The WMD Side of the Sanctions Debate

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Leaving aside the Duelfer Report's implications on should-we-or-shouldn't-have-we, there is plenty to chew on in terms of what was Saddam thinking? From the executive summary:

Saddam's primary goal from 1991 to 2003 was to have UN sanctions lifted, while maintaining the security of the Regime. He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections—to gain support for lifting sanctions—with his intention to preserve Iraq's intellectual capital for WMD with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face. Indeed, this remained the goal to the end of the Regime, as the starting of any WMD program, conspicuous or otherwise, risked undoing the progress achieved in eroding sanctions and jeopardizing a political end to the embargo and international monitoring.

Bold from the original. If, as the report has indicated, Saddam's weapons programs were basically kaput since 1991, why not allow inspectors to come in and see that, apply their stamp of approval, and get the oil revenues flowing ASAP, rather than waiting until 1997? And, why didn't he resume weapons programs after 1998, considering that the oil-for-food billions were flowing, and the weapons inspectors had been successfully kicked out of the country?

Maybe these questions are answered deeper into the report (which I haven't read yet), but I think we can come to some preliminary conclusions: 1) Clinton sure screwed up by allowing the inspectors to be kicked out after '98, 2) Saddam sure screwed up in general; and 3) the sanctions/inspection combo sure worked better than most people (including me) thought, when measured solely by its intent to degrade Saddam's weapons programs. All of which (and much more) is interesting to think about, as the sanctions debate re-rears its head regarding Iran.

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  1. Rather than being kicked out, didn’t the UN inspectors *pull out* in ’98 because of nonco?peration on the Iraqis’ part? The Iraqis were barring inspectors from certain facilities and stalling access to others unless I’m mistaken, so the inspectors up and left, the assumption being that sanctions would be tightened and military threats would be stepped up.

    The criticism of Clinton — and the GOP Congress and the UN and the Western allies who subsequently eased up on enforcement of the sanctions — is still valid, as are the other questions raised. But still.

    Then again it’s very possible I’m mistaken.

  2. “If, as the report has indicated, Saddam’s weapons programs were basically kaput since 1991, why not allow inspectors to come in and see that, apply their stamp of approval, and get the oil revenues flowing ASAP, rather than waiting until 1997? And, why didn’t he resume weapons programs after 1998, considering that the oil-for-food billions were flowing, and the weapons inspectors had been successfully kicked out of the country?

    Indeed!

    This is why I was inclined to believe that Saddam had the goods. What rational reason would Saddam Hussein have for forgoing so much oil revenue? I concluded that, assuming Hussein was rational, his WMD must be more important to him than oil revenue.

    Once it became clear that he didn’t have any WMD to hide, I realized that Saddam Hussein probably wasn’t rational. That shouldn’t have come as a big surprise, we should assume megalomaniacs to be irrational by default, but I have to confess, it surprised me.

  3. Here are my top 5 reasons that Saddam didn’t allow the inspectors free reign. All of these probably played a part:

    1) Full compliance with inspections to prove the absence of WMDs and production facilities would have run the risk of discovery of his maintained WMD “intellectual capital” and infrastructure.

    2) He was concerned that unfettered inspection might uncover unrelated embarrassments, like human rights violations and atrocities, terrorist contacts, weapons imports and development programs other than WMDs, etc.

    3) He was concerned that unfettered inspection would provide useful intelligence to the US and others that might wish to attack or overthrow him, including information about his military strength, possible contact with dissidents, etc.

    4) It was a manifestation of typical Dictator’s Egotism and concern over being seen as weak if he was too cooperative, or allowed others to dictate to him too completely.

    5) He believed, as his western and UN contacts strengthened through the corruption of the Oil for Food Program, that he didn’t have to play so scrupulously by the rules. His friends in France and Germany and Russia and the UN would keep the US at bay and soon get the sanctions lifted anyway.

    6) He might not have been certain that all the WMDs were gone himself, and feared that discovery of overlooked stocks would provide his enemies with pretext. Thus at the very least he wanted to make sure that he could inspect any particular site before the UN inspectors did. The possibility that he did have WMDs or infrastructure that were smuggled out, destroyed, or hidden just prior to the war, but have eluded US investigation, also falls into this category.

