12 Mar 2006

The Cupboard Was Bare, says the Times

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Fragmentary selections of the contents of captured Iraqi tapes featuring Saddam’s pre-war conversations and plans have been appearing bit by bit for some time now, shedding light on what the dictator and his senior advisors were actually thinking and planning. But, the New York Times today has all the answers.

Apparently, the Times has gained acesss to a secret history prepared by the US military in April 2005, titled “Iraqi Perspectives on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Combat Operations.” An unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon. Not altogether surprisingly, according to the Times, this study confirms every key liberal meme about the war.

Saddam was far more concerned about the dangers of a Shiite uprising, or a domestic coup, than a US invasion, says the Times.

Mr. Hussein did take some steps to avoid provoking war, though. While diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and Russia were under way to avert war, he rejected proposals to mine the Persian Gulf, fearing that the Bush administration would use such an action as an excuse to strike, the Joint Forces Command study noted.

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq’s weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

Mr. Hussein’s compliance was not complete, though. Iraq’s declarations to the United Nations covering what stocks of illicit weapons it had possessed and how it had disposed of them were old and had gaps. And Mr. Hussein would not allow his weapons scientists to leave the country, where United Nations officials could interview them outside the government’s control.

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator’s goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview “deterrence by doubt.”

That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Mr. Hussein’s efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.

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Isn’t it pretty to think so, if you happen to be a liberal and an administration adversary, who has been peddling the no WMDs line ever since seeing Michael Moore’s movie.

The problem is that believing all this requires ignoring the factual precedent of the evacuation abroad of the entire Iraqi air force prior to the First Gulf War to avoid the capture or destruction of an especially prized military asset, and it requires dismissing reports at the time of the US invasion of large convoys departing in the direction of Syria, along with more recent statements by the former Israeli Chief of Staff General Yaalon and former second-in-command of the Iraqi Air Force General Sada on the transfer of Iraqi chemical weapons to Syria.

But even more difficult are the required intellectual acrobatics necessary to reconcile the intrinsically conflicting notions of Saddam desperately trying to avoid war by a “crash effort” at compliance with WMD disarmament, while at the same time fecklessly steering his regime into full-scale conflict with the United States by a continued charade of WMD possession, and (unmentioned by the Times) resistance to inspections.

One wonders why the same analysis isn’t also being applied to Iran and North Korea. Maybe they both really have no nuclear weapons programs underway at all either, and are just bluffing, too. Isn’t that an inevitable theoretical next step?

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