The following commentary was first published in The Straits Time on 7 June 2003, and is republished with the permission of the writer.
By: Tan Tarn How
THE glaring failure so far of the Americans to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is not just an embarrassment for the Bush and Blair administrations.
The Singapore Government, too, may be put in a spot by the anti-war crowd here to explain whether it thinks the invasion is still justified if the alleged biological and chemical arsenals do not cooperate by turning up.
This is because it gave its support for the war on the assumption that the purported weapons existed.
That was why the Government argued that even though it preferred a second United Nations resolution before US troops rolled into Iraq, one was not needed according to international law.
Its support for the US-led invasion was based on the belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that these weapons posed an imminent threat to the world.
Unfortunately, no one, including the anti-war Singaporeans, thought of asking whether it had asked to see some of the evidence the United States claimed it had, especially since UN inspectors had failed to find any of the weapons, right up to the eve of the invasion.
Now it is the turn of the US occupiers to come out empty-handed.
In the last six weeks, about 100 of the 600 or so sites identified by US intelligence and Iraqi officials as places where the country’s biological weapons may be stashed have been searched.
To date, only two mobile laboratories that may have been used to develop anthrax or botulism have been unearthed by US soldiers.
There were no traces of biological agents in them or evidence that they had been used for making weapons. Hardly conclusive proof of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s evil designs.
US President George W. Bush asserted again this week that the ‘tools of mass murder’ would be uncovered, but increasingly, the belief grows that the soldiers may end up finding exactly what UN weapons inspectors found: Nothing.
If so, it can mean two things: The regime destroyed all evidence of the weapons, or it did not have anything substantial to begin with.
If the latter is the case, then what do US claims that it had intelligence about weapons of mass destruction Iraq mean?
It could have been bad intelligence. Or it could be that Mr Bush and company have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Anyone who talks about an ‘intelligence failure’ is missing the point.
The problem lay not with intelligence professionals, but with the Bush and Blair administrations. They wanted a war, so they demanded reports supporting their case while dismissing contrary evidence.
The previous paragraph is not mine, but that of American commentator Paul Krugman, whose columns are carried regularly in this paper.
He added: ‘Suggestions that the public was manipulated into supporting an Iraq war gain credibility from that fact that misrepresentation and deception are standard operating procedure for this administration, which – to an extent never before seen in US history – systematically and brazenly distorts the facts.’
Because the Bush team never dared to spell out the real reason for the war, and (wrongly) felt that it could never win public or world support for the right reasons and the moral reasons, it opted for the ‘stated reason’: The notion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to America.
The foregoing paragraph is also not mine, but written by war-supporter Thomas Friedman, whose articles are also published regularly in The Straits Times.
For him, there was a moral reason for the war: Saddam’s murderous regime had to be removed.
But he also saw another reason: That ‘after 9/11, America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world’.
Now, US credibility has sunk so low that chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix wants whatever US teams find in Iraq to be verified by international experts.
If it is true that Mr Bush has duped the rest of us, then the Singapore Government must be counted among the misled. There are several questions arising from this:
If no weapons are found, does the Singapore Government still support the war even if the original reason given for doing so turns out to be fiction?
Can the Government now argue that, never mind that Saddam did not have all those weapons, the important thing is that the Iraqi people have been liberated and are apparently happier now?
Does it matter that this happiness (which may not last) is brought about by the world’s self-appointed policeman against the wishes of most other countries – even if France and other G-8 members now appear to have forgiven Mr Bush his unilateralism. And does it matter that the policeman was less than truthful?
A colleague asked: ‘But what choice do we have but to support the US? How do you think we got the Free Trade Agreement signed?’
Whether it is accurate that Singapore joined the coalition of the willing to reap such rewards, her remarks ultimately capture the truth for me. America is big and powerful, and we need it more than it needs us.
Thus, my final questions are these: Would the Government have taken any reason the US gave? If not, where would it have drawn the line?