  4. Saying that the sanctions and inspections were successful as measured by actual weapons capability deterioration seems correct. The problem is that face saving part.

    People now have the luxury of saying that everything was going fine, that Saddam had no capability really, and that he was just bluffing. They have that luxury only because we invaded to remove doubt, though. It is no less true now than then that you can hide anything in that much desert. The way to save face would have been to have covert inspectors in there, or something like that. If a guy in Saddam’s position is going to posture as though he has a weapon, you’d better take him at his word.

  5. Er, top 6.

  6. Actually the weapons inspectors weren’t kicked out, they left of their own accord to avoid getting blown up when Clinton made it clear that he was about to Wag the Dog at Iraq (as indeed he did). The idea that they were kicked out was spread by the Feds as part of their propaganda campaign before the conquest of Iraq, and spread by a bunch of “reporters” who preferred to print what they were told rather than do searches on their own back archives.

  7. Here’s an idea. Hussein was trying to bluff not the US, BUT IRAN, into thinking that maybe, just maybe, he still had some WMD’s somewhere. It wouldn’t do, after all, to look weak in the face of Iran!

  8. “What rational reason would Saddam Hussein have for forgoing so much oil revenue?”

    7) The deterrence benefits of other countries, especially us and Iran, thinking he had a WMD arsenal.

    8) He believed he still had a usable WMD arsenal, because those beneath him told him what he wanted to hear. Saddam lived in a bubble comparable to the Fuhrerbunker, and the dozen or so people he talked to were about as straight with him as Keitel and Goering.

    smk, you forgot the part where Clinton ordered a bombing campaign against known and suspected weapons sites as soon as the inspectors pulled out of the country. It was called Operation Desert Fox, and appears to have succeeded in eliminating whatever WMD capacity Saddam still had in 1998.

  9. Re: “kicked out” — Yes, they were “withdrawn,” but they were done so after Saddam announced he would no longer cooperate with them; then, after they were gone, he said he wouldn’t let them back in … so that seems to me like a de facto kick-out. But maybe I’m just being Clintonian.

  10. …the sanctions/inspection combo sure worked better than most people (including me) thought, when measured solely by its intent to degrade Saddam’s weapons programs…

    You mean, like waging war on Iraq worked better than most people thought, when measured solely by whether or not we caught Saddam?

  11. 3) the sanctions/inspection combo sure worked better than most people (including me) thought, when measured solely by its intent to degrade Saddam’s weapons programs.

    In the short term. In the long term, Hussein was well down the path to getting sanctions lifted, was clearing millions on Oil-for-Food, and was, apparently, ready to resume work on NB & C at first opportunity. Seems to me that overall, economic sanctions have at best a mixed record.

    As for Hussein’s obfuscation, seemingly contrary to his best interests, I couldn’t guess, though ‘nuttier than a fruitcake’ may well sum it up.

    G

  12. These are all interesting theories explaining why Saddam might have wanted to give the impression of having WMD’s and/or not fully cooperate with the inspectors.

    But they all beg more or less the same question: okay, but in that case, why not just keep and/or produce the damn WMD’s? (Joe’s answer 8 begs a slight variation: why did his underlings destroy the WMD’s and then tell him they didn’t?)

    So far, I can’t think of any answer except the one that was implied in the first place: he was freakin’ kookoo. Don’t know if that’s the true answer, only saying that that’s what all these supposed answers come back to.

  13. “But they all beg more or less the same question: okay, but in that case, why not just keep and/or produce the damn WMD’s? (Joe’s answer 8 begs a slight variation: why did his underlings destroy the WMD’s and then tell him they didn’t?”

    Because the sanctions and inspections left the regime incapable of producing, or even maintaining, WMDs?

    Variation re: #8 – they didn’t destroy them, so much as let them fall into disrepair (again, because they were incapable of maintaining them), but didn’t want to bear bad news to the boss.

    You can’t just put a plague bomb in the fridge.

  14. Most of you above sound as smart as Condi and Rummy, and you can’t agree.
    Can we agree on this?: It’s a shame this report may be taken as evidence sanctions work.
    They don’t. Never do. Sanctions are war in slow motion and war doesn’t work either.

