Even after all of this time and President Bush's own abandonment of the WMD theme, Vice President Richard Cheney is still convinced that there are hidden WMDs in the Middle East that bear Saddam Hussein's product mark. A source reported to me yesterday that in the last two weeks, Cheney held forth at a meeting on Iraq WMDs and insisted that they were real and still out there.
Cheney believes that Syria has them -- and has been watching closely intelligence streams from a secret "black SIGINT base" that the US has placed in the mountains near the intersection of the Syrian, Turkish, and Iraqi borders.
Cheney's minions are pushing Congress to sponge up Israeli intelligence assessments about purported Syria-North Korea cooperation on a now destroyed, alleged nuclear site. There are many who doubt Israel's assessments in the U.S. intelligence community. A consensus has built that North Korea and Syria were cooperating on some machine tool operation to retrofit increasingly sophisticated short range missiles with new capacity, perhaps air burst capacity that could potentially deliver biological or chemical agents.
One of the real puzzles that few seem to have the answer to is exactly why Syria would want a Yongbyon-style nuclear reactor and reprocessing facility even if it could have one. As reported on TWN yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has stated to Western visitors that "his engineers are so incompetent that if they tried to build a nuclear facility it would become another Chernobyl."
Whether al-Assad is being truthful or not, I suspect there is some grit in his statement that ought not to be casually shrugged off. Nuclear mishaps in one's own neighborhood aren't trivial.
Furthermore, the more dangerous application of a Yongbyon-like facility would plutonium, which can't be hidden from easy detection. Uranium is tougher to track, but also requires levels of work and capacity-building that the Syrians could never hope to hide. At least for the time being, I'm with Seymour Hersh on the Syria nuke debate.
Nonetheless, there is an effort underway via North Korea nuclear discussions to ferret out what if anything the North Koreans were up to with Syria -- particularly on the nuclear front. Arms Control Wonk has a very useful slice up of the North Korea gambit at the moment.
While I think it's important to sort out the North Korea-Syria dance, I still find it amusing and alarming that Cheney's frame of reference on Iraq is a mad quest for nonexistent WMDs.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
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