but this was intercepted and dismantled by the inspectors.[31] By November 1992, the IAEA had removed, destroyed, or confirmed Iraqi destruction of all uranium handling, re-processing, enrichment, weapons fabrication, and research facilities and equipment, as well as all plutonium, enriched uranium, and centrifuge feed material. Some additional tools and material that the Iraqis destroyed or hid in 1991 were recovered by the IAEA in 1996-97.[32] Some less sensitive material remained in storage under IAEA seal, and continued to be verified – even during the period when other inspections were suspended – most recently in December 2002.[33]

Unlike chemical and biological weapons production facilities, which can be quite small and mobile, uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons fabrication installations are substantial and immobile. Thus the IAEA was eventually able to rate the possibility of undetected duplicate facilities as “remote.”[34] Before inspections were suspended in December 1998 because of Iraqi obstruction,[35] the IAEA was able to report that:

“There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.”[36]

Wholly Unfounded Claims: Iraqi Nuclear Programs in 2002-2003

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From about July 2002 onward, President Bush and other officials claimed that Iraq’s nuclear program had become so advanced that only immediate war could prevent it from completing a nuclear weapon. These claims ignored the lack of evidence that Iraq had any uranium enrichment capability, as well as U.S. intelligence estimates that Iraq could not produce enough fissile material for a weapon without at least 4 to 8 years (CIA) or “5 or more years and key foreign assistance” (Defense Department).[37]

The actual state of the evidence, even before the resumption of inspections in November 2002, indicated that it was very unlikely that Iraq possessed either any uranium enrichment capacity or the means of reconstituting any in the near future. It is also nearly certain that little if any of the materials needed to resume a nuclear weapons program were successfully imported by Iraq between 1998 and 2002. Since, as shown below, the United States made such accusations that turned out be false, we can be nearly sure that there could not have been significant actual imports – had Western intelligence agencies detected anything, the Bush administration certainly would not have passed up the political advantages it would have gained from publicizing them.

Four months of unrestricted, essentially unhindered inspections provided even stronger confirmation on these issues, eliminating virtually all doubt by the time President Bush effectively expelled the inspectors on March 17, 2003. The inspectors were able to establish that there was “no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.”[38] The IAEA further determined that it was feasible, “particularly with an intrusive verification system, to assess the presence or absence of a nuclear weapons programme in a state even without the full co-operation of the inspected state.”[39]

Indeed, there probably was no Iraqi nuclear weapons program of any significance at any time between about May 1991 and March 2003.[40] That is, there was no evidence of production or importation of the high-speed switches needed to detonate a weapon, [41]mining or importation of uranium compounds, [42] production or importation of equipment for gas centrifuges, preparation of uranium hexaflouride feed material, or, perhaps needless to say, any actual enrichment activity.[43] Among the barriers a resumed effort would have faced, as late as 2003 Iraq still lacked aluminum flow-forming abilities of sufficient quality to produce usable cases for gas centrifuges, to say nothing of the greater challenges posed by the rotors. [44] In sum, whatever Iraqi nuclear weapons effort might have continued after 1991 probably could not have amounted to more than a few scientists conducting computer simulations or very small-scale laboratory work.

The IAEA findings have been validated since the war by the failure of U.S. search teams to find any evidence whatever of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program (nor hardly any other banned weapons). Indeed, U.S. forces failed to inspect or even secure seven of Iraq’s main nuclear sites for roughly two weeks after they were first seized, during which time several of them were looted. [45] Such behavior is difficult to explain if administration officials really thought incriminating evidence might be found. The looting may not have been intended, although it may prove convenient for the administration, allowing negative results to be presented as ambiguous instead.

Perhaps the best guide to Iraq’s nuclear potential in 2002-2003 is the famous “British Report” of September 2002. Even though released in an attempt to assist the American push for action against Iraq, the report’s authors felt compelled to undermine that goal with the assessment that:

“while sanctions remain effective Iraq would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon. If they were removed or proved ineffective, it would take Iraq at least five years to produce sufficient fissile material for a weapon indigenously.”[46]

Probably the only way that Iraq could have acquired a nuclear weapon in less time would have been to purchase or steal an actual weapon or enough fissile material for a bomb core from a country that possessed these. [47] It is not actually clear that Iraq was aggressively seeking to purchase fissile material; the only post 1991-report we have is an unverified claim that Iraq offered $16,000 per kg for HEU to unspecified sources in Kazakhstan. The open literature records no follow-up investigation of this alleged incident.[48] Iraq was certainly far less active in seeking fissile material than organizations such as Aum Shinrikyo, Al Qaeda, and possibly the Taliban and Iran.[49]

Even if Iraq had been trying, no government would likely have cooperated, so the most likely possibility would be theft or smuggling, probably from one of the former Soviet states, which had huge stocks of fissile material as well as relatively poor nuclear security.

If an actual weapon could be obtained this way, then Bush administration claims about the progress of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program would be irrelevant; the question would then become how invading Iraq would prevent a purchase by another rogue state or a terrorist group.