  15. Looks like it may have been an attempt to bluff the mullahs.

  16. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1167592004

    “Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the “guiding theme” of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible.”

    So pretend to comply until they are out of your hair, then start up again as soon as nobody is looking – yeah that’s a real success Matt.

    The success was Saddam’s, for pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.

  17. “…as soon as nobody’s looking?” When do you supposed everybody was going to stop looking at whether Saddam Freaking Hussein was developing nukes, Todd?

    There were no sanctions in place when Israel bombed Osiric.

  18. Todd — Well, nobody was “looking” after January 1999, and according to the report his capabilities actually *declined* from that date. And to be clear, the only “success” I’m talking about is the sanctions/inspections effect on Saddam’s weapons programs. One could certainly argue that not *knowing* you’ve helped wipe out the guy’s weapons systems takes quite a bit of the shine off of wiping it out in the first place.

  19. How is complying “pretending” to comply? Isn’t it complying?

    Was it a condition of the 1991 terms set on Saddam’s government that he had to want to disarm sincerely in his heart?

    Granted, Saddam’s regime didn’t fully comply, and then broke the agreement outright by obstructing the inspectors in ’98, but it does look like the subsequent airstrikes and later the post-9/11 retightening of sanctions did succeed in finishing the job of disrmament.

    Well, except for the part where Saddam was supposed to undergo a conversion and stop lusting for those long-range missiles and chemical weapons in his heart.

  20. I remember reading in various places that Saddam kicked out the inspectors because he claimed there were CIA agents among them, and this turned out to be true.

  21. The success was Saddam’s, for pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.

    Yeah, and that really worked out great for him, didn’t it?

    Why does all this need to be dissected? Saddam’s regime acted the way it did (neither fully complying nor successfully maintaining a weapons program) as a result of a peculiar mix of incompetence, wishful thinking, and disrespect for the will of the international community. You’d think we’d all be familiar with this cocktail by now.

  22. Saddam’s protest that the weapons inspection team had “spies” in it always made me laugh. The weapons inspection teams had the express purpose of searching through the country to ascertain the location, type, and quantity of his weapons. What does he think the word “spy” means? I was waiting for a decade for the UN to respond with “Spies? No shit!”

  23. “What does he think the word “spy” means?”

    reporting the results of the inspections to the US and Israeli governments exclusively instead of reporting to the UN Security Council.

  24. Steve M is right. Saddam has apparently told investegators that he was trying to convince Iran that he had WMDs. Iraq was very effective using chemical weapons against Iran (as well as the Kurds) during the Iran-Iraq war.

  25. In retrospect, doesn’t it seem silly to have been worried about Iran?

    The fact that someone attacked us with anthrax seems to have disappeared from our collective memory.

    If Saddam Hussein played a game of brinksmanship with the Bush Administration because he was afraid of Iran, then his strategy, if not completely irrational, was terribly misguided.

  26. “Well, except for the part where Saddam was supposed to undergo a conversion and stop lusting for those long-range missiles and chemical weapons in his heart.”

    The problem is to get someone to disarm in a verfiable manner. If it is not verifiable, and we know that the lust is still in his heart, and we know that he has a zillion square miles of desert to hide stuff in, the sanctions really only succeeded in making the inevitable invasion to force verfiability less costly for the invader.

  27. Joe,

    “Because the sanctions and inspections left the regime incapable of producing, or even maintaining, WMDs?”

    A. sanctions
    B. inspections

    Re: B. The inspections could only have that effect if the underlings more greatly feared being found out by the inspectors that they were following Saddam’s orders than being found out by Saddam that they were disobeying his orders. Who would you more fear being found out by?

    Re A, the sanctions did it. The implication there I suppose would be that the sanctions prevented the WMD scientists from having the technical means to maintain the WMD’s, either directly or by making Saddam’s regime too poor to buy them? I suppose that’s possible, but only if Saddam were so “out of it” as to not have any idea at all what was going on. And all these possibilities depend on Saddam being so “out of it” that not only was he out of the loop but each and every person who kept him out of the loop could depend on all the others to do so and continue to do so. If that were the case, why not just overthrow his ass?

    c,

    Again, if they were wishfully thinking and disrespecting the int’l community enough to not fully comply, why comply at all?

