[Corn:] Hitchens bases his entire Niger case essentially on one fact: that in 1999, Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, paid a call on the prime minister of Niger. The rest of his argument is supposition, and his chief deduction is that there was only one matter that could have prompted Zahawie’s trip to Niger: Saddam’s desire to stock up on the single major export of that African country—yellowcake uranium.
For what it’s worth, Zahawie says he has a simple explanation for the trip: He’d traveled to four African nations—not just Niger—hoping to convince the leaders of these countries to visit Saddam in Iraq to end the Iraqi dictator’s diplomatic isolation. Hitchens does not buy this. Not because he has evidence to the contrary, but because years earlier Zahawie was an Iraqi envoy for nuclear matters. Ipso facto, Hitchens charges, Iraq was, beyond any doubt, surreptitiously seeking uranium in Niger in 1999. End of story. All else is rubbish.
[Hitchens:] I have other reasons, which have been well-enough exposed in Slate and elsewhere, to think that Saddam Hussein’s name may indeed be uttered in the same breath as the ambition to recover WMD. Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt. I differ, and yes I do think that post-invasion Iraq was unusually “clean.” Even Hans Blix and Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröeder thought that some weaponry would be found, and the list of stocks that Iraq last handed to the United Nations has never been accounted for. Other evidence—such as the centrifuge buried by Saddam Hussein’s chief scientist and the Baathist negotiations to buy missiles off the shelf from North Korea—was uncovered only by the invasion itself. So, this is not an induction from no evidence to evidence, but the result of a long experience with a regime highly skilled in concealment and deception. Were it not for his defeat in 1991, and the resulting UNSCOM discoveries, we would not have known the extent of Saddam Hussein’s previous nuclear capacities, either. So, even if it is true that he had been wholly or partially disarmed before 2003, that outcome was only the result of sternly refusing to take his word for it, and of the application of a policy of sanctions-plus-force that was opposed by David Corn’s magazine at every single step.
And David Corn’s response to Hitchens’ can be found here.