It is unclear whether Iraq could have obtained enough fissile material for a bomb core. While there have been hundreds of reports of nuclear theft or smuggling over the last dozen years, few have been verified, and most of the confirmed events involved low-grade radioactives. There has been only one confirmed incident in which a non-trivial amount of potentially weapons-usable material was not recovered, involving some 2 kg of HEU with 90% U-235 content taken from a research center in Georgia in 1993, around 1/10 the amount required for a weapon. In 12 more incidents, most involving smaller amounts or non-weapons-grade material, the material was recovered.[50]

Since lack of evidence made it difficult to explain when or how Iraq might have begun to re-constitute its uranium enrichment capacity, administration officials resorted to a number of rhetorical strategies to evade that problem:

The first was to avoid specific predictions, while still giving the impression that an Iraqi nuclear weapon could be completed at any moment. As Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge.”[51]

A second technique was to take Rumsfeld’s famous saying that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” one step further, arguing that anything short of perfect certainty that Iraq was not making progress on uranium enrichment constituted effective proof that it was. As Richard Perle, Chairman of the Defense Policy Board, put it: “We never know everything, and so almost by definition what we ultimately learn is worse than what we knew when we started out.”[52]

Similarly, Rumsfeld argued that the fact that IAEA inspectors did not learn of the 1990 “crash program” plan until 1995 meant that Iraq could have retained unlimited unknown facilities that could have remained in operation all the time since then.[53] As noted above, the actual reason the “crash program” was not detected immediately was that no work on it was actually done.

A third technique was to frame the nuclear threat in terms not of when but in terms of the most terrifying possible consequence, as President Bush did when he told the United Nations that “the first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one.”[54]

A fourth tactic was to promote claims by exiles and defectors connected to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), long allied to the administration’s “regime change” faction, who had obvious incentives to exaggerate the threat posed by Hussein and often very low credibility. One INC-sponsored defector named Adnan Ihsan Saaed claimed to have worked on renovations for nuclear and other weapons installations as recently as 2000, but later inspections did not confirm his claims.[55] The most important INC propagandist, however, was Khidhir Hamza, who served as a pro-war witness during Senate hearings in September 2002 as well as the source for President Bush’s claim in October that “a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer” had told the U.S. that “despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.”[56]

Officials were not deterred from relying on Hamza despite the fact that he had actually left the Iraqi nuclear program in 1990 or 1991 and had made numerous dubious claims, including that the CIA had no idea that Iraq had progressed beyond basic nuclear research until he told them so in 1995; that Iraq had kept its nuclear program going after 1991 by moving much of the work out of the country, especially to Jordan (no one has produced evidence of this);[57]and the literally impossible claim that Iraq had salvaged 26 kg of 80%-93% pure U-235 from the ruins of Osiraq all the way back in 1981.[58] Hamza has been rewarded by being named to head the reconstruction of atomic energy in Iraq.[59]

Fifth and probably most important, intelligence assessments were distorted in order to provide claims that officials could use to drum up public support for war with Iraq. Analysts in the traditional intelligence agencies were pressured to provide desired conclusions, as well as being effectively supplanted as the White House’s main source of information by a new unit created under Douglas J. Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.[60] Feith later denied that his unit had been ordered by Rumsfeld, that it reflected frustration with CIA or DIA analyses or intention to bypass them, that it promoted INC-provided reports, or that it had operated past August 2002.[61]

A number of serving and retired intelligence analysts, however, contested these claims, one saying “There was a lot of doublespeak out there.”[62] An unnamed intelligence official quoted in October 2002 said that:

“There is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Defense Department and the intelligence community, to include its own Defense Intelligence Agency. Wolfowitz and company disbelieve any analysis that doesn't support their own preconceived conclusions. The CIA is enemy territory, as far are they're concerned.”[63]

According to another intelligence official, “analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books,”[64] while W. Patrick Lang, former Director of Middle East Analyses at DIA, charged that Pentagon officials “started picking out things that supported their thesis and stringing them into arguments that they could use with the President.”[65]

In all of 2002-2003, the Bush administration made only two substantial claims alleging evidence that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, both of which were arrived at this way.[66]

One was that Iraq was trying to import “high-quality aluminum [tubes] that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” a charge repeated frequently September 2002 onward, [67] even though CIA, Department of Energy, and State Department analysts had already concluded that the evidence did not support that interpretation.[68] Independent experts as well as the IAEA pointed out that that even before 1991 Iraq’s centrifuge program had abandoned this type of aluminum alloy, that the tubes had coatings suitable for use in rockets but not for centrifuges, and were consistent with parts for 81mm mortar casings under designs that the Iraqis had been using for 15 years. IAEA analysts who examined the tubes determined that it was “highly unlikely” that they could be used in centrifuges.[69]

Similarly, from December 2002 U.S. officials claimed that Iraq was attempting to import uranium from Niger,[70] even though the CIA had determined months earlier that the documents on which the claim was based were crude forgeries.[71] Two documents referred to a constitution supplanted 4 years before, while another was signed by a foreign minister who had been out of power for 11 years. When the documents were provided to the IAEA, it too determined that they were “not authentic.”[72]

A final technique, used occasionally, was to shift discussion from the difficult-to-make case on uranium enrichment to Iraq’s alleged possession of a workable bomb design. For instance, in September 2002 President Bush warned that “with fissile material [Iraq] could build [a bomb] within a year,” omitting that Iraq possessed no fissile material and no means of producing any.[73]

