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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, June 06, 2003

Searching For Thoughts On WMDs

We will start out slowly, then build to a mad crescendo. First, Nick Kristof of the NY Times.

...As best I can reconstruct events, Mr. Rumsfeld genuinely felt that the C.I.A. and D.I.A. were doing a horrendous job on Iraq — after all, he was hearing much more alarming information from those close to Ahmad Chalabi. So the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit, and it sifted through everyone else's information and goaded other agencies to come up with more alarmist conclusions.

"He's an ideologist," one man in the spy world said of Mr. Rumsfeld. "He doesn't start with the facts, even though he's quite brainy. He has a bottom line, and then he gathers facts to support the bottom line."

That is not, of course, a capital offense. Pentagon leaders should feel free to disagree strenuously with foolish judgments by the C.I.A. But for the process to work, top C.I.A. officials need to fight back. Instead, George Tenet rolled over.

And if Rumsfeld's bottom line, as Secretary of Defense, was "better safe than sorry"?

Now, on a slightly more speculative vein, I will now paraphrase an idea suggested by Jeff Hauser - credit him if you love it, laugh at me if you hate it.

A few days ago, we linked to a NY Times story reporting that, after the inspectors were not re-admitted in 1998, our intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was very limited. The working assumption was that Saddam retained his ambitions, and would not be enduring the sanctions unless he was pursuing banned weapons.

As to his ambitions, the assumption seems reasonable. However, suppose UNMOVIC really had succeeded, by 1998, in grinding Saddam's weapons programs to dust. Would Saddam really benefit by admitting that to the world? First, he may well be nuts, so irrational behavior is a possibility.

Secondly, a man who ruled by fear can not rule without it (see H. Raines). Thirdly, sanctions may punish the Iraqi people, but do they punish Saddam? The argument offered about Cuba (lift the embargo to destabilize Castro) should apply to Saddam as well. The sanctions provided lovely anti-US photo-ops of starving children, centralized his control of the economy, and impoverished his internal adversaries. Preserving the illusion of a weapons program preserved his status as an Arab strongman and international hard-case. No weapons programs and no UN compliance may have been a reasonable mix. In which case, we won't find any WMDs.

But (and with Martha under lock and key, I feel safe in stealing this), not finding WMDs is a GOOD Thing. You might want to take a moment to absord that while I tighten the laces on my tap-dancing shoes. OK, I am ending the Hauserian moment and taking off on my own. Here we go.

We had several reasons for invading Iraq. WMDs were relevant to the legal eagles who were focussed on Iraqi violations of UN resolutions. However, we also had US national security concerns about WMDs, human rights issues, a desire to bring democracy to Iraq as part of a process of transforming the Middle East, and the neocon belief that the road to peace in Jerusalem led through Baghdad.

Some folks waffled on supporting the invasion of Iraq, worried that the Administration would win the war and lose the peace. I am thinking of Josh Marshall, but I cannot seem to produce a link. Bother. Anyway, if we fail to find WMDs, then it becomes much more important for Bush to deliver on the other aspects of the deal - rebuilding Iraq, and pushing for a Palestinian settlement can not go to the back-burner. Good news!

INCREDIBLY LATE UPDATE: Sanctions enriched Saddam and were a secret policeman's dream, since everyone had a food ration card and needed to register with the authorities; the WMDs may have been a self-promotional bluff, like this update.

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