Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Mild Exchange

Me and Dan Darling recently went a few rounds of minor sparring. There was really more agreement than disagreement at the end of the day, but it is a topic worth revisiting because it is crucial to the legacy of the Iraq war that these issues get their full hearing in the court of public opinion. As such, I will reprint the initial post that sparked the minor controversy, as well as Darling's response, my counterpunch, and Darling's subsequent rebuttal. Here is the first volley:

As praktike noted earlier this morning, the final report from Charles Duelfer, the head of the former Iraq Survey Group, was released last night. In addition to the findings on Syria that praktike highlighted, there were some other conclusions of interest. These paragraphs caught my eye:
In the addendum, posted last night on the C.I.A.'s Web site ( and reported by The Washington Post, [Duelfer] also comes to largely the same conclusion that international weapons inspectors and some European nations argued before the war: that Mr. Hussein's weapons ambitions were defeated by inspections.

"U.N. sanctions and intrusive Unscom inspections dampened the regime's ability to retain its W.M.D. expertise," he wrote. "During the course of the 1990's, staffs were directed to civilian enterprises. Concomitantly, attrition through emigration, retirement and natural processes occurred."
That's right. Overzealous proponents of the policy of regime change in Iraq have gone to such great lengths to malign, belittle and dismiss the sanctions/inspections regime, as well as the officials in charge of the process, that what gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that they worked. Remarkably so. This article, which appeared in Foreign Affairs last year (now on the CFR website, no subscription required), offers a closer look at the majorly underappreciated inspections/sanctions tandem. Some key paragraphs:

Public debate has focused on the question of what went wrong with U.S. intelligence. Given the deteriorated state of Iraq's unconventional weapons programs and conventional military capabilities, this is only appropriate. But missing from the discussion is an equally important question: What went right with U.S. policy toward Iraq between 1990 and 2003? On the way to their misjudgments, it now appears, intelligence agencies and policymakers disregarded considerable evidence of the destruction and deterioration of Iraq's weapons programs, the result of a successful strategy of containment in place for a dozen years. They consistently ignored volumes of data about the impact of sanctions and inspections on Iraq's military strength.

The United Nations sanctions that began in August 1990 were the longest running, most comprehensive, and most controversial in the history of the world body. Most analysts argued prior to the Iraq war -- and, in many cases, continue to argue -- that sanctions were a failure. In reality, however, the system of containment that sanctions cemented did much to erode Iraqi military capabilities. Sanctions compelled Iraq to accept inspections and monitoring and won concessions from Baghdad on political issues such as the border dispute with Kuwait. They also drastically reduced the revenue available to Saddam, prevented the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses after the Persian Gulf War, and blocked the import of vital materials and technologies for producing WMD.

The unique synergy of sanctions and inspections thus eroded Iraq's weapons programs and constrained its military capabilities. The renewed UN resolve demonstrated by the Security Council's approval of a "smart" sanctions package in May 2002 showed that the system could continue to contain and deter Saddam. Unfortunately, only when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003 did these successes become clear: the Iraqi military that confronted them had, in the previous twelve years, been decimated by the strategy of containment that the Bush administration had called a failure in order to justify war in the first place.
Yeah, sure, but Hans Blix has a funny accent. And he hates America.

responded here. I issued my rebuttal to Darling here, and I would highly recommend perusing the well-informed comments to that post which helped to clarify my position, as well as Darling's. Darling responded to my rebuttal here, but I think I will let it end with that. In his defense, I think some of the back and forth was due to misunderstanding (especially the "editorializing" comment), and he was gracious and courteous throughout. I don't mean to suggest otherwise in any way.

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