As discussed above, it is not likely that Iraq could have obtained a bomb core from another country. Nor is there evidence that the Bush administration took nuclear smuggling seriously except as a rhetorical tool useful against Iraq.[74] President Bush has made substantial public mention of fissile material control just once, in a speech in December 2001, compared to hundreds of speeches, briefs, and press conferences by senior officials on the need for war with Iraq.[75] The administration made only token gestures toward the recommendations of the main bipartisan commission on the subject or the most important independent report, by the Harvard Project on Managing the Atom.[76] While the administration has called for spending increases of $14 billion on homeland security and $38 billion on defense between 2002 and 2004, it has proposed a slight cut in spending on securing nuclear materials and expertise in the former Soviet states over the same period.[77]

Since the war, administration officials have continued to maintain that Iraqi nuclear and other weapons programs were sufficient to justify the war, while changing their stories as to why so little has been found. Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that Iraq may have destroyed them all before the war, begging the question of why none of the hundreds or more people who must have participated have been found or come forward.[78] Undersecretary of State John Bolton has argued that justifying the war did not require real weapons of mass destruction, since the goal was to break up Iraq’s intellectual assets – in the process effectively admitting that Iraq had not had a functioning nuclear weapons program for many years:

“The most fundamental, most important thing that was not destroyed [by inspections after the First Gulf War] was the intellectual capacity in Iraq to recreate systems of weapons of mass destruction.” [Since then, the UN and the IAEA] “could have inspected for years and years and years and probably never would have found weapons-grade plutonium or weapons-grade uranium. But right in front of them was the continued existence of what Saddam Hussein called the ‘nuclear mujahadeen,’ the thousand or so scientists, technicians, people who have in their own heads and in their files the intellectual property necessary at an appropriate time … to recreate a nuclear weapons program.” [79]

The administration does hold one asset which might yet be used to produce evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, namely its ability to coerce Iraqi weapons scientists now in custody by holding them at risk of indefinite detention or – as Rumsfeld has threatened – prosecution.[80] The credibility of any “evidence” produced this way will be suspect, of course, since the situation is now the reverse of what it was before March 2003, when administration officials insisted that inspections were worthless because of Iraq’s ability to intimidate potential witnesses.

The Success of ‘Non-Evaluation’

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Regardless of the final outcome of weapons searches in Iraq, what we do know is that throughout 2002-2003, Bush administration officials promoted assessments of nuclear and other threats posed by Iraq selected based on their usefulness, not credibility. Wolfowitz came close to admitting as much in May 2003 when he said that although he at least saw other reasons to force regime change on Iraq, “we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason” while another unnamed administration official came still closer when he told ABC News that “we were not lying [about Iraqi weapons]. But it was just a matter of emphasis,” for the twin purposes of gaining a legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.[81]

It matters why the administration’s use of inflated threats to promote its Iraq policy has been so successful, because this has implications for whether this episode should be considered an isolated exception to the rule that democratic marketplaces of ideas can usually restrain policies based on dubious rationales and dubious claims, or whether we are at risk for repeated equally severe failures, perhaps with much higher costs for American national security.

Overall, the 2002-2003 policy debate on Iraq resembles what Stephen Van Evera calls “non-evaluation:” a debate in which little real evaluation takes place because those in power ignore or suppress assessments from internal sources that might contradict their preferred policy, and use their ability to influence political and media agendas to focus public attention on their own arguments at the expense of attention to reduce attention to possible criticisms from external sources.[82]

One lesson is that even democratic political systems have little defense against political distortion of intelligence, in part because administrations can control what information is released.[83] Serving analysts cannot complain, while retired ones may not be listed to.

A second may be that there are only weak defenses against continued repetition of dubious or even already-refuted claims, especially when the refutations are supplied by international organizations that the public can be persuaded to distrust. Just four days before the start of the war Cheney repeated the claim that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, despite the IAEA having determined by that time that it had not.[84]

A third may be that military victory protects against nearly all criticism, at least for a time. While at the start of the war with Iraq only 38% of Americans thought that it would be justified if no banned weapons were ever found, two weeks later 58% thought so, and by May 1st 79% did.[85]

Non-evaluation also can benefit, and did in this case, from political opponents’ fears of seeming weak in the face of an external threat, as well as supineness on the part of mainstream media and independent experts that could have challenged the administration’s most suspect claims but for the most part did not do so aggressively.

It is not clear whether the main domestic debates on use of force against Iraq were intentionally scheduled for the 2002 campaign season in order to intimidate Democratic Party politicians from opposing the policy, but certainly that was the effect on many. Even after the war, most national Democratic politicians, especially presidential candidates, have avoided criticizing the administration’s war policy.

At the same time, the mainstream media has simply accepted administration claims more often than not, with little independent effort to evaluation or even attention to critical evaluations provided to them.[86] According to a FAIR study of network TV news stories on Iraq over two weeks in January-February 2003, more than half of the 393 sources quoted were U.S. officials. Only 17% of all sources quoted expressed any skepticism about administration policy, most of whom were Iraqi or other foreign government officials. Only 4% were skeptical expressions by Americans, and only half of these had any affiliation to advocacy or expert organizations.[87]

Some news organizations appear to have gone further, making editorial decisions to suppress certain criticisms of administration policy. For instance, when President Bush wrongly claimed that in 1991 IAEA inspectors had found Iraq six months away from a bomb, MSNBC published a lead story titled “White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq,” but within a few hours the story disappeared – not just from the top of web page, but from the site altogether.[88] We cannot know how widespread such practices have been, since most examples would never be published at all.

One explanation for the media’s limpness may be that many reporters and editors fear loss of access to administration sources if they publish stories that offend officials.

