No comment

by John Quiggin on February 6, 2004

In the middle of a generally reasonable Newsweek article about the failure to find WMDs, I came across the following para

But if Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, why didn’t he come clean? After all, he could have given U.N. inspectors free rein; he could have allowed them to interview all of his scientists in private—even outside the country—and let them rummage through his palaces. Faced with war, wasn’t that the sensible option?

But, but …(lapses into stunned silence)

{ 45 comments }

1

Kirk Larsen 02.06.04 at 9:31 pm

For those of us that remain unenlightened and are, apparently, not intelligent enough to comprehend the meaning of your stunned silence, would you be so kind as to explain why this isn’t a reasonable question to ask?

2

librechik 02.06.04 at 9:35 pm

The silence is presumably because Saddam DID let the inspectors in, they did have (in the final days before the invasion) full access to anywhere they wanted to see in Iraq, and this fact was well covered in the media–apparently Newsweek forgot to read their own stories on this subject.

3

asg 02.06.04 at 9:40 pm

Yes, and it stands to reason that interviewed Iraqi scientists would be completely forthright and open with their questioners under such circumstances.

4

james 02.06.04 at 9:40 pm

The question is a reasonable, indeed a necessary, one as regards Saddam’s behaviour between, say, 1995 and 1998.

As regards 2002-03 it would be betterphrased as follows: if Saddam had no “WMD”, why were the inspectors unable to give Iraq a clean bill of health?

5

John Quiggin 02.06.04 at 9:50 pm

The closing sentence “faced with war” makes it clear that the reference was to 2002-3.

6

Thomas 02.06.04 at 9:53 pm

Yes, he did cooperate, to some extent. He didn’t cooperate fully, of course, because full cooperation would have required him to reveal that he was engaged in activities related to WMD.

And the minimal cooperation did come after the US forces were massed on the border, not before.

7

Robert Lyman 02.06.04 at 9:57 pm

That’s a poorly phrased question.

But remember that Saddam wasn’t all cooperation; even after letting the the inspectors in, he stalled and stonewalled and obstructed for the longest time possible, and made little, incremental concessions one at a time. That was well in keeping with past form, and I suspect (as did many others) that the incemental cooperation would have ceased as soon as the US military stood down and went home.

Also, he didn’t account for what became of the weapons that had existed in the past (which remain unaccounted for).

So perhaps the question should be “Why did Saddam keep playing the same game he had played in 1995-98, when an invasion was obviously imminent?”

8

Jake McGuire 02.06.04 at 10:30 pm

Even Hans Blix and the French delegates to the UN said that Saddam needed to cooperate more and admitted that he was maintaining a fundamentally confrontational role.

As compared to the examples of South Africa, Ukraine, and now Libya, where the countries in question went out of their way to accomodate inspectors, pointed them to things that they may have missed “oh, we have this secret facility over here”, etc etc.

Now one can argue that these offenses did not rise to a causus belli, and you’d certainly find people that would agree with you, but I also don’t think that anyone can argue that Saddam did all – or even most of – what he could have to forestall the US.

9

mandarin 02.06.04 at 10:43 pm

But, but …(lapses into stunned silence)

But, but …(lapses into stunned silence)

10

gowingz 02.06.04 at 10:56 pm

Did anyone ever REALLY think that Saddam would “come clean” and “open his country” to weapons inspectors, or that those inspectors would ever give Iraq a “clean bill of health”?

Iraq is a state. Saddam’s government was extremely brutal, but it was the recognized government of a sovereign state that enjoyed fairly close relations with the US until 1990, not to mention the French, Russians, and others. Saddam’s government was in bad shape after 1991; the infrastructure of the country was significantly damaged or destroyed; there were failed uprisings in various parts of the country; etc.

Given this, it seems plausible to me to suggest that the terms of the surrender agreement- disarmament specifically- were designed to keep a newly humbled Iraq under the thumb of the US and her allies. Saddam would either disarm or suffer sanctions and isolation; either way Iraq would lose sovereign power and be forces to submit to “international authority”. I would also suggest that we consider whether the surrender agreement was ever intended to work in the first place. I wonder if the US and the coalition allies signed the agreement in the HOPE that Iraq would violate its terms.

I’ll spare everyone the usual global energy domination argument, but I trust you see where I’m going…

Would we have troops and spec. forces in nearly every Middle Eastern and central Asian state today if Saddam had been able to come clean or even avoid the 1991 war?

Just a thought.

11

Steve Carr 02.06.04 at 11:43 pm

That’s great: “avoid the 1991 war.” You mean avoid it by not starting it by invading Kuwait?

