I must confess to you that with many friends working on Capitol Hill (and myself living only a few miles away), it's not so easy to get a critical distance on these most recent disclosures of Anthrax-tainted letters.
Regular readers will also know that I've been skeptical of the 'bomb Iraq now' crew inhabiting the middle-ranks of the Pentagon. But these new reports raise some very serious questions.
We now seem to be getting conflicting reports about the nature and quality of the Anthrax which arrived at Tom Daschle's office. First we were hearing that it was high-quality, weapons-grade material. Now authorities seem to be partially backing off those statements, noting among other things that the strain seems highly susceptible to various antibiotics, etc.
Still it seems increasingly likely that someone has Anthrax that is the product of a quite sophisticated operation.
What happens if we find out, upon further testing, that this Anthrax was the product of a sophisticated production system which could only exist as part of a state-sponsored bioweapons program or with the complicity of some state? And let's cut to the chase, what if the evidence points to Iraq?
We needn't assume high-level Iraqi state complicity in giving terrorists anthrax to believe that the Iraqi program was the source of the material. Perhaps it was stolen. Perhaps some Iraqi intelligence officers gave a small amount to Mohammed Atta. Who knows? And perhaps more to the point, who cares?
I say this neither to be flippant nor to discount the possibility of direct Iraqi involvement. I say it only to focus our attention on what I take to be the real question at hand. That is, can we allow the continued existence of production facilities and large stocks of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq once we know, or strongly suspect, that some of them have made it to our shores? Once you put it that way, I don't think it really matters whether Saddam Hussein or Tariq Aziz signed off on the transfer. And if the question is, can we allow it? I think the answer is pretty obviously that we cannot.
That conclusion leads to some dizzying and troubling implications. But I'm not sure they're ones we can any longer ignore.