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Bad and Worse
Dictators, Chemical Weapons, and Lessons Unlearned

A major exposé in the New York Times today details how Iraqi chemical weapons were used against U.S. forces during the recent occupation there, and how the DoD arguably covered it up. Some of our troops were affected by chemical shells that had been turned into IEDs, while some were injured in disposing of hidden or abandoned Iraqi Army munitions that were not clearly marked as chemical in nature.

Without wishing to re-litigate the last war (or the U.S. backing of Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War in the 80s, for which many of these weapons were originally developed, or the Gulf War, when we could have moved against Saddam, etc.)—which many in the media are already merrily doing—we’d like to draw your attention to a more pressing parallel. If you look at the Times’ map of where buried chemical munitions were found, some as recently as 2011, the overlap with territory currently controlled by ISIS is significant. This is worrying, particularly considering that, as the Times demonstrates, the U.S. consistently underestimated the extent of the chemical weapons problem. (Just to add to these concerns, remember that we’ve also consistently underestimated ISIS, too.)

Worse by several orders of magnitude, moreover, is the potential for the replay of this on a much larger scale over the border in Syria, where another Baathist dictator had been stockpiling active chemical weapons until much more recently. As TAI editor Adam Garfinkle has been saying for some time, if you take Assad’s word for it that he destroyed all his chemical weapons following the supposed Kerry deal, we have a timeshare in Damascus to sell you.

As each day goes past, the “worst case” scenario of total regional chaos, with failed states split among armed radical groups, looks more and more plausible. So what happens if ISIS, or others, gets its hands on those weapons?

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