Thursday, October 07, 2004

What went on in Iraq prior to the war - the WMD mystery

BBC NEWS | Middle East | A huge failure of intelligence
[The report of the Iraq Survey Group] ... came up with the theory that Saddam Hussein's dark mind was convinced that his power lay in his special weapons and that, even though he had to give them up after the first Gulf War in 1991, he was determined to preserve an ability to manufacture them.

At the same time, he wanted to maintain the myth of invincibility which the weapons had brought him. He always believed that it was the threat of the weapons which stopped the Americans from going to Baghdad in 1991. So he obscured what he had and did not have.

His priority was not to rebuild his weapons. That would have ensured the continuation of sanctions. It was to get rid of sanctions and to subvert them in the meantime.

He was prepared to wait his time until the outside world lost interest and left him alone.

This, and the system of fear and rewards he ran which was unfamiliar to the West, made his regime hard to read. He did not, as South Africa and Ukraine did, throw open his doors willingly and allow easy inspection. Indeed, the inspectors left at the end of 1998, so hard was their task.

Suspicion therefore remained and suspicion led to errors of judgement in which Saddam Hussein was not given the benefit of any doubt, even when the inspectors returned and found nothing.

It proved a disastrous strategy for Saddam Hussein because the uncertainty about his weapons could be exploited by an administration in Washington quite prepared to go to war.

It turns out that the only area in which a reasonably accurate assessment was made was in rocketry. Here, ironically, the threat was probably underplayed. Iraq had plans, according to the Survey Group, for a rocket with a range of 1,000km (620 miles), far in excess of the 150km (90 miles) he was permitted by the United Nations sanctions rules.

This has been the emerging consensus for some time. The major question is whether Saddam thought he really had more current capabilities than was true. I think that's still an open question, though a relatively minor one.

The plausible charges against the Bush administration are three:

1. Did the Bush administration bias the pre-war intelligence, and avoid killing Zarqawi when they could have, to bolster their personal desires to destroy Saddam?

2. Was the Bush administrations desire to destroy Saddam rational?

3. Was the Bush administration delusional about what would happen after the invasion, or did Rumsfeld take horrible risks in order to preserve capacity for a second strike against Syria or Iran?

The current state of evidence on these charges suggests:

1. Likely guilty on both counts.
2. An open question. It may have been irrational, but a rational case could also have been made. The big argument is about method rather than goal. They are probably guilty of incompetence.
3. Guilty of incompetence.

The only rational judgement given the facts of the case:

Fire Bush.

No comments: