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August 20, 2008

Life Before Blugs

Looking through old email, I found this, which is something about Iraq's WMD that I sent to friends in summer, 2003. I think it holds up pretty well, and includes some details I'd forgotten about and have never stuck anywhere here.

And beside the content itself, you can also see why my friends encouraged me to start a blug: partly they may have believed other people would like to read this kind of stuff, and partly they wanted to stop getting emails like this.

* * *

The "missing weapons" really aren't anything like the mystery the US media has made it appear. In fact, the only mystery is why so many people believed the Bush administration's claims. Not only have they not found anything, they're not going to.

I know this is confusing, given all the nonsense that's in the news everyday. So here's an explanation of what actually happened in the past, plus some informed speculation on the present, that should clear things up:

Before the Gulf War, Iraq produced huge amounts of chemical weapons, including sarin, mustard, and VX nerve gas. The world knew about the sarin and mustard because they had been used on Iran, but did not know about the VX. Also unknown to the rest of the world was that Iraq had an offensive biological weapons program. Lastly, Iraq had an extensive nuclear weapons program, apparently funded mostly by Saudi Arabia, with the approval of the Reagan administration. (Iraq's main uranium enrichment technology seems to have been purchased from apartheid South Africa. And of course South Africa had the technology because Israel had given it to them, in one of the Israeli government's most brilliant foreign policy maneuvers. I guess their logic was: hey, if Israel can't trust a government based on race hatred, who can we trust?)

After the Gulf War, Iraq was required to hand everything over. At this point Saddam Hussein seems to have made a decision to (1) give UNSCOM the weapons everyone knew about -- ie, the sarin, mustard, etc.; (2) secretly destroy all the actual weapons that everyone didn't know about -- the VX and anthrax, etc.; while (3) secretly holding onto the documentation that would allow Iraq to restart the programs in the future.

UNSCOM got to work destroying the chemical weapons that Iraq gave it, but immediately realized Iraq was not telling the truth about the extent of its WMD programs. Over a period of years, Iraq admitted, under great pressure, to more and more and more. For instance, they fairly quickly told UNSCOM they'd produced VX, and in 1995 they told UNSCOM that they'd developed offensive biological weapons. Each of Iraq's admissions was accompanied by claims that they'd secretly destroyed these weapons in 91.

On this issue, it's not the case that Saddam's regime said "I've got nothing, but I'm not saying where it went or what I did with it." On the contrary, Iraqi officials took UNSCOM to where they claimed the weapons had been destroyed -- mostly right next to where they had been produced. UNSCOM verified that indeed large quantities of anthrax, VX, etc. had been destroyed at these locations, but couldn't verify exactly how much.

Then, in the summer of 1995, Hussein Kamel, the son in law of Saddam and the guy who'd run all the WMD programs, defected to Jordan. He told UNSCOM and the CIA that Iraq had indeed destroyed the weapons and had nothing left except documents, etc. (The US and Rolf Ekeus, the head of UNSCOM, decided to cover this up, a cover up that lasted until February of this year.)

With Kamel's defection, Iraq's game was essentially over. Saddam's regime took UNSCOM to Kamel's farm and pointed them to huge amounts of documentation hidden there -- while, amusingly enough, claiming that Kamel had hidden it on his own and the rest of the government had no idea it was going on. Although the Iraqi regime didn't know what Kamel had told UNSCOM, at this point they again reiterated that the VX, anthrax, etc. had been secretly destroyed in 91.

At this point, eight years ago, Iraq probably had nothing but the smallest scraps of its WMD programs left. However, Saddam's regime was now hoist on its own petard. It had admitted to producing the VX, anthrax, etc., and claimed it had destroyed it, but couldn't prove it.

So, this was the main origin of the "missing" chemical agents, anthrax, etc. described in the final UNSCOM reports that the Bush administration kept hyping. It was always fraudulent. The US knew some of the "missing" materials had been destroyed, knew that Kamel had said they'd all been destroyed, and also knew that even if they hadn't been destroyed, they would have long ago decayed to the point of uselessness. The fact is that despite Iraq's recalcitrance and lies, UNSCOM had been extremely effective, as Kamel himself said. Although Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. lied about everything concerning Iraq in the lead up to the war, it was probably on this issue where they were the most brazenly mendacious.