12

Jack Lecou 02.06.04 at 11:52 pm

Maybe my memory is faulty, but it seems to me that it was just when Saddam was finally starting to cooperate that Bush & Co. said “the hell with it, launch the cruise missiles”. Presumably waiting 6 months or so for the inspectors to actually do their work would have screwed up the timing for the midterm elections.

Yes, Saddam was dragging his feet as much as he could, but cooperation is cooperation, however grudging. If you were a truculent, but humiliated, mustachioed dictator you’d probably be a bit sour about it too — that alone does not make casus belli. (At least it shouldn’t.)

BTW, Thomas, what the heck are “activities related to WMD”? You mean maybe like duct taping my windows to keep the NG out? Or pacing up and down and wishing really hard for some WMD? If you feel you need to be so vague, perhaps you shouldn’t impugn anything at all.

13

am 02.07.04 at 12:06 am

So was the US supposed to keep 300,000 servicepeople on the Kuwait border for ever?

14

Bruce 02.07.04 at 12:11 am

Well, Jack, depends on the framing: Saddam offered to fully cooperate when the tanks had their engines running and were warming up on the Kuwaiti side of the no-man’s-land.

15

Killian Forde 02.07.04 at 12:11 am

This is my first time on this site, it was recommened, and I must say I am very surprised with the quality of the comments on this issue.

Think over the question posed and then put yourself in Saddam’s position. Then some of you may see why full compliance was never going to occur.

If you can’t understand his and Iraq’s reluctance to completely open the country to foreign inspection, you fail utterly to understand foreign policy, history and politics.

16

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.07.04 at 12:19 am

“If you can’t understand his and Iraq’s reluctance to completely open the country to foreign inspection, you fail utterly to understand foreign policy, history and politics.”

Not to mention the psychology of dictators. A guy who allows his sons to pick women to rape and murder certainly can’t be expected to allow the UN to come in and actually look around. It would be humiliating. We obviously should have tailored everything to make him more comfortable.

17

Jake McGuire 02.07.04 at 12:22 am

Was Saddam going to fully cooperate with inspections and disarmament? Possibly not. But that’s not because of some rule that totalitarian dictators never do – Ukraine has a nasty government, so did South Africa, and so does Libya. All of these countries did exactly what you’re saying Saddam would never do.

I’ll agree that Saddam probably didn’t intend to provoke an invasion, but nonetheless that’s exactly what he did. And at some point, it’s not our responsibility to ensure that we’ve gotten through to someone who is obviously out of touch with reality. I mean – he thought he was going to *win* Desert Storm.

18

Barry 02.07.04 at 12:59 am

“As regards 2002-03 it would be betterphrased as follows: if Saddam had no “WMD”, why were the inspectors unable to give Iraq a clean bill of health?”

Posted by james · February 6, 2004

For the obvious reason, James.
It’s frequently hard to prove a negative.

IIRC, Blix’s testimony to the UN was to the efffect that Saddam was cooperating (there might have been instances of lack of cooperating, but no practical problems). Also that there was no evidence of WMD’s found. Also that US intelligence furnished to the UN team was 100% worthless.

All in all, Blix’s testimony was far, far more accurate than Colin Powell’s.

19

Barry 02.07.04 at 1:00 am

“As regards 2002-03 it would be betterphrased as follows: if Saddam had no “WMD”, why were the inspectors unable to give Iraq a clean bill of health?”

Posted by james · February 6, 2004

For the obvious reason, James.
It’s frequently hard to prove a negative.

IIRC, Blix’s testimony to the UN was to the efffect that Saddam was cooperating (there might have been instances of lack of cooperating, but no practical problems). Also that there was no evidence of WMD’s found. Also that US intelligence furnished to the UN team was 100% worthless.

All in all, Blix’s testimony was far, far more accurate than Colin Powell’s.

20

Barry 02.07.04 at 1:02 am

Agghh! The double post demon attacks!

21

Jack Lecou 02.07.04 at 1:58 am

And it’s especially hard to prove a negative if you only have 48 hours to leave the country before the bombs start falling.

Bruce, I never said to send the tanks home. What’s wrong with leaving them to idle on the border for a few months? That’s still bound to be a lot cheaper than what it cost to actually use them.

22

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.07.04 at 3:07 am

“What’s wrong with leaving them to idle on the border for a few months? That’s still bound to be a lot cheaper than what it cost to actually use them.”

Lots of things are wrong with it. The main one is that unless you want everyone to ignore you until you send troops to their border, you can’t let them play games all the way up to the point where you have already spent a billion dollars shipping the Marines in. And considering the fact that FULL cooperation still wasn’t forthcoming you certainly don’t want to teach the lesson that the games can continue even after the troops are at the border.

