The New York Times' C.J. Chivers has an invigorating longform piece up today about the American and Iraqi soldiers who "repeatedly encountered, and at times were wounded by" ancient chemical weapons produced in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War era, subsequently left hidden and moldering by Saddam Hussein's regime. Chivers puts a human face on the troops who performed the dangerous job of seeking out and disposing of these abandoned munitions, and with war in the region blooming anew, points out that this "long-hidden chronicle illuminates the persistent risks of the country's abandoned chemical weapons."
Unfortunately for lovers of reading comprehension, a few people skimmed this piece and allowed themselves to indulge in some serious flights of fancy:
.@BenjySarlin Can we also agree that those who mocked any statement that there were WMD's in Iraq in '03 & '04 were/are wrong?
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) October 15, 2014
Ha, no, Brad Dayspring. We're not talking about the active WMD program that famously failed to materialize. We're talking about what amounts to long-forgotten munitions Superfund sites that weren't a danger to anyone until they were unearthed, at which point it became necessary to dispose of the contents of those caches, lest they find their way into the makeshift bombs that were all the rage among insurgents. (The new concern is that there may be remnants for the Islamic State to use against their opponents in Iraq and Syria.) The soldiers who were harmed by exposure to these dumps weren't so much the victims of an Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction program" as much as they were harmed by an American "strategy of mass-R.E.M.F. stylings" popularized by those who administrated the war in Iraq. To wit:
The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.
Yeah, this is the sort of story that Brad Dayspring maybe regrets tweeting about now.
Chivers, for his part, takes great care to provide facts which distinguish these decaying weapons -- a product of that period of time when the United States and Saddam Hussein were besties -- from the imaginary armaments that spooked a nation into war with Iraq years later. And after Chivers does so, he draws big, bright red circles around these facts to make things crystal clear, like so:
The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.
In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.
Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.
Basically, Chivers did what he could to make this article a safe space for the witless. Like a playground swaddled in a 2-foot-thick cushion of the finest Nerf, there should have been no opportunity for anyone to fall down and get hurt. Alas! Here's a whole article in the IJReview that gamely manages to omit the most relevant information from Chivers' piece, while billing it as the Golden Ticket that proves President George W. Bush was right. Naturally, it assiduously omits the text I've cited above.
Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming:
— Dan Gainor (@dangainor) October 15, 2014
That tweet deserves some examination with the Eat The Press telestrator:
Pro-tip: If you want to pretend that a New York Times article proved the existence of an active Iraqi WMD program, don't include the part of the headline that makes explicit mention of the fact that Iraqi's WMD efforts had been "abandoned." This isn't even quality inveigling!
At any rate, as Chivers' article reminds us, this was a sorry period in American foreign policy that should not be fondly remembered. Those who insist on being nostalgic for it really need to do as cartoon Idina Menzel says and...
READ THE WHOLE THING:
The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons [New York Times]
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