As of 2002, the only real question was what Iraq had been up to since the inspectors had left in 1998. Once the inspectors returned, the answer pretty clearly was what it had seemed to be before they got there: nothing much. This is not to say Iraq was necessarily totally clean -- they may have continued very low level research (as opposed to actually producing anything).

Lastly, it's not true that before the war all the world agreed that Iraq retained weapons. I spoke to people at the UN before the war who said that France and Russia -- both of which had people in Iraq, unlike the US -- had believed for some time that Iraq had nothing.

Why, then, was there tension between Iraq and UNSCOM, particularly after 95? (There really wasn't with UNMOVIC.) Well, it isn't too hard to imagine why there would be.

A) From right after the Gulf War though the Clinton administration, the US government repeatedly stated that the sanctions should never be lifted, even if Iraq complied with the necessary UN resolutions, as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power. As Saddam's regime said many times, there was therefore no incentive for them to comply. In fact, a year ago Tariq Aziz was arguing that they shouldn't let inspectors back in, because the US was going to attack no matter what. It looks like he was right.

The real issue for the US government, I think, wasn't aggression and it wasn't the banned weapons. After all, the Carter administration encouraged Iraq to invade Iran, and the Reagan administration helped Iraq use chemical weapons during the war. Rather, the issue was that no one be allowed to be seen to defy the US and get away with it. This obviously became even more important to the Bush administration after the Sept. 11th attacks. Somebody had to get it, pour encourager les autres.

B) Perhaps most importantly, the US used UNSCOM as cover for espionage against Iraq to gather information for military strikes and assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein. When Iraq accused the US of this, the US media scoffed, but it was true. In fact, as time went on this may have been the prime US interest in UNSCOM. People from UNSCOM say that when Kamel was interviewed by the CIA, they didn't care at all about the Iraqi weapons programs, but wanted to know as much as possible about Saddam's security detail. And as Rolf Ekeus said, the US tried to use UNSCOM to provoke crises that would "form the basis for direct military action." This is what happened before Operation Desert Fox, when the US pushed UNSCOM to withdraw from Iraq.

So it's not at all surprising that Iraq wasn't completely welcoming to UNSCOM. What's actually surprising is that they revealed as much as they did -- for example, they even let UNSCOM personnel look through their army headquarters and examine their military doctrine. Generally speaking, countries are not overjoyed to let spies roam at will through their country, seeking to assassinate their leader.

C) Internal Iraqi politics. Saddam Hussein's main day to day concern wasn't the US -- it was challenges to his power from people within Iraq. Like all gangsters (and all political leaders) he couldn't allow himself to look weak, or it would invite attacks. Thus, while generally he seems to have acquiesced to UNSCOM materially, his regime produced lots of bluster for domestic and regional consumption.

D) Simple pride. No one likes people from other countries coming to where they live and telling them what to do -- particularly if many of the people are English and American and you're in the middle east. A recent story about Kamel quotes a friend in Jordan as saying "Kamel was very bitter about [the destruction of the weapons]... They thought Saddam Hussein had eliminated the nation's best defense. They were bitter." Also, the main scientist for Iraq's chemical weapons program recently said that the regime's behavior could be attributed to pride.

So, what appears to have happened is sort of complicated, but it's not THAT hard to understand. Saddam screwed himself, but not in a way that's so irrational it doesn't make any sense.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at August 20, 2008 02:33 PM

Jon, don't you get it?

Blogs are supposed to be about which conservative blogs have recently posted material that inadvertently reveals them to be racists. Then people can make clever remarks about these posts in the comments.

Posts like these are too long and no one will want to read them!

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at August 20, 2008 03:03 PM

Blogs are supposed to be about which conservative blogs have recently posted material that inadvertently reveals them to be racists. Then people can make clever remarks about these posts in the comments.

Hopefully there's room for all kinds, just as there's room for movies about jiggling breasts and car crashes, AND little personal films that quote obscure government documents.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2008 03:16 PM

Just goes to show ya, cooperating with the Bush family members gets YOU a date with the hangman. (or worse)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 20, 2008 05:17 PM

And yes, I concider Bill Clinton a member of the Bush family.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 20, 2008 05:19 PM

That's quite the e-mail. I started a blurg mainly for the same reasons, to spare friends and family e-mails and article roundups. Regardless, that e-mail has an impressive amount of detail, provides a clear timeline, and explains the gamesmanship nicely.