  28. C sez “Saddam’s regime acted the way it did (neither fully complying nor successfully maintaining a weapons program) as a result of a peculiar mix of incompetence, wishful thinking, and disrespect for the will of the international community.”

    Replace “Saddam” with “Bush” (and leave out the parenthetical stuff) and I believe this will be the Iraq war’s epitaph. Well done, C.

  29. Everybody nicely missed the point of my post: he was playing the west for suckers, waiting for the us to get bored/complacent so he could go right back to his old games. Which is exactly what would have happened if we had taken the French/UN/Kerry approach.

    This is not a vindication of the UN sanctions regime, it’s a refutation of it. It’s like putting a roach bomb in your kitchen, waiting 5 minutes, seeing there are no roaches then declaring success. Only what happens tomorrow when they’re all back?

  30. Let’s do a little thought experiment: Let’s say John Kerry’s stated reason for the authorization to war had come to pass: Kerry says he didn’t want war, he just wanted a credible threat of war.

    Now that we know that A) Saddam was buying off France, Russia, and China, and B) Saddam planned to get the sanctioned stopped at which point he was going to re-start WMD production, let’s think about the implications.

    First, the U.S., after having parked over 75,000 troops on Saddam’s border (they were there when Kerry signed the authorization) would have had to back down and withdraw. The Arab world would have seen this as a huge loss of face for the U.S., and a huge gain for Saddam.

    Second, the U.S.’s ability to re-deploy to the Gulf would have been greatly hampered. Can you imagine Bush going back for ANOTHER kick at the cat after withdrawing the first time after spending billions on a buildup?

    Knowing that, Saddam would have immediately begun pushing to have the sanctions lifted – and he would have had the full support of an emboldened France, Germany, and Russia. The U.S., having admitted it could not find WMD and having withdrawn from the region, might have capitulated. Even if not, the other countries and the U.N. may have simply agreed to drop the sanctions.

    So here’s where we’d be today: An emboldened Saddam in Iraq, still funding Palestinian suicide bombers, with fresh infusions of oil revenue. He would have been rebuilding his conventional military and WMD. A weakened U.S., lacking the will to oppose him again. A strengthened France, Germany, and Russia profiting from huge oil contracts in Iraq. Potential terrorist training camps in Iraq, and certainly funding for terrorist groups by Saddam. He also would have provided another market for North Korean missiles.

    Does that sound like a good result to anyone?

    This war was necessary, WMD or not. After 9/11, a dictator like Saddam sitting in the middle of the region producing terrorists could not be allowed to thumb his nose at the U.S. and rebuild his armaments.

    Oh, and Libya would still have its WMD, and we still wouldn’t know about the Khan network trafficking nuclear secrets – probably with Saddam as his newest customer.

  31. Todd Fletcher,

    Drop more roach bombs? 🙂

    Under your formulation the sanctions regime was doomed from the start, which basically means we should invade every nation whose regime we don’t trust. Unless the Iraq invasion was an “example,” in which case why wasn’t Afghanistan a good enough example?

    The sanctions regime worked as long as we were willing to keep it up as long as Saddam was in power. Having said that, I understand and acknowledge that, like drop roach bombs, that would have been problematic in various ways.

    Having said THAT, another item in the report was that Saddam’s reasons for wanting to eventually regain WMD’s had nothing to do with us.

  32. Pursuant to Dan H.’s point, it’s notable that when Saddam refused further inspections in early ’99, that immediately created tangible global momentum — led by the French, Turkish, and Russians — to ease sanctions further, rather than find a way to re-invigorate inspections. And it goes without saying (though it’s not always said) that Bush’s threat of war was the only thing that re-ignited enthusiasm for insepctions among the French, Russians, and (very broadly speaking) the American Left.

  33. Dan H.

    “First, the U.S., after having parked over 75,000 troops on Saddam’s border (they were there when Kerry signed the authorization) would have had to back down and withdraw. The Arab world would have seen this as a huge loss of face for the U.S., and a huge gain for Saddam.”

    And this would have been different how had the Congress rejected the authorization legislation?

