Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Most Underrated

There's an intriguing, though mildly disturbing, double-length article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs that offers a rare, behind the scenes glimpse into Saddam Hussein's inner circle - complete with a retracing of Saddam's thinking on a number of relevant issues. I say 'mildly disturbing' because this inner circle seems reminiscent of one of Dante's mythical circles as described in the Inferno. Now I've had odious, unbearable bosses before, but, uh, nothing like this guy. Think the boss in Office Space if that movie was directed by Tarantino and Scorcese.

But the information unearthed in the article has obvious value. For example, the article attempts to provide an answer to the question: Why was Saddam so uncooperative with inspectors if he indeed had no WMD? The answer: Saddam didn't think the US would invade Iraq and if it did invade, Saddam didn't think the US would prevail. Thus, he wanted to maintain the perception that he did have WMD - or at least ambiguity around this issue.

When it came to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them. Coming clean about WMD and using full compliance with inspections to escape from sanctions would have been his best course of action for the long run. Saddam, however, found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having WMD, especially since it played so well in the Arab world.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians in 1987, was convinced Iraq no longer possessed WMD but claims that many within Iraq's ruling circle never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelons of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth. According to Chemical Ali, Saddam was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have WMD but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration might encourage the Israelis to attack.

By late 2002, Saddam finally tilted toward trying to persuade the international community that Iraq was cooperating with the inspectors of UNSCOM (the UN Special Commission) and that it no longer had WMD programs. As 2002 drew to a close, his regime worked hard to counter anything that might be seen as supporting the coalition's assertion that WMD still remained in Iraq. Saddam was insistent that Iraq would give full access to UN inspectors "in order not to give President Bush any excuses to start a war." But after years of purposeful obfuscation, it was difficult to convince anyone that Iraq was not once again being economical with the truth.

The entire article has so many facets that it's clearly worth a more in-depth treatment - which I may attempt at a later time - but I wanted to briefly highlight a couple of passages that touch on an aspect of the Iraq war/WMD story that I have argued on numerous occasions: sanctions worked. Not only did sanctions prevent Saddam from acquiring/re-equipping Iraqi WMD programs, but they also contributed to the severe decay and degradation of his conventional forces.

Another factor reduced Iraq's military effectiveness: sanctions. For more than a dozen years, UN sanctions had frayed the fiber of the Iraqi military by making it difficult for Baghdad to purchase new equipment, procure spare parts, or fund adequate training. Attempts to overcome the effects of the sanctions led Saddam to create the Military Industrial Commission as a means to sustain the military. The commission and a series of subordinate organizations steadily promised new capabilities to offset the effects of poor training, poor morale, and neglected equipment. Saddam apparently waited for the delivery of wonder weapons that would reverse the erosion of his military strength.

A captured Military Industrial Commission annual report of investments made in 2002Ð3 showed more than 170 research projects with an estimated budget of about 1.5 percent of Iraq's GDP. The commission divided projects among areas such as equipment, engineering, missiles, electronics, strategic weapons, artillery, and air forces. One senior Iraqi official alleged that the commission's leaders were so fearful of Saddam that when he ordered them to initiate weapons programs that they knew Iraq could not develop, they told him they could accomplish the projects with ease. Later, when Saddam asked for updates on the nonexistent projects, they simply faked plans and designs to show progress.

Consider, for example, decisions made based on the decrepit state of the Iraqi air force:

The best example of this focus is the prewar condition of the Iraqi air force, which did not launch a single sortie against the coalition during the invasion. According to the commander of Iraq's air force and air defense force, Hamid Raja Shalah, Saddam simply decided two months before the war that the air force would not participate. Apparently, Saddam reasoned that the quality and quantity of the Iraqi air force's equipment would make it worse than useless against coalition air forces. Consequently, he decided to save the air force for future needs and ordered his commanders to hide their aircraft. This decision was yet another indication that Saddam did not believe coalition ground forces would ever reach into the heart of Iraq. He was sure his regime would survive whatever conflict ensued.

To implement Saddam's decision to preserve the air force, the Iraqis moved most of their aircraft away from operational airfields. To hide them from prowling coalition air forces, they camouflaged planes in palm groves or buried them in the sand, from which coalition forces dug them up after the war. Saddam's refusal to use the Iraqi air force is reminiscent of his behavior during Desert Storm, when he ordered a significant portion of the air force to flee to Iran. In 2003, Saddam ruled out Iranian sanctuary, telling aides, "The Iranians are even stronger than before; they now have [part of] our air force." Even with his regime under dire threat, Saddam's thoughts were never far from the regional power balance. [emphasis mine throughout]

I know that sanctions/inspections are labeled by some hawkish types as "soft" and "weak" approaches to solving international crises, but given the relative successes/failures as well as the costs/benefits of these more restrained tactics vs. the Bush administration's reckless bellicosity, I think we need to reconsider what are, in effect, misconstrued biases.

The strength of a given policy is in the results - not the body count. And if we're judging results vis a vis Iraq, I think I'd take the impressive sanctions/inspections regime over the "shock and awe" fiasco.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?