January 13, 2004

Pollack on the Iraq WMD Issue

Ken Pollack has a must read piece up in the Atlantic. In particular, read the section "What We Thought We Knew" in relation to the whole Bush lied meme. Also, from Pollack's analysis of the Kay Report, in the "What We Think We Know Now" section, this snippet is worth checking out:

"Iraq made determined efforts to retain some capabilities for biological warfare. It maintained an undeclared network of laboratories and other facilities within the apparatus of its security services, and as Kay put it, "this clandestine capability was suitable for preserving BW expertise, BW-capable facilities, and continuing R&D—all key elements for maintaining a capability for resuming BW production." To disguise its biological-warfare programs Baghdad had scientists working on overt projects that were closely related to proscribed activities. "

All you public international lawyers out there...does this a material breach of 1441 make?

Pollack also analyzes Saddam's thinking and motivations, ie. why risk military onslaughts in the face of what might well prove to be a pretty de minimis WMD program:

"Saddam's behavior may have been driven by completely different considerations. Saddam has always evinced much greater concern for his internal position than for his external status. He has made any number of highly foolish foreign-policy decisions—for example, invading Kuwait and then deciding to stick around and fight the U.S.-led coalition—in response to domestic problems that he feared threatened his grip on power. The same forces may have been at work here; after all, ever since the Iran-Iraq war WMD had been an important element of Saddam's strength within Iraq. He used them against the Kurds in the late 1980s, and during the revolts that broke out after the Gulf War, he sent signals that he might use them against both the Kurds and the Shiites. He may have feared that if his internal adversaries realized that he no longer had the capability to use these weapons, they would try to move against him. In a similar vein, Saddam's standing among the Sunni elites who constituted his power base was linked to a great extent to his having made Iraq a regional power—which the elites saw as a product of Iraq's unconventional arsenal. Thus openly giving up his WMD could also have jeopardized his position with crucial supporters.

Furthermore, Saddam may have felt trapped by his initial reckoning that he could fool the UN inspectors and that the sanctions would be short-lived. Because of this mistaken calculation he had subjected Iraq to terrible hardships. Suddenly cooperating with the inspectors would have meant admitting to both his opponents and his supporters that his course of action had been a mistake and that, having now given up most of his WMD programs, he had devastated Iraqi society for no reason."

There are also some recommendations for how we should better handle intelligence going forward.

Pollack concludes:

"Finally, the U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way that we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways."

I would add, in Pollack's first sentence, the phrase "the extent of" between the word "about" and "Iraq's WMD." That aside, I agree with Pollack's sentiments. In a perilous world where we will face future counter-proliferation style challenges--the integrity of our intelligence must be respected by key allies in the international community.

Listen, I think a lot of intelligence services got egg on their faces on Iraq, ie. we weren't alone. Still, we should "demonstrate the we understand our mistakes" to faciliate building a coalition the next time one is required.

But let's be careful about how we define what were "mistakes." Let's not go to the opposite extreme and say Iraq had nothing of concern on the WMD front. The Kay Report already disproved that. Pollack, to some extent, makes that clear in this article.

Anyway, read the whole thing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at January 13, 2004 01:00 AM
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