    The fact remains that unless a Congressperson were of the mind to reject an invasion of Iraq no matter what, he would have little choice at that point but to grant the president the authorization. But you’re right that putting the troops there at that time and before asking for Congressional authorization did create a big problem and limited choices for Congress, as well as for the president himself.

  34. So called WMD should not be limited to dry accounting. Among them are all the tools of repression by Saddam.

    Add to the definition of WMD Ethnic cleansing which bean back in 1963, when the Baath Party sized power. The displaced Kurds, Turks and Christians were in the millions.

    The war in Iraq is a war against fascism. The fascist regime of Saddam has cost lives in the millions.

    Ken Shultz is right to remind us of the attacks of Anthrax. We would do well to refresh our collective memory.

  35. In your case, you’d do better to forget.

  36. It wasn’t just Iran — Saddam was very rational to be worried about his enemies — Syria and Jordon, Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, US forces in Saudi Arabia (the Sauds never liked Saddam either) and thats just outside the country — inside he had to worry about Kurds in the north, Shites in the South and several large sunni tribes that didn’t likke Saddam’s later rule at all but were keep in place by bribery and torture — he had every reason to bluff.

    In the end we’d be better with Saddam still in power and encouraging resistance from within — less civilians would have died, less damage to the infrastructure and less lisk of a complete societal breakdown that we are seeing currently, not to mention whole cities controlled by islamic mujaheedn…ohh and probably more Americans alive and home with their families or at least in Afganistan hunting down THE real Problem: that bin laden guy and his whole crew…

  37. Dan H.

    “First, the U.S., after having parked over 75,000 troops on Saddam’s border (they were there when Kerry signed the authorization) would have had to back down and withdraw. The Arab world would have seen this as a huge loss of face for the U.S., and a huge gain for Saddam.”

    And this would have been different how had the Congress rejected the authorization legislation?

    The fact remains that unless a Congressperson were of the mind to reject an invasion of Iraq no matter what, he would have little choice at that point but to grant the president the authorization. But you’re right that putting the troops there at that time and before asking for Congressional authorization did create a big problem and limited choices for Congress, as well as for the president himself.

    You are correct. The ‘trigger was pulled’ as soon as the buildup started. There was no credible way to withdraw, regardless of the results of inspections. But even if there had been, it’s now clear that inspections were worthless, because Saddam simply parked his WMD program waiting for the heat to go off him.

    So the real question becomes: “Was the buildup necessary?” Absolutely. Saddam was refusing inspections. The sanction regime was crumbling. His rhetoric was increasingly shifting to support the jihadists. Once a secular man, he had begun to embrace the language of jihad, supporting Palestinian terrorists, etc. It’s also clear that connections between his government and terrorists organizations, including al-Qaida, were growing.

    Had there been no buildup, and subsequently no war, the sanctions would probably be gone today, or at least in shambles. Saddam would be more dangerous than he was two years ago. There would have been no inspections. We’d still be debating whether or not he has WMD. Libya would still have its WMD program. Khan would still be selling nuclear secrets to the highest bidder. Zarqawi would be plotting his attacks from the safety of Baghdad. Saddam’s billions would be spent on efforts to destabilize the war on terror.

    This war was a terrible thing, which has as its sole redeeming factor the fact that all other options were worse.

  38. Spur,

    The threat posed to Saddam Hussein by the United States was more significant than the other threats and it was immediate. Considering that someone had recently used anthrax to attack the United States, it was incredibly irrational to play a game of brinksmanship with the Bush Administration over WMD.

    …of course, whether or not it was rational for the Bush Administration to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq, kill thousands of civilians and squander the lives of hundreds of American soldiers only to create a terrorist paradise and the perfect recipe for a civil war is another question entirely.

  39. Wait a second.

    Do you really believe the US intended to lift the sanctions when Saddam complied?

    Are you kidding?

    Of course, if you are that gullible, then Madeleine Albright should have cleared it up for you when she said the sanctions will not be lifted while Hussein is in power.

    Americans have this kind of bizarre willful ignorance when it comes to the Middle East.