23

Jack Lecou 02.07.04 at 3:27 am

Oh, I see. So you let them play games until you spend a billion dollars to ship the marines in. Then, when they realize you are serious and stop playing games (more or less) you decide you’re already there, and it’s getting on lunchtime, so might as well go ahead and send them in and spend another $200 billion.

Wait, I’m still confused.

(And if the Bush’s cabal never intended to have the troops wait around to see if the inspections would work, then why did they say things to the effect of “pursuing all diplomatic options, etc. Nevermind, I know the answer.)

24

Bravo Romeo Delta 02.07.04 at 3:33 am

How is it that verifiable disarmament and dismantling of programs is so very impossible and can’t be proven when it’s been done with great success and much acclaim in Ukraine, South Africa, Tawian, and Kazakhstan?

Why is it that the Soviets and Americans were able to establish a higher degree of working trust on disarmament during START or INF treaties?

Because this kind of exercise is fundamentally one of engagement and trust-building. For what ever reason (probably pride), Saddam couldn’t bring himself to actually do anything that would relax tensions. People seem to magically forget when he put the Republican Guard on the Kuwaiti border in the late ’90s. I believe that in his eyes, anything that was trust building was appeasing the Americans.

Maybe this is true, but the rest of his political calculus proved rotten.

25

belle waring 02.07.04 at 4:04 am

Remember that Saddam claimed that his government had destroyed BOTH the stockpiles of banned weapons which they had previously admitted having, AND the records of the destruction, even though producing such records at any time would have been a very strong argument for the relaxation of crippling sanctions. Now that this appears to have been a true claim, I am still at quite a loss to come up with a good motive for doing such a crazy thing. He appears to have gambled that letting other states in the region think he still had the banned weapons was worth the risk of war with the US, and imagined that if pushed to the wall he could convince the US that the weapons were destroyed. This turned out to be a bad bet. Did anyone really find this claim plausible at the time?

26

layzman 02.07.04 at 5:16 am

Another story I’ve heard about why there were discrepancies is that Iraq was known to have produced, say 6000 litres of whatever, and could only verify having gotten rid of, say, 1500 as of the end of the Gulf War I. Where’d the other 4500 litres go? They used ’em on Iran, and they were lying about *those* amounts.

I have no other reason for believing this scenario is the correct one, other than that it makes at least as much sense as any other explanation I’ve heard.

27

asg 02.07.04 at 6:05 am

jack lecou is a funny guy. Apparently the purpose of the U.S. Army is to sit on the borders of countries who are playing games with inspectors, but never to actually do anything, since that would be too expensive. We can call this the “Memento Doctrine”, since it depends on all dictators having the same brain damage that affected the Guy Pearce character in that movie. (He couldn’t remember anything that happened more than fifteen or so minutes previously; for jack’s idea to work, dictators have to forget every 15 minutes that, no matter how scary and cooperation-inducing those Marines on the border may be, they have no chance of actually doing anything, since jack is running the foreign policy.)

Of course, in that movie, Leonard (the Guy Pearce character) figured out ways to remind himself of things, such as tattooing very important stuff on his chest. I can just visualize Saddam tattooing “DON’T WORRY, THEY’RE JUST THERE FOR SHOW — THEY WON’T ACTUALLY REMOVE YOU” on his chest.

28

Gary Farber 02.07.04 at 6:13 am

I wish, John, that you’d unbend and explain what “But, but …” is a stand-in for. It’s clear that you think it’s obvious, but it’s not.

I’m assuming it’s not some sort of suggestion that Hussein did do those things, since Hussein certainly didn’t let his scientists be interviewed outside the country (also, bringing their families outside the country would obviously be equally essential), and didn’t let inspectors rummage through his palaces.

Absent that possibility, I can make some guesses, but I’d rather just find out what you have in mind without having to play 20 questions. Of course, possibly I’m just being stupid.

29

andrew 02.07.04 at 6:45 am

If Mr. John Q. was just trying to set a bunch of you guys up, and let a group of seemingly educated and informed people make obviously incorrect and easily disproved statements, then he succeeded.

I don’t think that was his goal, though. I think he thought that most people were a little better informed on the facts than this.

But it is a testament to the power of a simple message, repeated over and over, even in the face of contradictory info.

30

Ben 02.07.04 at 7:24 am

It’s bizarre to see people actually try and defend something that is provably indefinsible.

The paragraph quoted makes an incorrect statement. It really is that simple.

The interesting questions are why? and how?

