In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
One of the titanic shifts in United States foreign policy occurred over weapons of mass destruction. Although they arose as an issue well before 9/11, these weapons transitioned from a general threat to the national interest to an immediate threat to vital interests when dealing with non-state actors after 9/11.
WMD in the hands of terrorists or their allies became the number one national security priority from September 2001 to January 2009. It was one of the fundamental cornerstones of President George W. Bush’s national security strategy, and his critics often derided him and his senior cabinet members for it. The dread was and is that one or more WMD would fall into the hands of a group like al-Qaida, who, unpersuaded by classical deterrence, would use them at the first likely opportunity.
It has been assumed that only states could produce the necessary basic elements of a WMD, especially a nuclear one. States may not be irrational enough themselves to use those weapons against the United States, but they may be tempted to sell parts, portions or base elements to others, or to provide refuge for those who do.
WMD formed the tip of a toxic triangle that shifted international affairs on a global scale and American national security policy at home. The two other angles were transnational terrorist groups and rogue states. Alarm bells rang in Washington when it was discovered in November of 2001 that al-Qaida had met with Pakistani extremists linked to the AQ Khan network in August of 2001 in the city of Kandahar in an attempt to realize some aspect of a nuclear weapon. (Many have only focused on the nuclear question, but the public needs to be reminded that biological, chemical, radiological, and cyber-WMD attacks are much more likely and easier to attain.)
We have finally witnessed the combination of the three angles and the majority of the media has either ignored or downplayed it. The Bush administration was entirely correct in its analysis of this danger and the need to combat it. It became one of the reasons that preemption and prevention had to be adopted.
There are some stories that indicate scenarios where the Islamic State group has been monitored discussing how to harness the Ebola virus through human emissaries acting as infected bombs sent to the United States. This may be the chatter of bravado, but at a minimum it illustrates an evil mentality, one that cannot be negotiated with.
It is now considered quite possible that the Islamic State group has used chemical weapons at least four times, primarily chlorine gas. (Chlorine gas was first used in 1915 during World War I. Like the other poisons of that war, it was seen as so horrific that no great power has used them against another since.) There has been one attack north of Baghdad in Balad, two attacks against the defenders of Kobani and a fourth in the Saqlawiyah region, again, close to Baghdad. There are reports of other incidents as well.
Let us remember that one of the criticisms of the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein no longer had stockpiles of any WMD. The WMD that the Islamic State group has obtained are from Hussein’s cache. Instead of focusing attention on the real issue, the media have diverted attention to asking who is responsible for the security of these stockpiles. This is tangential at best. The real issue is the use of a WMD against soldiers and civilians in Iraq by a transnational terrorist group. It is the only issue of importance, and any attempt to divert our attention to something else has a sinister tone at best.
We are witnessing the worst nightmare predicted by the last American administration. First was the use of WMD by a rogue nation. Hussein did this during his rule in Iraq; the regime of Bashar Assad recently did this in Syria, where doubt is already being cast on whether or not Assad’s stockpiles are gone. The next amplification is the use of WMD by a transnational terrorist group, beholden to no one, obeying no morality, and defying the laws of both God and man.
It is necessary that we do not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by the snake oil carnival barkers who seek to avoid two fundamental issues. First, both the Syrian regime and the Islamic State group have killed thousands of civilians by bullets, bombs and blades. Those deaths are cause enough for international outrage and overwhelming American response, the latter of which has not yet occurred. Second, both the Syrian regime and the Islamic State group have used WMD against human beings. There is nothing either of them can do to erase this. The Syrian regime and the Islamic State group must be ended – not degraded, not retarded, not contained, but wholly and completely ended.
America fought World War I and World War II for a set of values; a constellation of moral and political goals to ensure that regimes like the Nazis and militarists never held sway. A world in which the Assad regime and the Islamic State group are allowed to continue makes these goals into a mockery.