A second is that news organizations may judge that Americans do not want to be confronted with complex information or criticism of national policy. Such a judgment was reflect in CNN’s decision to provide two completely separate versions of war coverage – a “cheerleading” version for U.S. audiences, and a more balanced and complex version for the rest of the world.[89]

A third is that increasing concentration of ownership in the mainstream media in recent years may have contributed to a reduced tendency to challenge government claims, because owners depend on the government for regulatory permissions for further concentration, while concentration itself increases the power of owners to pressure their employees to conform. This problem may get worse, since on June 2, 2003 the Federal Communications Commission voted to further relax regulations on media concentration.[90]

Finally, independent experts also may not capable of carrying out the evaluative functions assigned to them by the marketplace of ideas theory, partly because of the government’s information advantages and the difficulty of getting media attention to critical views, but also because it is difficult for non-experts to evaluate the quality of analyses when experts disagree, while administrations (and other political factions) can always produce friendly “experts” whose lack of genuine independence is not always obvious.

Another explanation for the tenor of 2002-2003 debates has been offered by Robert Jervis, who suggests that September 11th so frightened many Americans that almost any promise to reduce their personal security fears was likely be accepted. [91] This suggestion has pessimistic implications, especially if, as many analysts suggest, the invasion of Iraq is likely to engender a rise in anti-American terrorism.

Finally, Jack Snyder has suggested that while the marketplace of ideas may have failed badly in this episode, democracies may still retain better capacity than other regime types to correct their mistakes when confronted with heavy costs;[92] of course, this depends on whether elites and publics can accurately trace long-run costs of policies back to the original myth-mongering, and draw conclusions for reforming standards of policy evaluation.

Lessons for the Future

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It also matters why the Bush administration was so concerned to inflate the Iraqi threat. If officials were motivated mainly by genuine fears of Iraqi weapons programs, they can be expected to be concerned to evaluate their intelligence performance, at least internally, even if they resist public admissions of error.

There is, however, circumstantial and some direct evidence that the administration’s main goal was to provide a “global show of American power” that officials hoped would produce beneficial domino effects in the Middle East as well as globally.[93] In this case Iraq may have been chosen less because it posed a strong threat but precisely because it was a weak opponent – “low hanging fruit.” According to a senior official described as playing a crucial role in Iraq policy, “Iraq is not just about Iraq. [It was] a unique case,” but in Mr. Bush's mind, “it is of a type.”[94] Some support for this interpretation is provided by the BushNational Security Strategy itself, which says that the facts that America “possesses unprecedented – and unequalled – strength and influence” and that all of “the world’s great powers find ourselves on the same side” provide a “historic opportunity” to re-shape a more peaceful world and promote American interests such as democracy, a certain vision of free-market economics including “pro-growth legal and regulatory policies” and “lower marginal tax rates,” and to acquire additional military bases “within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia.”[95]

This possibility is far more dangerous for the successful functioning of democracy in foreign policy. The greater the divergence between officials’ actual and stated reasons for pursuing a given policy, the more they will view threat inflation as a tactical tool to be protected, not corrected, and the greater the likelihood that they will seek to overwhelm evaluation with multiple moving targets – dubious claims promoted in the hope that some will stick, multiple independent rationales for the same policy, and shifts from one rationale or claim to another to keep ahead of critics’ ability to refute earlier claims. The Bush administration employed all these tactics in the debate over Iraq.

In this light, the May 2003 announcement of a CIA review of prewar intelligence should not be grounds for expecting searching criticism of government threat assessments. Indeed, it is apparently the same review that was demanded back in October 2002 by Rumsfeld to pressure the CIA to produce assessments more favorable to administration plans.[96] At this writing Congressional hearings are in prospect, but it is too early to guess what may come of those.

Perhaps the most important lesson of 2002-2003 is that few of the key independent arbiters of public opinion – the media, academics, and opposition politicians – on whom the democratic marketplace of ideas theory depends can in fact be relied on to carry out the functions the theory expects of them. If we are to avoid future episodes of runaway threat inflation, myths of empire, and potentially dangerous foreign policy adventures based on these, independent intellectual and political forces must be far more aggressive than they have lately been in seeking expertise and evidence, evaluating it, and calling to account those in power for their arguments and proposals.


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[1]. “We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries .... The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemies’ attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the United States(Washington. D.C.: The White House, September 17, 2002), p. 15.

[2]. Snyder, “Imperial Temptation,” The National Interest 71 (Spring 2003), pp. 49-60.

[3]. Stephen Van Evera, “The Causes of War” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1984); Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Cornell University Press, 1991); Bruce Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Dan Reiter and Allan C. Stam, “Democracy, War Initiation, and Victory,” American Political Science Review 92/2 (June 1998), pp. 377-90; Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (New York: Norton, 2000).

[4]. Nicholas Kristof, “Save Our Spooks,” New York Times (May 30, 2003).

[5]. NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, September 3-5, 2002 (Public Opinion Online, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, 2002).

[6]. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 31-August 1 and September 25-26, 2002; Senate Armed Services Committee, September 19, 2002; House International Relations Committee, September 19 and October 2-3, 2002; House Armed Services Committee, September 10, September 18, October 2, 2002; House Government Reform Committee, September 24, 2002.

[7]. Fox News poll, September 8-9, 2002 (Public Opinion Online, 2002). In January, 80% thought that is was somewhat, fairly, or very likely that Iraq possessed them. Time/CNN poll, January 15-16, 2003 (Public Opinion Online, 2003).

