War update: the hunt for WMDs

Saddam was not the only thing missing. For months before the war began, everyone from Bush on down argued that Saddam’s arsenal of biological and chemical weapons was so dangerous that destroying it was worth a war. They laid claim to information so certain that Colin Powell was able to provide graphic details to a U.N. audience in February. Pentagon officials were confident that the quality of their intelligence would lead troops to the illicit stockpiles fairly quickly once U.S. boots were on Iraqi soil. Now they’re adjusting the picture: the Pentagon says its soldiers are no more likely to stumble over a weapons cache than top U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was. “Things were mobile. Things were underground. Things were in tunnels. Things were hidden. Things were dispersed. Now, are we going to find that? No, it’s a big country,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week. “The inspectors didn’t find anything, and I doubt that we will — what we will do is find the people who will tell us.”

However sanguine officials sound in public, in private the pressure is rising. The Pentagon dispatched an entire brigade — 3,000 troops — to the search and offered $200,000 bounties for any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) uncovered. Local officers were authorized to make payments of $2,500 on the spot. “The White House is screaming, ‘Find me some WMD,'” says a State Department official, adding that the task is one of many suddenly facing the department. Members of the Administration must feel a new bond with Blix, since they are now the ones arguing that these things take time.