Douglas Feith, author of War and Decision, has a column in today's Wall Street Journal entitled Why We Went to War in Iraq. In it he lists five reasons George W. Bush made the necessary choice of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Reason number three is the one that puts the threat into the proper perspective.
3) To contain the threat from Saddam, all reasonable means short of war had been tried unsuccessfully for a dozen years. The U.S. did not rush to war. Working mainly through the U.N., we tried a series of measures to contain the Iraqi threat: formal diplomatic censure, weapons inspections, economic sanctions, no-fly zones, no-drive zones and limited military strikes. A defiant Saddam, however, dismantled the containment strategy and the U.N. Security Council had no stomach to sustain its own resolutions, let alone compel Saddam's compliance.
In War and Decision Feith pointed out that Saddam Hussein saw himself as the ultimate winner of the 1991 Gulf War because at the end of it he was still in power. Unchastened by defeat he expected at worst he would delay his strategic goals not abandon them. His weapons programs were designed to be restarted when sanctions were lifted.
The CIA was mistaken, we all now know, in its assessment that we would find chemical and biological weapons stockpiles in Iraq. But after the fall of the regime, intelligence officials did find chemical and biological weapons programs structured so that Iraq could produce stockpiles in three to five weeks. They also found that Saddam was intent on having a nuclear weapon. The CIA was wrong in saying just before the war that his nuclear program was active; but Iraq appears to have been in a position to make a nuclear weapon in less than a year if it purchased fissile material from a supplier such as North Korea.
It was the invasion of Iraq that revealed how much more dangerous a world we live in than was previously thought. The revelation that A.Q. Khan was peddling nuclear technology on the black market came about when Libya renounced its nuclear ambitions and invited the inspectors in. At the time Muammar Gaddafi was convinced he was next on the list after Saddam. A.Q. Khan had given ambitious tyrants the option to buy rather than build the technology and Iraq was very likely considering a variation of that plan.
Saddam Hussein was not to be denied. Feith claims all means short of war had been tried. Well the fact is we tried that, too. In 1991.