31

andrew 02.07.04 at 8:04 am

I doubt the efficacy of commenting, because the goalposts are constantly being moved to discussions of rape rooms, or UN ineffectiveness, or philosophical explorations of what it is to “know” something, but…

…”since Hussein certainly didn’t let his scientists be interviewed outside the country, and didn’t let inspectors rummage through his palaces”…

“remember that Saddam wasn’t all cooperation; even after letting the the inspectors in, he stalled and stonewalled and obstructed for the longest time possible”

“A guy who allows his sons to pick women to rape and murder certainly can’t be expected to allow the UN to come in and actually look around.”

Here’s Hans:

“The inspections have taken place throughout Iraq at industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centers, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites”

“The most important point to make is that access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect and with one exception it has been prompt”

“we note that access to sites has so far been without problems, including those that have never been declared or inspected as well as two presidential sites and private residences.”

Nu’uh is not an argument.

This doesn’t mean that there weren’t still outstanding disarmament issues (unaccounted for chem. stockpiles from before 1991, and interviews). The Iraqis said they would allow all requested interviews, but the interviewees were balking. They all wanted to be able to record them, or to do it in the presence of the Iraqi minders. Could mean Saddam wasn’t allowing them, or it might mean the scientists were scared poopless.

Here’s a different tact: Everyone who confidently asserts that Saddam wasn’t complying (Blix said he was on process, not on substance) I’d ask, what wasn’t he doing?

There were tons of late 80’s VX gas unaccounted for. Iraq said they destroyed it, provided a list of 80 witnesses to the destruction. Chemical analysis of the soil at the site was inconclusive. There’s no telling.

But what else?

Saddam wasn’t bluffing (obstructing even though he had nothing). He claimed to have no weapons. He was basically telling the truth, it turns out.

32

Another Andrew 02.07.04 at 12:52 pm

How do we know that Ukraine, Libya, S Africa etc have no WMD hidden? One can’t help the thought that the reason is that there is no reason for the US to say they haven’t. Otherwise they would be in the awkward position of trying to prove an absence.

33

John 02.07.04 at 1:42 pm

Saddam sent Lebanese emmisaries to negotiate with Bush prior to the war, and Bush refused to meet with them. This was reported a couple months ago, but has disappeared from the discussion. This fact, along with the limited willingness of Saddam to allow U.N. inspections, suggests that military action was not necessary. Even if it was expensive to ship troops to Iraq and mass them on the border, it was much cheaper in blood and treasure to let them wait that to invade and have to pick up the pieces.

34

gowingz 02.07.04 at 4:31 pm

At the risk of stating the obvious, I would point out that the US and the allies presented Iraq with a set of choices that no sovereign state would agree to, including the US… This is not to say inspections haven’t worked elsewhere, in differing situations (unless I’m forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of troops the US stationed on the Zimbabwean border to ensure South African “transparency” during those inspections).

It is to say that the conditions placed on Iraq seem, in retrospect, calculated to back Saddam into a corner. This is not to say Saddam was a good leader, or made good choices for his people- he was a murdering thug (and OUR murdering thug at that, pre-1990)…

Rather than capitulate to the demands of the “infidels” of the international community (we must remember the good dictator’s latter-day embracing of radical Islamism), Saddam decided to take his chances as a defiant “pan-Arabist”, a strategy that succeeded only in bringing further poverty, war, occupation, and his downfall. But did anyone think that he would allow his top WEAPONS scientists and their families out of the country? Did anyone ever think the guy would reveal his most secret weapons programs to the states that had just defeated his country in a war? In retrospect, these conditions look kinda ridiculous.

I’m not saying that it was “wrong”, morally, to make these demands of Saddam’s government. I am simply saying that we probably knew in 1991 that he’d never accede to these demands, and anyone over the last decade who claimed to think he would do anything much differently than he did is either a fool or a thespian.

It is especially irksome to hear people criticize the UN as toothless and in the same breath condemn Saddam for his “non-compliance”. Assuming he didn’t comply, what state would accede to the demands of an organization with no power to enforce those demands?

35

james 02.07.04 at 4:52 pm

Barry,

But from the viewpoint of the inspectors and indeed that of Resolution 1441 which sent them back in it wasn’t a matter of proving a negative i.e. that Iraq had a “clean bill of health” as regards WMD. It was a case of accounting for WMD which had supposedly been previously established to exist by previous inspectors. Therefore contrasting analogy was often made with South Africa who decided to give up its nuke program and had this verified.

In Blix’s reports he made frequent reference to the thousands of litres of anthrax etc. which were “unaccounted for”. To his great credit he always stressed that the failure of Iraq to account for these stocks didn’t mean they actually still existed – a distinction whose importance is now abundantly obvious. (Incidentally I wholly agree that Blix was more credible than Powell – unsurprising since the latter was making a case for war, whereas Blix was just doing a professional job in very difficult circumstances).

Mind you, as I understand it those stockpiles would have been wholly useless anyway because they would have degraded so much since they were produced.