[8]. The range of results is likely due to differences in question wording; lower percentages agreed when the question specifically pointed out that U.N. inspectors had not found evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. CNN/USA Today polls, February 5 and February 7-9, 2003; ABC/Washington Post polls, February 5 and February 6-9, 2003 (Public Opinion Online, 2003). These were apparently the last polls before the war to ask about this issue.

[9]. NOTE to self: maybe add a paragraph on the relative quality of intelligence and policy debates over Vietnam.

[10]. Seymour Hersh, “The Cold Test: The Pakistan-North Korea Nuclear Axis,” New Yorker (January 27, 2003), pp. 42-47 at 47. In March 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that North Korea would be next for “regime change.” James Brooke, “North Korea Expects the Worst,” New York Times (March 23, 2003).

[11]. Doug Struck and Bradley Graham, “U.S., Asian Allies Face Tough Choices,” Washington Post (April 25, 2003); David E. Sanger, “Bush and South Korean President Are Vague on North Korea Strategy,” New York Times (May 15, 2003). The South Korean government also took the unusual step of publishing newspaper advertisements making its opposition clear.

[12]. Roy Gutman and John Barry, “Beyond Baghdad,” Newsweek (August 19, 2002).

[13]. Glenn Kessler, “U.S. Eyes Pressing Uprising In Iran: Officials Cite Al Qaeda Links, Nuclear Program,”

Washington Post (May 25, 2003).

[14]. I am indebted to Jack Snyder for this observation.

[15]. “Text of President Bush's news conference,” Associated Press (September 7, 2002); similarly Vice President Richard Cheney, “In Cheney's Words: The Administration Case for Removing Saddam Hussein,” New York Times (August 27, 2002); National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CNN Late Edition (September 8, 2002); Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “Rumsfeld’s Remarks Before the House Armed Services Committee,” Federal News Service (September 18, 2002). Rice also cited IAEA inspection reports as her source; Cheney and Rumsfeld cited none.

[16]. “Remarks Before the House Armed Services Committee.”

[17]. The main challenges are uranium metal casting to form the bomb core, specially-designed explosive lenses to implode the core, and very high-speed electronic switches called Krytrons to coordinate the implosion. By 1991 Iraq was close to success in the first two areas, although it had failed in efforts to import Krytrons or to upgrade lower-quality capacitors that it had succeeded in importing. (Iraq apparently never considered the simpler gun-type design, presumably because it requires several times more fissile material.) In the end, the IAEA remained unsatisfied that it had obtained full documentation of Iraq’s weaponisation efforts, so by 1997 it revised its assessment to say that it was “prudent to assume” that Iraq might have succeeded. “Report on the 7th IAEA On-site Inspection in Iraq under Security Council Resolution 687,” S/23215 (UN Security Council, November 14, 1991);” “Fourth Consolidated Report of the Director General of the IAEA under Paragraph 16 of Security Council Resolution 1051,” S/1997/779 (UN Security Council, October 8, 1997), pp. 56, 59. This document summarizes the results of the 29 inspection campaigns to thatpoint as well as subsequent analyses. This and most of the other IAEA reports are available at See also “IAEA Report on On-Site Inspections in Iraq,” S/23215 (November 14, 1991); David Albright and Mark Hibbs “Iraq’s Bomb: Blueprints and Artifacts,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 48/1 (January/February 1991), pp. 30-40 at 35.

[18]. Plutonium can be separated from uranium by relatively straightforward chemical processes; about 1-6 kg are required for a weapon, depending on design and intended yield. A uranium weapon requires about 15-25 kg, enriched to about 93% U-235 content. Since U-235 averages only about 0.7% in natural uranium (U-238 makes up most of the rest) and the two isotopes have no chemical and only slight physical differences, the processes required to separate them have high technical demands and low efficiency. Of the nine countries that have developed their own nuclear weapons, seven – the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Israel, India, and North Korea – first did so using plutonium. China and Pakistan both also initially preferred plutonium, but China turned to gaseous diffusion after loss of Russian technical support and Pakistan to the centrifuge method after loss of French aid.

[19]. There are additional theoretically possible enrichment methods which have not been shown to be viable in practice. On challenges and requirements for different approaches, see Allan S. Krass et al., Uranium Enrichment and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (Taylor & Francis, 1983); and Robert F. Mozley, Uranium Enrichment and Other Technical Problems Relating to Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University, 1994).

[20]. Iraqi feasibility studies in the 1980s concluded that neither gaseous diffusion nor building a reactor domestically was within their national industrial capacity. Iraq had two small research reactors at Tuwaitha, which yielded about 5g of plutonium (compared to several kg needed for a bomb) before they were destroyed during the First Gulf War. S/1997/779, pp. 15, 19, 35-38, 53-54, 74.

[21]. “Report on the 3rd On-Site Inspection,” S/22837 (July 25, 1991).

[22]. S/1997/779, pp. 35-36. David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 320-21, 326. A pilot facility that operated from 1985 to 1991 produced 640g of material with an average U-235 content of 7.2%, or somewhat less than 1/1000 of the separative work needed to produce a weapon.

[23]. The United States used EMIS for some of the separation work toward what became the world’s second atom bomb, but after World War II the method was abandoned and apparently was never taken up by anyone else until Iraq did.

