Politics & Policy

Dissimulation Reigns

What on earth was going on in the mind of Saddam Hussein?

Attention focuses on what exactly went through the minds of the major players on the scene. When John Kerry voted to authorize military action by the president, did he expect such action to be taken? If he expected something else, what was it? A supererogatory resolution by the Security Council? If so, why did he not stress the need for it at the time?

As for Mr. Bush, when he and Mr. Cheney declaimed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, do we think he really believed this? If not, he went to extraordinary pains to behave as though he did believe it, which included going to war, of course. And before that, supporting detachments of U.N. inspectors who prodded about that huge country looking for WMDs until they were kicked out by Saddam Hussein. These inspectors were succeeded, at war’s end, by U.S. military investigators who reported every day on what they found, which was mostly nothing.

What is most interesting is the question: What on earth was going on in the mind of Saddam Hussein? A man who builds himself one hundred palaces has a high investment in longevity. But here was this autocrat in Baghdad teasing into combat the United States, which is the most formidable military power in the world. What was going through his mind? He had had a keen experience of U.S. military power only twelve years before. What was the Republican Guard supposed to come up with that would repel the invader? Weapons of mass destruction?

That is what was feared by the United States. Perhaps not nuclear weapons — these were thought to be inoperative, ever since Israel struck Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981. The talk was of chemical weapons and biological weapons. But not only were such weapons not deployed, the inspection team headed by Mr. Duelfer reports that they were not extant. So what, one repeats, was Saddam Hussein counting on that would permit him an uninterrupted lifetime in his palaces?

We have learned through Duelfer that Saddam Hussein was a super-confident scofflaw, perhaps the richest in history. Iraq’s oil production had been between 3 and 3.5 million barrels per day. When the trading ban was activated, in 1990, oil sales were cut off. But quickly there was a hue and cry that the primary victims of the embargo were Iraqi civilians. Along came the Oil for Food program, which allowed the sale of 2.1 million barrels per day of Iraqi oil as a means of generating income to feed those civilians.

We are talking about a great deal of money. Two-plus million barrels per day yields 766 million barrels per year. If the oil was fetching a measly $15 per barrel, we are talking about $11,490 billion. We know now that a great scandal was born. We don’t yet know how many profiteers were on the scene, but there is reason to guess that they were numerous, and that some of them were highly stationed and might at this moment be wearing red wigs and dark glasses to disguise themselves.

But Saddam surely knew who they were. His attitude toward the embargo was lordly in its arrogance. He reassured military leaders at a meeting in January, 2000, that he would have no trouble at all getting the matèriel he wanted: “We have said with certainty that the embargo will not be lifted by a Security Council resolution, but will corrode by itself.”

Was he ever right on that point. The Duelfer report is extremely informative in tracking down foreign agencies that violated the embargo and shipped sophisticated military equipment to Saddam. It quotes an Iraqi memo stating that the deputy general manager of the French company Sofema, a military component marketer, would be bringing to Baghdad a company catalog so that Iraqi officials could “discuss your needs with him.”

The principal suppliers were North Korea and Belarus. But here is a handy list of nations whose arms producers, scorning the United Nations, trafficked with Saddam Hussein: Jordan, China, India, South Korea, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Georgia, Poland, Romania, Taiwan, Italy, and Turkey. Oh yes, and there were two U.S. citizens doing a little business with Baghdad. They were Shaker al-Khafaji and Samir Vincent.

So we have an odd coincidence. The coalition powers, led by the U.S., believe that Saddam has weapons sufficient to repel the U.S. and to threaten other nations. Saddam thinks the very same thing. The U.S. acts on its assumption (it invades), and Saddam acts on the same assumption (he does nothing to abort war).

And a lot of countries whose merchants violated the U.N. embargo are angry with the United States for proceeding to war against a country whose threat against others could only have been realized by successful defiance of the U.N. embargo.


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