36

roger 02.07.04 at 8:26 pm

The commenter who wrote: “So was the US supposed to keep 300,000 servicepeople on the Kuwait border for ever?” is making more of a point than perhaps he knows.

With the Bush administration committing itself unilaterally to that extent, they had every reason not to want Blix to give Saddam H. “a clean bill of health.” There was no way they would have accepted it. The build-up to the war had to make Americans accept the preliminary build-up of forces, so that the WMD, while useful as a rhetorical excuse, would be an issue that could not, in any way, be responded to by Saddam. Similarly, the rhetoric of Cheney and Rumsfeld was aimed not at strong-arming our allies into supporting us, but in alienating our allies so that, basically, we could do things our own way. Contrast the kind of diplomacy put in by Bush I to bring France and Germany into the coalition with the lack of effort to do so by Bush II, plus the politicizing (ie demonizing) of Europe to create a jingo vote in the States.

The great thing about this maneuver is that, even afterwards, the Bush lie that Saddam wouldn’t let the inspectors in can be minimized. After all, with 300,000 soldiers on his borders, maybe he would have cheated even if he’d let them in a last time — since, of course, by that time a rational poltician would know that there was no way the U.S. would amass that force without using it. Saddam was just delusional enough to take the Bush administration’s ostensible conditions for not invading seriously. But that was, clearly, a delusion. The Bush team put together a very brilliant ploy, basically aimed at a domestic audience, to do what they were going to do anyway. Now they are going to go through a wonderfully Nixonian “limited hang-out.”

It is that simple.

37

Anarch 02.07.04 at 9:10 pm

It is to say that the conditions placed on Iraq seem, in retrospect, calculated to back Saddam into a corner.

In retrospect? I was saying it at the time, no hindsight necessary.

What’s more, the reason I ultimately ending up supporting the war (in the last two weeks or so before the actual invasion) was that Bush had carefully backed the US into a corner, too; after banging our drums so loudly, we had to follow through with an invasion lest we lose all credibility with other despotic regimes.

It really was the world’s most psychotic game of Chicken.

38

trust me 02.08.04 at 6:16 am

Someone described the issue of trust. The fact that there was no trust between Irak and the US was two sided. Around 1995/96 the CIA started to ‘use’ the inspections to gain information about the security and location of Saddam. And although paranoid, Saddam was right that there were many inside and outside the US government that wanted to advance various coup d’etat schemes. So he requested that the inspections stayed out of his palaces and his personal living quarters. The UN made a deal that they would make requests regarding inspections of those sites a day in advance. Only at the last moment this deal was torn, and a spot inspection was refused by a local commander at such a site. This was almost immediately followed by withdrawal of the inspection team and a bombardment of various military installations.
At that moment neither the US nor the UK thought that WMD’s were worth a full scale war. But from then on regime change became an official policy of the US.

What I don’t understand is reasoning of those who think that Saddam Hussein could have avoided a war by fulfilling al the requests of the UN. There were many arguments that should have made Saddam suspicious:

– It was a stated US policy to get rid of Saddam.
– UN inspections had been used by the CIA to gain information about the whereabouts of Saddam.
– the US had already authorized war BEFORE going to the UN
– Many US officials had openly stated that there would be war anyhow (Cheney et al.)
– the argument that if you move your troops to that region and the leave without using them is
bad for the image of the US, is an argument especially well understood by Saddam.
– and last the US didn’t take those inspections very serious. A simple example: Powell said the aluminium tubes where for a nuclear program. The UN said no, Powell said well I’m right anyhow.

In the end Saddam cooperated with the UN but without trusting either the UN or the US. And in my view rightfully so.

This leaves aside the fact that Saddams handling of the conflict was completely pointless. He had lost even before the war. And no sane person could ever justify his ‘fighting’ of this war. But then it was what the US wanted, war. So they got it.

39

Statist Pig 02.08.04 at 11:28 am

He appears to have gambled that letting other states in the region think he still had the banned weapons was worth the risk of war with the US, and imagined that if pushed to the wall he could convince the US that the weapons were destroyed. This turned out to be a bad bet. Did anyone really find this claim plausible at the time?

Am I the only one who remembers hearing Blix, after the war got rolling, on NPR talking about how he was sure the US would find WMD and that if he had only been given more time, he would have found them too?

Or the fact that the Greens in Germany were on the ropes because they had been outed for lying about intelligence that was conclusive for the existance of WMDs? No one has discussed that the big winner in the entire “no WMDs” is the German Green government that was about to collapse under the weight of frauds it had committed and has been saved by discovering that the lies it told were true after all.

