Was it all a giant hoax?
Posted by aogTuesday, 06 May 2003 at 18:32 TrackBack Ping URL
Is it possible that the Ba'ath never really successfully built WMD? On the one hand, we know that the Ba'ath had and used poison gas so in some sense this is a WMD. But while such chemical attacks are nasty they're not what people normally think of as “real” weapons of mass destruction (even in Halabja the attack didn't kill as many people as a heavy artillery barage. The standard question is, if the Ba'ath didn't have WMD then why didn't they just demonstrate this to the UN inspectors? That depends on how clever you think the Ba'ath leadership was. Suppose that the Ba'ath had not yet successfully produced any WMD. What benefits would there be to opposing the UN?
  1. Set the precedent. While the Ba'ath might not have yet succeeded, perhaps they expected to in the future. It would look even worse to be open and then to suddenly clamp down. Better to be intransigent from the start. Not to mention all the practice in avoiding detection should one of the projects pan out and the wearing down of the will to inspect.
  2. Impress the neighbors. The Iraqi Ba'ath didn't live in a friendly neighborhood. If we couldn't tell if they really had WMD, perhaps their neighbors / enemies (is there a difference?) couldn't either. If one is looking for a deterrent, belief is actually more important than the weapons.
  3. Save face. Saddam Hussein may have judged that coming clean wasn't a good career plan. His popularity in the Arab world was derived primarily from his opposition to the West in general and the US in particular. To allow the UN to verify his compliance would likely have destroyed that popularity and influence.
  4. Blame the sanctions. Castro has demonstrated the efficacy of this technique. It provides a ready made excuse for any problems in Iraq. It's almost as good as Israel in that regard.
  5. Use the sanctions. For example, the oil for food program provided a scope for bribing huge swaths of the UN bureacracy. It's hard to see how any purely clandestine system could have moved that kind of money around so easily.
Looking at it the other way, what exactly was the downside to his defiance? The sanctions never bothered him or the Ba'ath. It keep the people poor and struggling and therefore less likely to revolt. It ended up degrading his military but quite frankly, who cares? It's not like the Army was going to save him if the US actually invaded.

I think that Saddam Hussein had the weapons or was close to having them. However, thinking about it I don't see that defying the UN even if he didn't was prima facie a stupid policy. But we have to weigh that against the plausibility that Saddam Hussein could actually be that clever.