Q: Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction?

World War II was big and destructive; that's why it's called a world war. In 1945 Americans and co. were close to being able to land in Japan, but that was unappealing. In August 1945 planes from the United States Army Air Force dumped a couple of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. That was bad. This and other factors led to the end of World War II. That was good.

When I was young they used to have marches to get rid of nuclear weapons ("Walk For Peace"). I even joined in one. It felt myopic, misguided, naive to me. For one thing everyone was protesting so that the west, particularly the U.S.A., would get rid of nuclear weapons. I don't remember any signs demanding that the Soviet Union get rid of nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian communist dictatorship that had wandered over their borders and taken over a number of other nations.

On a more positive note, it would indeed be nice if nuclear weapons were eliminated. I wish all of the nuclear warheads could magically be replaced with sand bags. In the practical real world, the United States and the Soviet Union made a treaty where both sides reduced their number of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are bad, terrible, on a large scale. The existence of nuclear weapons helped to prevent armed conflict between the superpowers and their key allies. So ..

Suppose you are a soldier sitting at your desk in North Dakota. Your job is, when ordered, to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at an opponent's port city (I don't know what would be targeted). Your missile's warhead is a nuclear weapon. How would you feel about this? Are you responsible for genocide?

What if you are ordered to launch the missile? Would you do it? How would you feel about that?

These dilemmas go up and down the hierarchy. Suppose President Donald Trump has just ordered missiles to be launched. Would General Strike follow orders?

Does your opponent think you would be able and willing to use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances?

Ukrainians wish that they had not given up nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has invaded Ukraine. Taiwan had tried to get the bomb. I can understand why Iran would want to get nuclear weapons. And yet, people from all corners do not want a bunch of countries (or, worse, non-state actors) getting nuclear weapons.

Here is where it gets colourful.

So you are the President of the United States. Your intelligence agency is providing information that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. That would be bad. You must choose what to do about it. There is a number of options, and all of the options are bad. I don't know which option you should choose. I do know you will get yelled at for doing the wrong thing.

What are the options? People might have forgotten what a frustrating problem Iraq was during the 1990s.

Do nothing. If Saddam Hussein aquired weapons of mass destruction, that would lead to bad things.
Diplomacy. Well .. that did not seem to have solved the problem.
Removal of Saddam Hussein by shenanigans. Would be nice. Was tried, without success.
Removal of Saddam Hussein by invasion. That would be stunning. War is unpredictable. Red flags going up. On the plus side, that would indeed change the government and solve the WMD problem.
Sanctions. There were sanctions, which some people say led to a large number of deaths (not really true, but that's getting off topic). This apparently did not solve the problem.

So don't just sit there and moan. Choose one of these options.

Could your intelligence agency have given you inaccurate information? I really doubt it. It doesn't work that way. The Germans, who had been thrown a curveball, thought that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. In any case, one can not picture Saddam Hussein getting rid of his w.m.d. program behind the scenes. That's a strongman dictatorship with a lot of enemies, internal and external, that had fought a long war with the bigger country Iran.

And there's the terrorist factor. In 2001 terrorists emanating from the Middle East made a shocking, unprecedented terrorist attack. This was a time to think of the unthinkable. Combining terrorists with WMDs would be especially bad because you can't pacify them with diplomacy or threaten them with mutually assured destruction and they can be hard to track down. You can think of unwelcome scenarios with terrorists/freedom fighters/agents running around with bombs or biological badness.

Would a country want to get w.m.d.? That can come at a cost. Consider Iran, or North Korea, or '90s Iraq.

See things from Saddam Hussein's point of view. You're playing a dangerous game. Your country is in the miserable state of being under sanctions (although it's nice to blame your problems on foreigners). You can, on paper, get rid of the sanctions by getting rid of WMDs. The United States, and pretty much everyone else, is unhappy about what you are doing, and they can attack your regime militarily because of WMDs and other reasons. You want Iran, the bigger country with whom you fought a long war, to believe they can not attack you because of your WMDs. If they find out you don't have WMDs, you can say goodbye to that. If you get rid of your WMD programs to get rid of sanctions while being cagey so that Iran remains afraid of you ..

If a country tries to aquire WMDs, the United States or other players (don't forget China and Taiwan) could attack your country to stop this. Countries don't want to be attacked, so they could solve this problem by aquiring WMDs.

Can you think of how to make some sort of game out of these grim scenarios?

A: Yes. Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. He used them too, against civilian and military targets.