I’d note that Saddam had 500k troops in defense on rough terrain. Typically, defense gives you a force modifier of x3 and rough terrain of x2. For a successful invasion under normal analysis, Saddam could feel certain that the U.S. would need about three million combat troops on the ground.

Of course there were issues of troop quality, of weather (and when the U.S. could launch a war, there was a narrowing window) and his desire to have people believe that he actually had WMDs and to keep WMD programs going, no matter how circumscribed.

I’ll note that for the most part a WMD program is not worth the cost. If he had just had a LAW (light anti-tank weapon) program he would have destabilized the region much more. Imagine Hamas with LAWs instead of morters and rockets. LAW snipers instead of suicide bombers.

Of course he had a failure of strategic planning as well as everything else …

Ms. Clinton is probably still kicking herself over the interview she gave when everyone still thought WMDs would be found. Yes, it helped sell her book, but if she had just waited six months she could have been on the side of all the posters here who feel that it was obvious there were no WMDs. Of course the Clintons did not have access to the quality of intelligence that Bush used.

And Pigs fly. Do you really believe that the Clintons had less of the truth that Bush? Or that Bush the younger mislead them?

Sigh.

Or that the CIA’s track record was so good that this time they had the guts to believe they were right when they had been wrong so many times before?

Anyway, I hope the leader of the free press movement in Egypt was right when he spoke this week on NPR on how he invasion of Iraq was such a good thing. (Yes, you get much better perspectives on NPR than in the right wing press, especially the shock from the interviewers).

Of course he is just an Egyptian and an Arabist. Not a good ol’ American who knows what is best for the region (does anyone here really believe that either the American Right or Left really knows? Any better than the did about WMDs?).

Crooked Timber indeed.

grin.

40

John Quiggin 02.08.04 at 8:31 pm

Am I the only one who remembers hearing Blix, after the war got rolling, on NPR talking about how he was sure the US would find WMD and that if he had only been given more time, he would have found them too?

I suspect you are the only one who remembers this. I don’t get NPR, butI don’t recall Blix saying anything so incautious. Do you have a link?

41

Jack Lecou 02.09.04 at 3:04 am

Almost certainly Iraq is better off without Saddam (probably even if he ends up being replaced by religious populists). But removal of Saddam is only half of the equation. Most people seem to forget that we also spent a couple of hundred billion dollars on tank rounds and padded Haliburton contracts, not to mention the lives of soldiers. One simply cannot say that the world is a better place without considering these opportunity costs. The question is not merely whether Iraq is better off, but whether there existed another place or people that would have benefited even more from such an expenditure, and whether there was some more efficient method to achieve our goals beyond a massive invasion and poorly planned occupation. I think the answer to both those questions has to be an unqualified yes.

asg:

Perhaps it will amuse you even more to note that there are in fact at least two ways to discredit the threat of force. As you point out, one would be to make it apparent that you are not actually willing to use force. However, there is another way that is at least as damaging.

The stated aim of the Bush administration was to enforce the UN resolution(s) and remove the threat posed by Saddam’s supposed weapon stockpiles (well, one of their aims, they are a bit slippery on the subject). Contrary to this Newsweek article or Bush’s statements on 14 July, Saddam had, in fact, allowed inspectors in, and, as others have pointed out, these inspectors had no complaints about the degree of cooperation. It would not have hurt US credibility in the least to back off a bit and wait for the outcome, certainly any further foot dragging from the Iraqis would rightfully trigger an invasion (possibly one with UN approval). Instead, when Iraqi cooperation began to become apparent, the administration changed their story entirely and began to make noise about regime change (the one demand which Saddam could obviously never agree to). The inspectors were told to leave (by the US, not Iraq), and shortly thereafter the attack was launched.

It was pretty clear that the US wanted war very badly, and on a tight schedule. No matter how high the Iraqis jumped, Bush & Co. would just set the bar higher. It is this sequence of events which ruins US credibility even more surely than inaction. Instead of “do what we say OR we’ll invade”, we have “do what we say AND we’ll invade”. Where is the diplomacy in that?

42

Jack Lecou 02.09.04 at 3:07 am

Hmm. Perhaps the third sentence is better phrased as
“Most people who say the world is a better place neglect the fact that we also spent a couple of hundred billion dollars on tank rounds and padded Haliburton contracts, not to mention the lives of soldiers.”

43

John Moore (Useful Fools) 02.09.04 at 5:05 am

Life certainly would have been easier for Bush had the huge quantities of WMD’s been found. That they haven’t and that Bush hasn’t invented them should give some folks a clue that he sincerely believed them to be there.

Also, if you only get your news from mainstream outlets, and don’t look around too much (like actually reading transcripts or watching live David Kay’s testimony), you would believe that nothing was found in Iraq of significance. But this is far from the case.

