Sunday, April 3, 2005

Dead wrong?

James Robbins at the National Review has an interesting take on this question. From his column:

Ultimately the Iraq Survey Group did not find as much evidence of WMD programs as expected. But note — the same Post poll cited above found that 56 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had WMDs before the war that have not been found. The Fall 2004 Duelfer report concluded that Saddam had intended to reconstitute his WMD program after sanctions were lifted, and desired to maintain the expertise necessary to do so. And it is still fair to ask, if Saddam was not trying to acquire WMDs, what was he doing? The Duelfer report notes the following changes in Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission (MIC), Saddam's secret organization in charge of WMD development, in the years leading up to the war:

"Between 1996 and 2002, the overall MIC budget increased over forty-fold from ID 15.5 billion to ID 700 billion. By 2003 it had grown to ID 1 trillion. MIC's hard currency allocations in 2002 amounted to approximately $364 million. MIC sponsorship of technical research projects at Iraqi universities skyrocketed from about 40 projects in 1997 to 3,200 in 2002. MIC workforce expanded by fifty percent in three years, from 42,000 employees in 1999 to 63,000 in 2002."

So the MIC enjoyed a budget increase from fifteen billion to one trillion Dinars over seven years for nothing? MIC technical research projects increased 80-fold for no particular reason? Then there was the very well-chronicled systematic deception campaign that U.N. inspectors encountered every time they went into Iraq. In more than one case inspectors would pull up to a site and be halted; surveillance would pick up vehicles being loaded in the back and hurrying away; inspectors would then be allowed in. What was being carted away so quickly? If nothing was there, what was going on? One theory behind the deception campaign was that it was itself a deception — it was not so much that Saddam had something to hide, but rather he wanted to make us think he had something to hide in order to deter us from attacking him. That rationale was clearly too clever by half if true, at least judging by the results. (It is better to act like North Korea and say you have nuclear weapons whether you do or not.)

But I don't buy that explanation. The deception campaign was too systematic, too thorough, in ways that went well beyond what would be necessary simply to generate suspicion. This activity continued during and after the war when it would make no difference. One case in point — an exploitation team went to check out an apartment in an otherwise unexceptional residential area that was allegedly being used as a WMD site. They arrived to find the apartment stripped. The floor tiles were missing, the walls cleaned, the plumbing fixtures gone, the pipes under the floors ripped out. This was not the result of looting — the apartment had been sanitized, disinfected. How many such sites could there have been in Iraq? Were they all found and checked? Strains of biological organisms that could be weaponized were found in a scientist's home refrigerator — how much such dispersal took place? Not to mention allegations that critical nuclear and chemical program components were taken to Syria, Iran, or Russia.

Indeed. It seems very unlikely that Saddam would invest all that time, effort, and money into a gigantic practical joke on his buddy Hans Blix.

I remember in the runup to the Iraq war there were news reports about a large freighter that had sailed from Iraq and was then circling about in the Indian Ocean. The speculation was that this freighter was carrying Saddam's stocks of biological and chemical weapons, and that he'd sink it rather than face the music on WMD charges. I never heard the end of this story, seems much more plausible to me than the practical joke.

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