    If Saddam disarms and invites inspectors – the inspectors were caught gathering information on how to assassinate Hussein and were reporting this information back to Western intelligence services – what prevents the US from claiming he has not done enough?

    A situation was created where Saddam had every incentive to disarm tell the truth about it and the US had every incentive to lie that Saddam was not in compliance. Guess what happened?

    Saddam disarmed and told the truth about it. The US lied that Saddam was not in compliance.

    Even a moron can see what happened clearly.

  40. If, as the report has indicated, Saddam’s weapons programs were basically kaput since 1991, why not allow inspectors to come in and see that, apply their stamp of approval, and get the oil revenues flowing ASAP, rather than waiting until 1997?

    Saddam had more than the US to worry about. I’m sure that he didn’t want his neighbor, and Hatfield to his McCoy, Iran to find out he no longer had WMDs or functional weapons programs.

  41. A theory to explain Hussein’s obstinate behaviour: He knew he had no intention of attacking the US. There was nothing for him to gain from attacking a vastly more powerful foe – and he thought that the US would understand as much. Basically, he failed to factor in the effect of Bush’s recklessness combined with many Americans’ irrational post-9/11 fear of “the enemy”.

    Dan H. writes:
    First, the U.S., after having parked over 75,000 troops on Saddam’s border (they were there when Kerry signed the authorization) would have had to back down and withdraw. The Arab world would have seen this as a huge loss of face for the U.S., and a huge gain for Saddam.

    The US says, “Either you’ll allow inspectors back in or we’ll invade your country.” Saddam does as he was told. The US doesn’t invade. And this is a loss of face for the *US*?

    Sure, there would be a problem if Saddam started acting up again once the troops had been withdrawn. But then Bush could have cited that old Texas saying, “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again,” and gone in guns blazing. He’s the one who limited his options in the first place.

    Libya would still have its WMD,

    The Libya deal was well on its way before the Iraq war began.

    and we still wouldn’t know about the Khan network trafficking nuclear secrets

    The Iraq war had nothing to do with A.Q. Khan’s activities coming to light.

  42. So, what is this “intellectual capital” to make WMD’s that the report claims he kept? Scientists on the payroll? If they’re talking about equipment, seems like that would be more than just “intellectual.” Instruction manuals?

    Pursuant to Koppelman, the sanctions never made sense in the first place (at least not if they were meant to be thought of as having a finite time period) if the idea were supposedly to create a situation in which it was impossible for Saddam to ever resume WMD programs. There’s literally nothing that could stop him once we gave him the seal of approval ended the sanctions and inspections. Whatever he “intellectual capital” he might have kept could theoretically have hastened his return to WMD rat-king, but this is entirely a matter of degree, a shade of gray. Anyone wanna be less lazy than me and tell me what details if any are known about this “intellectual capital” and whether it could or should be considered a breach of the sanctions/inspection requirements?

  43. What was Hussein thinking? He’s nuts is a plausible theory, but it seems to me that he was pursuing a rational strategy that didn’t work out in the end. IMHO, he was pursuing strategic uncertainty in his enemies (mostly us). The threat of poison gas and anthrax in the hands of terrorists was supposed to deter us from doing what we did until he could get the sanctions off his back and go nuclear…at which point he’d have a real deterrent. In other words, he was trying the North Korea and Iran route, but having lost an actual shooting war in 1991 placed him under a stronger sanctions and inspections regime than they currently face. Thus, he was behind them on the implementation curve.

    M. Albright US might say that the US would never have lifted sanctions, but the rest of the developed world – our nuanced traditional allies, as well as our new Russian friends – wanted to so they could trade for Iraqi oil and petrodollars. There were humanitarian reasons to get rid of the sanctions too, remember?

    Hussein was steering a middle ground between 1) open WMD programs that would have helped our case to keep him in his box and 2) actual compliance, which would have prevented reconstitution of the WMD programs after they were lifted or just degraded to the point of meaninglessness.

    Add to this his domestic and regional political calculus. After Desert Storm, he portrayed himself as the winner, having stood up to the US. Compliance would have undermined his goal of being the regional strong man. It probably would have also made him more insecure about being deposed by his more hawkish underlings.

    Short version – he was trying a prison break with a bar of soap carved to look like a gun.

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