Bush had good reason to believe that Saddam represented a WMD proliferation threat (which was what the war was about: the threat of Iraq arming terrorists with WMDs). Saddam apparently thought he had WMDs. His Generals thought they were available for combat – a number of Generals who were interrogated had heard orders to prepare to use the weapons, and when they complained that they had none, were told that their flanking divisions had them. This was monitored by US SIGINT resources. Every country in the world thought that Saddam had the weapons, although Bush critics seem to ignore this. It isn’t like George and Dick and Colin went into a huddle and invented this stuff – they had humint and techint that supported their conclusions.

Then there’s what was found. Kay found several active missile programs, any one of which was a valid casus belli. There was development of a long range solid fuel missile, a plan to greatly increase the range of their “legal” Al Samud missile which, it turned out, already had an illegal range capability, and the attempt to buy thousand kilometer range missiles from North Korea. Now, one might ask, what would a dictator with no WMD’s do with 1000 km range missiles? Answer: nothing useful. They are of no significance without WMD warheads.

Kay also found significant evidence of biological warfare programs, either in progress or ready to be started, with the laboratories in secret police headquarters. He found one active program (interestingly, involving ricin) which was also a direct violation of the rules. He found seed stock for botulin toxin.

The only thing NOT found was “large stockpiles” of WMDs, and an active nuclear program (although a buried uranium enrichment centrifuge and plans was turned over by a scientist who had buried it in his rose garden). However, an entire “large stockpile” could be hidden in a small house. And lets not forget the MIG jets that were found buried in the sand – found by accident because wind had unburied their tails. Because of the international market in nuclear technology (which was unmasked due to the War on Terror), Saddam probably planned to simply purchase a nuclear weapons program once the inspectors were gone and the sanctions lifted (and the sanction regime was wobbly and about to be lifted).

Add to this the fact that UN inspectors NEVER found Saddam’s previous large scale biological weapons program. Rather, it was revealed by Saddam’s son-in-law, after which the Iraqi regime revealed the records of a vast program that had been unsuspected by the inspectors during their 4 years of searching (1991-1995). This should give pause to those here who naively believe in the divining abilities of a few hundred UN inspectors in a totalitarian country which would happily gibbet the families of any scientist who told too much.

On top of this, it is clear that Saddam was a consistently bad decision maker, and when he made mistakes, lots of other people died. One of his mistakes was to attack Iran, leading to the Iran/Iraq war that killed about a million people. Another was invading Kuwait, causing Gulf War I. This guy was evil, but he wasn’t too bright. This made him even more dangerous than a rational opponent, because he was more likely than most dictators to do something dumb like hand chemical or biological weapons to terrorists, who just happened to be all over the place in Iraq, including some from Al Qaeda (Ansar Al Islam).

Finally, Kay stated that Iraq’s WMD scientists either had established or were about to establish a market for their expertise, because Saddam’s internal controls had broken down (which is one reason he didn’t even know what WMDs he had or didn’t have).

That Saddam was a great and growing danger is just as obvious today as it was last year or the year before. That removing him was an important part of protecting the nation from devastating attacks should be obvious (especially given Libya’s cave-in, which Qhadaffi told Berlusconi was because of his fear of America as a result of the toppling of Saddam).

Other than those with a touchingly naive belief in the powers of UN inspectors, can anyone provide a way that we could possibly have known that Saddam didn’t represent a threat and didn’t have WMD’s?

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Jack Lecou 02.09.04 at 11:00 am

that Bush hasn’t invented them

Only tells me that he isn’t completely insane. Or couldn’t figure out how to pull it off.

what the war was about: the threat of Iraq arming terrorists with WMDs

Note that there are really two parts to this: having WMDs AND giving them to terrorists. You’ve got to prove both parts, or this whole motivation falls apart.

the attempt to buy thousand kilometer range missiles from North Korea

But terrorists wouldn’t need missiles, would they? This was all about “imminent threats” to the US, for which you need terrorists with a van, or missiles that can fly just a wee bit further than 1000 kilometers. And interesting you should mention N. Korea…

They are of no significance without WMD warheads.

Quite. And no threat to the US in any case.

seed stock for botulin toxin

There’s probably some in my kitchen too. That’s why you boil everything thoroughly when you can green beans…

(BTW, are ricin and botulism toxin technically biological weapons? It seems to me that they are merely chemical weapons, albeit partly produced in living factories. Surely the defining characteristic of a biological agent is that it is infectious. Smallpox certainly qualifies, and anthrax just barely, but there really isn’t any way at all for a ricin victim to spread his problem to me. Yet the recent ricin thing in Washington was refered to as biological. Sigh.)