Posted by: Batocchio at August 20, 2008 06:07 PM

Jon - don't you get it?

Actually Jon, I think you do in the main (thank heaven for WMD obsessives), but equally I don't think you've quite got all of it yet. Whilst you've got it 95% spot on, the 5% that is missing (or 'unaccounted for' in UNSCOM/UNMOVIC speak) is still very very important.

Let's start here - paragraph 10 of NSD 54 signed by GHWB on 15 January '91:

10. Should Iraq resort to using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, be found supporting terrorist acts against U.S. or coalition partners anywhere in the world, or destroy Kuwait's oil fields, it shall become an explicit objective of the United States to replace the current leadership of Iraq. I also want to preserve the option of authorizing additional punitive actions against Iraq.

Now the thing is that Saddam actually did do a lot of this that he was explicitly warned not to do. And that's how come some of the weapons came to be unaccountable.

In the early days of the inspection process it was really only the Scuds that Saddam had a hard time explaining away. He knew he'd ordered the use of a few with CW warheads fitted, and he didn't/couldn't/wouldn't admit to this, mainly for fear of US retribution. Back then no-one was even aware that there had been a BW programme so that wasn't a problem for him. But the Scuds were. So he had to destroy some unilaterally and in secret, going outside the 687 mandate, in order to attempt to cover his tracks. If he had let UNSCOM do its work properly in the first place they would have found a hole in the accounting straight away, which as far as I am aware, would have been nine Scuds and nine CW warheads. Now the US didn't want to press him publicly on this, being as it would have revealed a) untruth during GWI and b) a blatant disregard of veterans owing to the fact that CW was never investigated as being a potential cause of GW syndrome based on the false premise that no CW was 'officially' used at the time.

As the years went by other issues were thrown into the mix which conflated the reasoning for maintaining the sanctions and inspections regimes and prolonged the punishment of Iraq as a whole. During this time Iraq tried to claim that some of the Scuds had been used up in a missile interception project (although could not document the fact), and the US tried to claim that VX was found on warhead fragments despite complete Iraqi denial.

Both at the end of the day and in reality, Iraq WAS punished punitively, mainly by the intrusive regimes as already mentioned; and the then-current leadership of Iraq WAS replaced just as was set out by GHWB, albeit by his own son.

The only real problem for us mere mortals here is this - connecting A to Z directly can sometimes be a highly convoluted and tortuous process. The other problem is that very few people can be bothered to go all the way through the steps to find the bottom line.

Posted by: Simon at August 20, 2008 06:36 PM

Sorry to nitpick, but one maybe hoisted "by" or "with" one's own petard, but not on it.

Posted by: Bob at August 20, 2008 06:39 PM

Sorry to nitpick, but one maybe hoisted "by" or "with" one's own petard, but not on it.

Huh. Thanks for that -- I never realize a petard was a bomb. I always thought it was some kind of rope or something, hence the "hoist" part.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2008 06:52 PM

I wonder if "hosed" is a corruption of the usage of "hoist" in that saying.

Posted by: darrelplant at August 20, 2008 07:22 PM

I'm fascinated by the people who were unable to conceive of any reason Saddam wouldn't like weapons inspectors other then "he must've actually had weapons to hide".

Points A) and B) rely on facts some people might not know, but I'm quite baffled that some people weren't able to at least guess at C) and D), which I would think you'd be able to do if you had, well, ever read the paper or interacted with human beings before.

Posted by: Christopher at August 20, 2008 09:36 PM

"Hoist on your own petard" is from Shakespeare, and it's got an interesting meaning that we've largely forgotten. It means "lifted into the air by your own fart".

At least, this is the interpretation I've read. It makes sense to me, I like it, and I'm sticking with it. Jon, I encourage you to do the same!

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at August 21, 2008 07:36 AM

The petard was one of the first shaped charges and was used to blow out massive doors and gates. About the size of a human head it was propped up against the door (hoisted) on top of two sticks the third leg being the target door. "Hoisting your own petard" means blasting down your own door or destroying your own defences, opening up your own breech.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 21, 2008 11:46 AM