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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
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Friday, March 21, 2003
It's too early for a final judgment, but after a few days of war, the containment policy of 1991 - 2003 appears to have been very effective. I have to assume that Saddam has nothing that could hit Israel or he would have already tried to do so. So far, he hasn't been able to hit our base in Qatar, or even Kuwait City, which is practically next door to his borders. He did keep illegal Scuds, at least according to the official US claims, but they've been completely ineffective.

It's been claimed that Patriots have been successfully knocking down the Scuds fired at Kuwait City. The same claims in 1991 turned out to have been grossly exaggerated, in careful post-war analysis. It will be interesting to see if the Patriot system has improved sufficiently to be really effective. Unfortunately, even if it is effective, it would probably work only against the sort of missiles Saddam has, which are at least 20 years out of date.

As for the famous WMD, not a peep. The truth is, it's far harder to make such systems effective than some hawks have been suggesting. It's easy to say that a liter of botulin poison could kill 100,000 people, or whatever the number is, but that assumes you can divide it into that many doses and give one to each victim. Biological weapons are very difficult - nobody has ever yet successfully created any truly effective weapon for delivering biotoxins, or at least demonstrated such a weapon if it does exist. If an enemy does manage to hit us with some kind of bio nasty that goes out of control, it will be the ultimate blowback weapon: wealthy nations like the US and EU will have the resources to control and stamp out the resulting plagues relatively quickly, but before it is fully eliminated it is almost certain to spread back into the Third World where far less advanced medical infrastructures will be overwhelmed.

Manufacturing sarin or other deadly agents is also in the capability of any reasonably advanced country; again equipping it with a dispersal mechanism and ensuring that the agents can be stored safely while you wait for an opportunity to use the weapon are harder. When Saddam used gas, believed to have been mustard gas, against the Kurds, it was dumped out of helicopters. That sort of delivery system only works if your anti-aircraft defenses are rather inferior to those of the US.

Nuclear weapons are easier to build and pack an unmatched destructive impact, but putting one into a missile is far harder. You have to be advanced enough to make a bomb of small mass in a specific shape with internal components that will survive the G forces of a missile's flight, which is vastly harder than just making a bomb. And of course putting your package into a missile guarantees that the recipient will have a return address.

The real WMD threat against the US continues to be nukes, and nukes smuggled in rather than fired at us.