The big twist in the New York Times story about chemical weapons found in Iraq during the 2003 American invasion is that the George W. Bush administration never took advantage of the discoveries to vindicate the President's decision to invade. Given how some Republicans today are pouncing on the news as proof that Bush was right all along, you wonder why W. or his handlers doubted the benefits of an announcement -- and you get a chilling suspicion that however dumb Dubya may have been, he was smarter than his base. The problem with the WMD the Americans found is that they were old: 1980s-vintage stuff left over from the Iran-Iraq war. In calling for the 2003 invasion, Bush argued that Saddam Hussein's government was making new, more dangerous chemical weapons, and nothing of that sort has yet been found. Worse for the Americans, their own people played roles in the production of some of the weapons found during the invasion and occupation. Reminders of our past relations with Iraq could only further fuel criticisms of U.S. Middle East policies guaranteed to generate "blowback." The Bush cover-up may also have been motivated partly by a desire to avoid responsibility for American soldiers sickened by handling the captured weapons. But considering how ready Republicans still are to believe the pre-invasion narrative about Saddam's threat, we might feel justified in concluding that Bush never bothered publicizing these finds because, in the end, he never really cared whether or not Saddam had old or new WMD. For him and his cronies, more likely, the invasion was a means to a more ambitious strategic goal -- the "democratization" of the region -- rather than an essential act of national defense.
But if the Times piece was intended to further damn Bush or revive skepticism toward meddling in the Middle East, the article undercuts itself with an alarmist note about the possibility of remaining stockpiles falling into the hands of fighters for the self-styled Islamic State. The report claims that the weapons as found were no threat to the U.S., but that components could be repurposed -- and were during the occupation -- for small-scale use in guerrilla warfare. It would be grimly ironic if the same stuff that comes closest to evidence against Saddam Hussein were used again as evidence justifying an escalation of U.S. opposition to the IS. But at a time when even Democratic pundits question the effectiveness of bombing against a mobile enemy, nothing so ironic would surprise me.