Wednesday, June 04, 2003

More on why Saddam didn't save himself. Got several e-mails in response to my item yesterday asking why Saddam Hussein -- if he really didn't have weapons of mass destruction -- failed to save himself by being genuinely cooperative with UN weapons inspectors.

M.O. pointed me to this Washington Post piece by MIT's Michael Schrage, arguing that Saddam played a game of chicken and lost. In this scenario, Saddam claimed not to have WMDs but refused to prove it, thus making it appear he might be lying, and thus keeping his neighbors discombobulated. Schrage writes:

In fact, WMD ambiguity was at the core of Iraq's strategy. Why? Because if it ever became unambiguously clear that Iraq had major initiatives underway in nuclear or bio-weapons, America, Israel and even Europe might intervene militarily. If, however, it ever became obvious that Iraq lacked the unconventional weaponry essential to inspiring fear and inflicting horrific damage, then the Kurds, Iranians and Saudis might lack appropriate respect for Hussein's imperial ambitions. Ambiguity thus kept the West at bay while keeping Hussein's neighbors and his people in line. A little rumor of anthrax or VX goes a long way.

R.D. sent a long, thoughtful e-mail, the heart of which is this:

Suppose for a minute that Iraq really did dismantle its chemical and biological weapons programs in 1995, as has been reported by a senior Iraqi defector. From the Iraqi standpoint, the entire WMD allegation takes on the character of a massive snipe hunt. No amount of access will ever be enough to satisfy the Bush administration. And, as Iraqi leaders pointed out, never in history had any power assembled an army as large as the one at the border of Iraq without eventually using it....

My problem is that I don't see any evidence that is inconsistent with the thesis that Iraq had not had any chemical weapons since 1995. I saw very detailed allegations, which later turned out to be overblown, faked, or the outdated work of graduate students. So now we're supposed to believe that, even though the evidence was bad, the accusation was good. As a scientist, I find this attitude bizarre.

R.D. also took me to task for indirectly quoting UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as calling Iraq's December report worthless. A bit glib, I'll concede, though I still think it accurately characterizes Blix's overall assessment.

As for R.D.'s larger argument, I'll stick to my original point: if Saddam really didn't have WMDs, and if he had made a genuine attempt to explain what had happened to those weapons that the UN knew he had once had, then President Bush would have been faced with two options: (1) go to war alone, with no one, not even Tony Blair, to back him up; or (2) back down.

Either of those options would have been -- should have been -- far more palatable to Saddam than what actually happened. But, then, who knows what goes on in the mind of Saddam Hussein?

W.W.S. pointed me to this post on his blog, Pepper Gray, which is a variation of the Schrage argument. And E.R. called my attention to this, which says that Iraq's WMDs may have been moved to Syria -- although she cautions, "I have no idea how reliable these people are." Certainly that seemed to be a working theory in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's fall, though we haven't heard much about it lately.

My favorite explanation, though, comes from R.G.H., who suggests that Iraq had long since lost its WMD capability -- but no one dared tell Saddam! He writes:

I like the theory that he didn't know he didn't have WMD because his underlings were afraid to tell him they no longer had the resources to rebuild the capability.

In college, I had a history prof who was a retired Air Force colonel. He told a story about taking control of the German Air Force headquarters in Bavaria at the end of WWII. The Allies were concerned that their small numbers would be unable to keep the Wehrmacht officers under control if they were arrested and imprisoned. So, instead, the Allies essentially locked the gate to the command compound and, as the command continued to issue orders to a non-existent air force, the Allies scooped them up and destroyed them. The command officers, having their time occupied, never posed a threat to escape or cause other problems.

This was told to describe the German personality, but I think it's a fair description of the military mindset, as well. Orders are issued and it is assumed that they are followed. Certainly Saddam would assume that it would be the case.

Then, put yourself in the place of one of Saddam's lieutenants: "I'm not telling him. YOU tell him."

It all makes perfect sense to me.

Me too.

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