[24]. S/1997/779, pp. 38-42, 46-47; “Report on the 4th On-site Inspection,” S/22986 (August 28, 1991);Albright, Berkhout, and Walker, pp. 331-335; Albright and Hibbs, “Iraq’s Bomb,” p. 39; Albright and Hibbs, “Itaq’s Shop-Till-You Drop Nuclear Program,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 48/3 (April 1992), pp. 27-37.

[25]. The Iraqis also still faced the challenge of learning to operate centrifuges in cascades, “which is a complex task requiring considerable time-consuming development work.” S/1997/779, pp. 42, 45-46.

[26]. Albright, Berkhout, and Walker, pp. 341-42.

[27]. UNSC S/1997/779, pp. 48-52. Interview with General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, former Director of the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization, Amman, Jordan, August 22, 1995.

[28]. Nor was it ready to operate multi-unit centrifuge cascades. The two cores contained about 39.5 kg of HEU with an average U-235 content of 84%, but after irradiation losses in use as reactor fuel and further losses to be expected in the enrichment and other preparation processes, there probably would not have been enough for a weapon. UNSC S/1997/779, pp. 48-49, 51; Albright and Robert Kelley, “Has Iraq Come Clean at Last?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 51/6(November/December 1995). A CIA assessment in Fall 1990 came to the same conclusion, as did an (unnamed) Arab country intelligence service, which reported that “[Hussein’s] people are telling him it's close to impossible, but he is pushing for it.” Patrick E. Tyler, “Specialists See Iraq Unlikely to Build A-Bomb in Near Future,” New York Times (November 8, 1990).

[29]. “Excerpts From Speech By Bush at Marine Post,” New York Times (November 23, 1990); Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Aides Press Iraqi Nuclear Threat,” New York Times (November 26, 1990).

[30]. New York Times/CBS published in Maureen Dowd, “Americans More Wary of Gulf Policy, Poll Finds,” New York Times (November 20, 1990).

[31]. S/1997/779, p. 15.

[32]. Except for irradiated uranium fuel, which was removed in 1993-1994. S/1997/779, pp. 5-10, 16, 19, 31.

[33]. A large amount of uranium ore, 10 tonnes of natural uranium, 1.8 tonnes enriched to about 2.6% U-235 content that had been imported for Osiraq, and a small amount of uranium tetrachlodride (UCl4) intended as feed for the EMIS program. This material continued to be verified and accounted for – even during the period when other inspections were suspended – most recently in December 2002. S/1997/779, pp. 25, 29, 31-34; “IAEA Update Report for the Security Council Pursuant to Resolution 1441” (January 27, 2003).

[34]. S/1997/779, p. 21.

[35]. Mainly of searches for chemical, biological, and missile programs; the nuclear issues were largely settled by 1996-97.

[36]. S/1997/779, p. 21; “Fact Sheet: Iraq's Nuclear Weapon Programme,” (December 27, 2002).

[37]. “Iraq’s Weapon of Mass Destruction Programs” (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, October 4, 2002), p. 1; “Proliferation: Threat and Response” (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, January 2001), p. 40.

[38]. ElBaradei, “Status of Nuclear Inspections”. By March 7th, 141 sites had been inspected, including 21 new sites suggested by “member states” (presumably the U.S.) based on satellite imagery and other means. By March 17th, roughly 10 to 20 additional sites had been inspected. “Chronology of IAEA Inspections & Key Events, March 2003” (no date).

[39]. ElBaradei, “The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: 14 February 2003 Update” (February 14, 2003) and “Status of Nuclear Inspections” (March 7, 2003).

[40]. On 1991-1998, see S/1997/779 and “Iraq's Nuclear Weapon Programme.” The 2002-2003 inspections showed that some sites had been turned to non-nuclear uses, but most “had deteriorated to such a degree that the resumption of nuclear activities would require substantial renovation” and that “the IAEA has been able to provide assurance of the absence of indications of resumed nuclear activities in buildings that had been identified through the use of satellite imagery as having been reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, and of the absence of any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.” “IAEA Update Report” (January 27, 2003); “Work Programme” (March 19, 2003).

[41]. Confidence that the Iraq did not make progress on weapon design after 1991 must be lower than confidence that it did not make progress toward acquiring fissile material, for two reasons. First, as mentioned earlier, the IAEA’s 1997 summary report judged that it could not longer be guaranteed that Iraq had not achieved a workable weapon design at some point; second, some of a supply of explosives that could have been suitable for weapon design experiments (as well as for other uses) was never accounted for.

[42]. The IAEA investigated all allegations brought to it of Iraqi uranium imports since 1990 and found none to be credible. “The Work Programme of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iraq Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1284 (1999),” (March 19, 2003).

[43]. The IAEA judged that centrifuges would have been the method of choice for any resumed effort. UNSC S/1997/779, p. 47. There was no evidence of any EMIS-related activity either. Since Iraq no longer possessed even a research-scale reactor, plutonium-based approaches were out of the question.

[44]. ElBaradei, “Status of Nuclear Inspections” (March 7, 2003).

[45]. Barton Gellman, “Seven Nuclear Sites Looted; Iraqi Scientific Files, Some Containers Missing,” Washington Post (May 10, 2003).

[46]. British Foreign Ministry, Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Assessment of the British Government (September 24, 2002), pp. 26-27.

[47]. Ibid, p. 27.This was also the conclusion of the CIA and DoD reports: “Iraq’s Weapon of Mass Destruction Programs,” p. 1; “Proliferation: Threat and Response,” p. 40.

[48]. Jeffrey Starr, quoted in Chris Flores, “Project Sapphire: A Nuclear Odyssey: Defusing a Lethal Legacy,” News & Advance (Lynchburg, Virginia) (December 29, 2002). Starr managed Project Sapphire, which removed Kazakhstan’s fissile material in 1992-1994. A summary of contemporary press accounts records a U.S. official accusation that Iran might have tried to acquire some Kazakh HEU, but does not mention Iraq. Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, “Kazakhstan: Project Sapphire” (Monterey Institute for International Studies, September 28, 2001).

[49]. Gavin Cameron, “Multi-Track Micro-Proliferation” Lessons from Aum Shinrikyo and Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 22/4 (October-December 1999), pp. 277-309; Albright, “Al Qaeda’s Nuclear Program: Through the Window of Seized Documents,” Special Forum 47 (Berkeley, Calif.: Nautilus Institute, November 6, 2002); Matthew Bunn, Anthony Weir, and John P. Holdren, Controlling Nuclear Warheads and Materials: A Report Card and Action Plan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, March 2003), pp. 179-85.

[50]. Trafficking in the Newly Independent States, 1991-2001 (Monterey, California: Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, December 30, 2001).

[51]. “Remarks by the Vice President to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 103rd National Convention,” White House press release (August 26, 2002) Former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey told the House International Relations Committee: “Each month that goes by makes it more likely he will have a nuclear weapon and will have one quite possibly without our knowing because he can do this underground.” (eMediaMillWorks, f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, September 19, 2002).

[52]. Testimony before House International Relations Committee, September 19, 2002.

[53]. Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, September 18, 2002.

[54]. Bush, “President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly” (September 12, 2002);; similarly Rice, CNN Late Edition (September 8, 2002); Bush, “The President’s Address,” Boston Globe (March 18, 2003).

[55] . “A Decade of Deception and Defiance: Saddam Hussein’s Defiance of the United Nations,” (Washington,, D.C.: The White House, September 12, 2002), p. 8; Judith Miller, “Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites For Chemical and Nuclear Arms,” New York Times (December 20, 2001); Seymour Hersh, “Selective Intelligence,” New Yorker (May 12, 2003), pp. 44-51.

[56]. “President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat,” White House Press Release (October 7, 2002)

[57]. Barbara Crossette, “Iraq Has Network of Outside Help on Arms, Experts Say,” New York Times (November 20, 1998).

[58]. Hamza with Jeff Stein, Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq’s Secret Weapon (New York: Touchstone, 2000), pp. 237-38, 326, 334. Actually the fuel supplied for Osiraq had about 2.6% U-235 content. Two years earlier, Hamza together with Albright, one of original IAEA inspectors, sent publishers a proposal for a book to be titled “Fizzle: Iraq and the Atomic Bomb,” which would describe the failure of Iraq’s nuclear program; when this did not sell, Hamza turned out the more sensational book instead. Hersh, “Selective Intelligence,” p. 46.

[59]. Douglas Jehl with Jane Perlez, “Pentagon Sending a Team of Exiles to Help Run Iraq” (April 26, 2003).

[60]. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “A C.I.A. Rival; Pentagon Sets Up Intelligence Unit,” New York Times (October 24, 2002); Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, “C.I.A. Feels Heat on Iraq Data,” Los Angeles Times (October 11, 2002); James Risen, “C.I.A. Aides Feel Pressure In Preparing Iraqi Reports,” New York Times (March 22, 2003); Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, “Memorandum for the President” (May 1, 2003). A “senior government official” quoted in Risen, “The Intelligence Dispute; C.I.A. Rejects Call For Iraq Report,” New York Times (October 3, 2002) said that the CIA did not want to appear to be “second-guessing” the president's plans.

[61]. Eric Schmitt, “Aide Denies Shaping Data to Justify War,” New York Times (June 5, 2003).

[62]. Ibid.

[63]. Quoted in Schmitt and Shanker, “C.I.A. Rival.”

[64]. A dozen others interviewed by Knight Ridder reported echoed this view, while none disagreed. Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay, and John Walcott, “Some In Government Doubt Iraq Evidence; Say Administration Hawks Have Exaggerated The Threat,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette(October 9, 2002).

[65]. Quoted in Bradley Graham and Dana Priest, “Pentagon Team Told to seek Details of Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties; Effort Bypasses Regular Intelligence Channels,” Washington Post (October 25, 2002); quoted in William J. Broad, “The Impossible Task for America’s Spies,” New York Times (May 11, 2003).

[66]. The tubes were the only substantive claim relating to Iraqi nuclear programs included in the October CIA report, “Iraq’s Weapon of Mass Destruction Programs,” pp. 1-2. NOTE TO SELF: There was a third, less important charge made about magnets.

[67]. Rice, CNN Late Edition (September 8, 2002); Cheney, NBC Meet the Press (September 8, 2002); Bush, “State of the Union” (January 28, 2003); Powell, “Powell's Address, Presenting 'Deeply Troubling' Evidence on Iraq,” New York Times (February 6, 2003).

[68]. Judith Miller, “Baghdad’s Arsenal: White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons,” New York Times (September 13, 2002); VIPS, “Memorandum for the President.”

[69]. The number ordered – 120,000 – was also wildly excessive for uranium enrichment but consistent with artillery use. Joby Warrick, “U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question,” Washington Post (January 24, 2003); ElBaradei, “Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq” (March 7, 2003). The British Foreign Ministry assessment was ambivalent about possible uses of the tubes. Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, p. 26.