Anyway, the point really isn’t really whether Saddam had a few little bits and pieces here and there. He certainly had some chemical and biological stuff before, and probably any reasonable person would have guessed he still had a little something in 2002, there’s no doubt he acted like someone with something to hide. The question is whether he had large enough quantities to do serious damage, whether he had the means (missiles or moving vans) to deliver them, and whether he had some motive for doing so. You have to look at all of those factors to decide what kind of risk Iraq posed, and from what I’ve seen it just doesn’t score very high on any one of them, let alone all together.

He may have had a few little piles of ricin or nerve gas around, but not enough to do much damage. He certainly had aspirations of joining the nuclear club, but the best guess then and now was that he was many years away from being able to do so. And even that figure is only if we withdrew the inspectors AND lifted the sanctions AND closed our eyes and plugged our ears for the better part of a decade. It certainly seems unlikely that he was going to be able to do much in the way of research or production while inspectors were crawling about, even if they weren’t able to find dormant programs. You can just forget about being an hour away from a mushroom cloud rising over Boston. So what was the rush?

He may have had some missiles that were technically in violation, but nothing that was going to come anywhere near US or British shores. Probably Israel or Saudi Arabia were in range, but they didn’t seem particularly worried. That only leaves terrorist delivery. Nobody has proven even the most tenuous of connections between Saddam and Al Qaida, nevermind negotiations for the sale of a nuke. Ansar Al Islam wasn’t all over Iraq, just the northern part outside Saddam’s jurisdiction. Possibly he gave them a few cases of ammunition to kill Kurds with, but it was likely nothing like what Iran was giving them, and it’s a far cry from weaponized smallpox. There are also Al Qaida terrorists in Pakistan, that doesn’t prove Pakistan is going to give them nuclear weapons.

Nor would any such connection have made much sense in the first place. It really only holds together in the minds of Fox-News-watching simple minded bitwits who think that Osama bin Laden is Evil, and Saddam Hussein is Evil, so logically they must meet at a ski lodge in Switzerland every year with all the other Evil leaders to exchange Evil muffin recipes and Evil stock tips. In the real world it doesn’t fit anything I have read of their motivations. Saddam was a prime example of the sort of secular and repressive dictator that Al Qaida sees as holding back their earthly Islamic paradise, and I doubt they were buying his P.R. efforts (e.g., giving money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers). If Hussein had handed Al Qaida operatives a doomsday weapon, they might have been just as likely to set the timer and drop it in the bushes on their way out of his palace. Nevermind the fact that he certainly knew he could expect retaliation from the US (and the rest of the world, for that matter). It’s really difficult to see what he could possibly gain from such an attack to outweigh those risks (and I’ve not heard any theories from anyone else either).

All in all, I estimated my risk of being killed by Iraqi WMDs at somewhere between being hit by a meteor and eaten by an alligator coming up from my toilet. I’ve seen nothing since to contradict that assessment.

No, there is no way anyone can prove that any particular nation poses zero threat, but that’s no excuse for going to war with them. (And if UN inspectors are so ineffective, how can we ever be sure that Libya has really disarmed? I guess we should invade just to be sure.) Iraq was a particularly bad call. The only sense it seems to have made was as some kind warning to others, but this was betrayed by Bush’s capriciousness, and that Iraq was a relative weakling. We are unwilling (and at this point ill able to afford financially or politically) to attack countries like Iran or N. Korea which are far more likely to *actually* have serious weapons.

And let’s have some perspective. Terrorists are going to have to work a whole lot harder than they have been to make it onto any kind of leading causes of death list (in the US), and not one single person in the United States has ever died from a WMD attack by a third world dictator. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be vigilant, but intelligence is relatively cheap. Deterrence is a factor, but that still means war should be the very last resort. With Iraq it seems to have been the first.

We have better things to spend our limited resources on. It is not enough just to be able say that some little good came of this mess. Every billion dollars spent on this wasteful war is a billion dollars which cannot be spent fighting hunger or disease (at home or abroad). A billion dollars in the latter two goes a lot further.

On top of this, it is clear that Saddam was a consistently bad decision maker, and when he made mistakes, lots of other people died.

Sounds like someone else I know. Maybe Saddam just had “bad intelligence” too.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.09.04 at 6:03 pm

“How is it that verifiable disarmament and dismantling of programs is so very impossible and can’t be proven when it’s been done with great success and much acclaim in Ukraine, South Africa, Tawian, and Kazakhstan?”

The fact that you don’t understand the difference says more about your lack of research on the issue than it could possibly say about the hawk’s arguments. Verifiable disarmament can be quite successful when the country in question wants to disarm. The track record of verifiable disarmament in even mildly resisting states is complete failure.

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