Tuesday, August 05, 2003

There's a new rationalization theory circulating in DC on why we've yet to find those weapons that Saddam certainly had before the war. Jesse Taylor, who finds it intriguing, calls it the dumbshit theory, and you can also find it relayed here by a surprisingly credulous Josh Marshall, who describes it in brief:

Saddam had actually shuttered his WMD programs but intentionally kept the world guessing to produce the deterrent effect of having people believe he still had them.

There's only one problem with this theory: just before the war, Saddam Hussein admitted inspectors, and gave them (for him) unprecedented levels of cooperation, in an effort to support his overt and repeated statements that the programs had been shut down. By the time the United States attacked, the only significant problem the inspectors had left was that they had been unable to interview Iraqi scientists under preferred conditions. (The US has since been able to interview many of the same people at length -- one, Amir Saadi, has been in solitary for months -- and they apparently have nothing to tell. One is still being imprisoned until he will echo the administration line on those damn aluminum tubes). And he submitted disclosures, the ones the US repeatedly derided as useless, which actually described what little suspect technology he seems to have had -- the laughable drone aircraft program, and the al-Samood missiles which exceeded their permitted range by a few miles, if you left off the warhead.

If this was attempting to convince the world that he did have weapons, how might he have tried to convince them that he didn't?

Oops, sorry. There's another problem with the theory. Saddam wasn't always such a dumbshit. See, for instance, Jim Henley's takedown of a Kenneth Pollack article from before the war, pointing out that Pollack himself repeatedly points out instances where Saddam made some threatening move or other, then pulled back in response to a counterthreat -- somehow taking that as evidence that Saddam was the kind of madman who could not be deterred. The invasion of Kuwait -- the canonical dumbshit move -- happened only after he briefed the American ambassador and seems to have sincerely believed that he had a go-ahead. And even in the first Gulf War itself, he had chemical weapons and was deterred from using them by American threats.

It's worth recounting, by the way, why Saddam might have had legitimate reasons to be a bit leery of the inspectors. His first inspection crew was led by David Kay, who gave intelligence agencies hostile to his regime a free hand to use the inspection regime for their own purposes. By the by, Kay was more recently Dubya's source for the bogus claim that the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported that Iraq was six months away from having a nuclear bomb back in 1991; no such report exists. And he's now in Iraq running our current WMD search, working directly for the CIA this time, and promising some surprises for skeptics... any day now.

So, why believe this dumbshit theory? What intrigues Josh Marshall, so far, is that it's based on the testimony of an anonymous Iraqi described by the AP as having "daily contact" with Saddam, though he wasn't "part of the national leadership". And what reason could this ex-butler, or whatever, possibly have to tell a lie?

(link on Kay's bogus claim via Eschaton).

Note added: This post's getting linked more than usual, so to fill in a detail: The scientist who's apparently not telling the right story on the aluminum tubes is Mahdi Obeidi -- the same one who had centrifuge parts buried in his garden. I'm going by the WaPo report I linked above on the scientists in general, which reports that "Obeidi said the tubes were for rockets, as Iraq had claimed before the war," but that "CIA analysts do not believe he has told the whole truth", and he has left Iraq under "CIA auspices".

And yet more: Josh Marshall confirms that Obeidi is being held against his will -- in Kuwait, it turns out -- until he tells the CIA what it wants to hear.


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