A USA Today editorial asserted that the U.S. "learned too late" that the first Gulf War had "limited" Saddam Hussein's "ability to develop weapons of mass destruction." But this assertion ignores prewar evidence that contradicted the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had WMD or was reconstituting its WMD programs.
A January 2 USA Today editorial about the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said that he "was less a threat to the USA than was thought, particularly after the Persian Gulf War shattered his army and, as was learned too late, limited his ability to develop weapons of mass destruction [WMD]." The editorial's assertion that Saddam's inability to develop weapons of mass destruction "was learned too late" ignores prewar evidence that contradicted the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had WMD or was reconstituting its WMD programs.
As Media Matters for America has noted, former high-ranking CIA official Tyler Drumheller stated on the April 23, 2006, edition of CBS' 60 Minutes that the CIA told the Bush administration in the fall of 2002 that according to a high-level source within the Iraqi government (whom 60 Minutes identified as then-foreign minister Naji Sabri), Iraq "had no active weapons of mass destruction program" -- an assessment of Iraq's WMD capabilities that proved to be accurate, based on the subsequent findings of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG). Drumheller said the Bush administration "stopped being interested in the intelligence" when it received this report from the Iraqi source, and he further stated that "[t]he war in Iraq was coming and they [the Bush administration] were looking for intelligence to fit into that policy, to justify the policy." Media Matters has also repeatedly shown (here, here, here, and here) that members of the intelligence community challenged the accuracy of the intelligence indicating Iraq had WMD or was reconstituting its WMD programs.
From the January 2 USA Today editorial titled "Saddam's Demise":
Saddam was rushed to the gallows by an Iraqi government that has been unable or unwilling to control Shiite death squads that capture, torture and kill Sunni civilians, just as Saddam, a Sunni, tormented Shiites and Kurds during three decades of murderous rule. A clandestine video of his hanging captured a taunting mob chanting the name of Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful anti-American Shiite cleric whose militias are believed to be responsible for many of the killings.
If there is some deeper value to be drawn from the hanging, it may be in putting some doubts in the minds of other capricious tyrants contemplating murder as an instrument of public policy. Saddam was not the first dictator to be executed by his own people, but he was the first to be tried for his transgressions first.
The strategic impact for the United States and its allies, though, is more limited. For all the misery Saddam inflicted on his people, he was less a threat to the USA than was thought, particularly after the Persian Gulf War shattered his army and, as was learned too late, limited his ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. His capture, trial and execution solves far less than was once envisioned.
Here, perhaps, is a lesson on the mutability of evil. This world is regrettably filled with real threats to peace. When one falls, or recedes in importance, others rise up to take its place. As the trial progressed, the cruel and bizarre regime of Kim Jong Il in North Korea developed nuclear weapons. Iran assumed a more aggressive posture with its own nuclear program. The Taliban resurged in Afghanistan, and militant groups gained strength in Palestine and Lebanon.