Weapons of Mass Destruction seem self-explanatory - weapons intended to inflict mass civilian casualties, i.e. chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, popular punditry, largely due to the promiscuous WMD polemics of the Bush administration, has blurred important distinctions and fanned fear-mongering. Precisely what we do not need at this moment in history.
In the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam did have biological and chemical weapons in his limited arsenal, he didn't use them; not even against Israel. By 1998, Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed - a stubborn fact conveniently ignored by war cheerleaders and most major media outlets. U.N. resolution 687 required 100 percent quantitative disarmament; an impossible benchmark outside the world of theory.
Even if Iraq had not been qualitatively disarmed, it apparently never occurred to hawks that Saddam's 2003 military strength - a shell of what it was in 1991 - would not use whatever WMD remained.
Ballistic nukes are in a category unto themselves. And it used to be an article of faith: nuclear proliferation, at least among the so-called superpowers, was a good thing. Mutually Assured Destruction, balance-of-powers, etc.
Or, as esteemed political scientist Kenneth Waltz, poses the (MAD) question: ''Where nuclear weapons threaten to make the costs of wars immense, who will dare start them?''
But as Gordon Chang notes in his book ''Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,'' it's a dangerously misguided theory because it doesn't take into account the randomness of error.
More nukes increases the probability of an accidental nuclear war, as nearly happened on Sept. 26, 1983, when ''Soviet sensors aboard satellite Kosmos 1382 misinterpreted sunlight reflecting off the tops of clouds as incoming missiles.''
Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov's good sense told him it was a false alarm and he didn't set in motion World War III.
Chang also reminds us of C.P. Snow's eerie prediction. ''We know, with the certainty of statistical truth, that if enough of these weapons are made - by enough different states - some of them are going to blow up through accident, or folly, or madness - but the motives don't matter. What does matter is the nature of the statistical fact.''
Our willingness to invade a weak country without nukes, while being ''diplomatic'' with North Korea, sends a clear message to the tyrants of the world, Chang notes.
'''Don't fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.' The corollary is even more important: 'If you have nuclear weapons, the United States won't fight you.' In other words, the bomb is the ultimate equalizer.''
Further, he underscores something most Iraq war cheerleaders and anti-war factions refuse to acknowledge as primary. The Iraq war is not fundamentally about ''liberating'' Iraq or a ''war for oil.'' Those are ancillary ''benefits.''
John Bolton makes it plain: ''We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest.''
The subtext of Bolton's message is: See what happens if you don't do as we say (and not do as we do).
But you don't have to be Samuel Huntington to see the world is NOT convinced that the Bush administration has the planet's best interests at heart.
Throw in the fact that our leaders are, right now, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and you can see the futility of U.S. ''diplomacy.'' It's like declaring to everyone in your neighborhood that only you can have a gun and those who don't give up their weapons will have their doors kicked-in and house demolished. It's a non-starter from the get-go without an ounce of moral authority to back it up.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
© 2006 Cape Cod Times