[70]. “State Department Cites Gaps in Iraq Weapons Declaration,” State Department Press Release (Federal Information & News Dispatch, December 19, 2002); Bush, “State of the Union.” Powell and CIA Director George Tenet and Powell had earlier told the story to closed sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

[71]. On prior administration knowledge, see Broad, “Impossible Task for America’s Spies;” Risen, “C.I.A. Aides Feel Pressure;” Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung, “CIA Questioned Documents Linking Iraq, Uranium Ore,” Washington Post (March 22, 2003).

[72]. ElBaradei, “Status of Nuclear Inspections;” Louis Charbonneau, “Crude Fakes Back Iraq Nuclear Arms Claim - UN source,” Reuters (March 25, 2003). The State Department eventually admitted that the documents were fakes. State Department Press Release (March 14, 2003).

[73]. “Transcript of President's Remarks on Iraq Resolution,” New York Times (September 27, 2002).

[74]. The White House report that said that Iraq “has embarked on a worldwide quest to hunt for materials to build an atomic bomb” did not actually suggest that Iraq was attempting to acquire fissile material, only aluminum tubes. “A Decade of Defiance,” p. 8. The same report quoted an International Institute for Strategic Studies dossier as saying that with fissile material Iraq could build a bomb quickly, but omitted that dossier’s conclusion that Iraq’s nuclear weapons effort had been “severely diminished” by sanctions and the loss of pre-1991 facilities to international inspections. Michael Evans, Tom Baldwin and Melissa Kite, “Iraq's Arsenal and a Nuclear Threat,” Times (London) (September 10, 2002). NOTE TO SELF: Still waiting for the original IISS dossier.

[75]. “President Speaks on War Effort to Citadel Cadets,” (December 11, 2001).

[76]. Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler, A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Non-proliferation Programs With Russia (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, January 10, 2001); Bunn, Holdren, and Weir,Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Seven Steps for Immediate Action (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, May 2002).

[77]. To roughly $400 billion, $36 billion, and $655 million respectively. Figures compare FY 2002 appropriations to FY 2004 White House requests, and do not count a $79 billion defense supplement in FY 2003; administration officials have not rules out possible additional requests in FY 2003 and/or 2004. “National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2004,” p. 4.; “Department of Homeland Security Budget in Brief,” p. 1.; Bunn, Weir, and Holdren, Controlling Nuclear Warheads, p. 50; Niels C. Sorrells, “Lawmakers Not Eager to Revisit Iraq Supplemental Debate Soon,” CQ Weekly (April 19, 2003), p. 938.

[78]. Eric Schmitt, “After the War: Unconventional Weapons; Rumsfeld Echoes Notion That Iraq Destroyed Arms,” New York Times (May 28, 2003).

[79]. David Ruppe, “Iraqi ‘Intellectual Capacity’ Justified War, Official Says,” Nuclear Threat InitiativeGlobal Security Newswire (May 23, 2003).

[80]. “Interview With Donald Rumsfeld,” Fox News (May 4, 2003).

[81]. “Transcript of Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Sam Tannenhaus, Vanity Fair, May 10, 2003,” (U.S. Department of Defense, May 29, 2003); John Cochran, “Reason for War? White House Officials Say Privately the Sept. 11 Attacks Changed Everything,” (April 25, 2003).

[82]. Van Evera, “Why States Believe Foolish Ideas: Non-Self-Evaluation by Government and Society” (manuscript, 1988).

[83]. On the impact of bureaucratic information advantages on the quality of decision making, see Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: Britain, France, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984).

[84]. “Interview: Vice President Dick Cheney Discusses a Possible War with Iraq,” NBC Meet the Press (March 16, 2003).

[85]. CNN/USA Today polls conducted March 22-23, April 5-6, May 1 (Roper Center, 2003).

[86]. NOTE TO SELF: Maybe track the reporting of NYT and WP WMD experts; e.g., Miller was generally more credulous than Warrick.

[87]. The other skeptical expressions came in “person in the street” interviews. The study covered the nightly news broadcasts of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS from January 30 through February 12. “In Iraq Crisis, Networks Are Megaphones for Official Views,” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, March 18, 2003)

[88]. Paul Krugman, “Matters of Emphasis,” New York Times (April 29, 2003).

[89]. Michael Massing, “The Unseen War,” New York Review of Books (May 29, 2003), pp. 16-19 at 17.

[90]. Stephen Labaton, “Regulators Ease Rules Governing Media Ownership,” New York Times (June 3, 2003).

[91]. Jervis, “The Bush Doctrine” (manuscript, 2003).

[92]. Snyder, personal communication, May 11, 2003.

[93]. Cochran, “Reason for War?,” citing unnamed senior officials.

[94]. David E. Sanger, “Viewing the War as a Lesson to the World,” (April 6, 2003). See also, “President Discusses the Future of Iraq” (speech to the American Enterprise Institute), White House Press Release (February 26, 2003); “Rumsfeld Says U.S. Victory Will Serve as Powerful Message,” Reuters (May 4, 2003). Wolfowitz, Perle, and Cheney have also made the domino argument at various points.

[95]. National Security Strategy of the United States(preamble, pp. 1, 3, 17, 29).

[96]. James Risen, “Prewar Views of Iraq Threat Are Under Review by C.I.A.,” New York Times (May 22, 2003).