Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The case that Iraq's nuclear program presents a threat to the United States gets clearer all the time. To summarize one strand of the skein of evidence so far:
  • Dubya claims that an IAEA report showed Iraq was "six months away" from getting a bomb.
  • Dana Milbanks, in the Washington Post, points out that no such report exists.
  • Ari Fleischer, misrepresenting Mr. Bush, avers that he was correctly reporting the results of another study by another organization, the IISS, and just got the name of the organization wrong.

Now comes Dwight Meredith, arguing for Mr. Milbanks, that:

  • The IISS report was released two days after Dubya supposedly quoted it.
  • What's more, if you actually read the IISS report, it says that Saddam is months away from having a bomb only if someone dumps the fissile raw material in his lap. He doesn't have it right now, and would need "several years and extensive foreign assistance" to build production facilities on his own soil.

To which Mr. Meredith ripostes that he himself is six months away from winning the Masters if someone would give him Tiger Woods's golf swing and putting stroke. Which, if anything, understates the case.

If you already have fissile material, there is no challenge in building a bomb. None. A Princeton undergraduate, working only from unclassified sources, produced a design for a working bomb in 1978. By the standards of the professionals at Los Alamos, it was, I'm sure, a lousy bomb, getting much less bang than it should have for the plutonium put into it, but the smallest conceivable nuke, deployed in the middle of a city, is still more than enough to ruin your day.

So, Fleischer, for Dubya, is claiming that Saddam must be ousted because of a report that says, in effect, that his best scientists know at least as much about nuclear weapons as a motivated Princeton undergraduate could glean from the open literature in 1978.

I've been skeptical before of claims that Saddam presents a clear and present danger to American citizens, or even American interests. But faced with this evidence, I'm forced to yield. Send in the battalions!


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