15 Feb 2004
by David R. Wells and
Lawrence H. Wells
15 Feb 2004
Back in April 2003 our question was whether or not Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat to the United States. We wrote:
" We think that the final answer won't be known until after the fighting is over. Only then will we find out if Saddam Hussein was hiding nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, ballistic missiles, or terrorist bases. Our suspicion is that he been hiding chemical and biological weapons."
Much to our surprise it now appears that Saddam Hussein probably was not hiding chemical or biological weapons, though he apparently was trying to hide the capability to produce them once international inspections ended. He was also concealing a long range ballistic missile program, though none of the long range missiles had progressed beyond the design stage.
Even Dr. David Kay, the weapons inspector who believed more than most that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), has now publicly stated that in early 2003, they probably did not. He now believes that there are no WMDs in Iraq. He was interviewed at length on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. on 25 January 2004, but the full interview suggests the intellegence services did not feel pressured to change their reports for political reasons.
How did so many people, ourselves included, get it wrong? First, let's go to the history book:
We did not believe that Saddam Hussein's regime had an active nuclear program after 1998. At least this part of our analysis was correct.
There was good evidence that the 1991-98 weapons inspection regime had indeed shut down the nuclear program. We did not believe that Saddam was attempting to buy uranium ore from Niger. We saw images of the documents in question, and they were indeed fairly simple and transparent forgeries. We saw this on TV, well before the war. Essentially, Ambassador Wilson was right, even though he may have a political axe to grind. (he is an advisor to President Bush's political opponent, Sen. John Kerry)
Further, whoever leaked the fact that Wilson's wife is a CIA agent should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, even if that person is named Karl Rove. Unfortunately we have only to look at the case of former Sen. Torricelli (D-NJ), who also leaked the names of CIA agents, to know that prosecution is unlikely.
Given Saddam Hussein's past history with chemical weapons, his concealment of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, the inability of U.N. arms inspectors to account for all of Iraq's chemical weapons, and the ejection of the U.N inspectors in 1998, we concluded that Iraq was continuing to conceal chemical weapons. Iraq's denials simply didn't seem credible. If Hussein went to all that trouble to conceal weapons from the inspectors, why would he destroy them after they left? If really had destroyed them, why didn't he furnish any proof? Iraq's Stalinist bureaucracy surely would have documented the destruction of these weapons.
At the moment we can only speculate on the answers to these questions.
Regardless of the reasons for Saddam's actions, a serious question remains: How did U.S. intelligence get it so wrong?
One possible reason is that our intelligence agencies have few human spies who could have penetrated Saddam Hussein's government. This forced us to rely on "technical" intelligence (communications intercepts and the like), on reports from Iraqi defectors, and on foreign intelligence services who might have been better able to penetrate Hussein's government. Each of these sources has significant limitations. "Technical" intelligence can't tell us much about things that are not communicated electronically; Iraqi defectors may either be out of the decision making loop, or they may have an axe to grind; and foreign governments may also have their own agendas. For example, according to press reports published in the Los Angeles Times and the Newark Star Ledger (5 December 2003) Israeli intelligence was a "full partner" in producing the flawed reports of WMDs in Iraq. Israel may have had a vested interest in emphasizing the Iraqi threat, since Saddam Hussein's regime was financing the suicide bombers currently plaguing Israel.
Another problem might be selective reading of intelligence. We suspect that the Bush Administration may have seen in the reports exactly what they wanted to see, and ignored the rest. This is a very human failing. Mr. Bush certainly had preconceived notions about Saddam Hussein. Several other members of his administration, notably Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, had been pushing for a second war in Iraq since the end of the first war in 1991. PBS's Frontline documentary "The Long Road to War" had a good description of this. Such preconceived notions could lead people to believe only the reports that fit their existing world view, and ignore those that did not.
Whatever the reason, this has been an intelligence failure of gigantic proportions. It is hardly the first. In just the recent past U.S. intelligence failed to provide any warning of the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, it failed to detect nuclear weapons development activities in Pakistan and Libya, and it failed to detect the plot that lead to the September 11 2001 attacks. We think that this must be investigated fully, despite the Bush administrations objections. The investigation must not be allowed to degenerate into political blamestorming, however. We support the call by Dr. David Kay, Sen. John McCain, and others for a full independent investigation. If we do not solve the intelligence problem we will have equally serious failures in the future.
We didn't expect the Iraq's army and air force to be any match for their U.S. counterparts, and unsurprisingly they were not. While a few Iraqi army units fought well, many simply disintegrated. Even the vaunted Republican Guard didn't put up much of a fight.
Much credit should be given to the US military units that did the fighting, including (but not limited to) the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 1st Marine Division. These units should be commended, from their leadership all the way down to the lowest ranking soldiers and Marines. Since the end of the "major combat operations", we have learned of the nightmarish logistical problems that they had to deal with. That the US Armed Forces prevailed so decisively under such demanding circumstances speaks well for the these units.
Winning the war was actually the easy part of the job, though; winning the peace will require far more effort. Small groups of Ba'athist holdouts and foreign "Jihadist" fighters continue to use terror attacks to disrupt our efforts to build a democratic Iraq. Defeating these people will require very different forces and tactics than those used during the war.
The answer to this question is tricky. In the short term it probably has distracted the U.S. from its war against al Qaeda; but in the long term it may be an extremely important step towards victory in the War on Terrorism, because it may begin to address some of the root causes of Arab terrorism.
One reason we're told Arab terrorists hate the United States is because we are allied with some authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes. If we can help Iraq become truly democratic, we may begin to reverse this negative image.
One problem with the war in Iraq is that it may have diverted military and intelligence resources away from the hunt for al Qaeda. We still consider Osama bin Laden and his followers the primary targets, and certainly sending over 100,000 troops and numerous intelligence assets to Iraq diverted attention from our primary task. Now that Saddam Hussein has been captured, we hope that attention will be returned to the hunt for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
An interesting side effect of the invasion of Iraq is that al Qaeda and other jihadist forces are now converging on Iraq. We suspect that the US government did not expect this, but it may not be entirely bad. These terrorist forces are now fighting the US military rather than attacking American civilian targets in the US. Unlike American civilians, the US military can shoot back, and has had some success in doing so.
There is a Big Lie going around in some circles. It goes something like this:
"Saddam Hussein was a creation of the United States. The United States helped bring him to power. It armed him, and covertly supplied him with the chemical weapons he used during the Iraq war."
The size of this lie is truly stunning. Let's go back to the history book:
It's become fashionable in some circles to compare the Iraq war to the Vietnam War. For example when total U.S. fatalities in Iraq reached 500 last month, we saw a press report which noted that this equaled U.S. fatalities in Vietnam between 1961 and 1965. While technically accurate this statistic is extremely misleading. Very few U.S. troops were in Vietnam for most of the 1961-1965 period. The first 3,500 combat troops did not arrive in Vietnam until March 1965, and troop levels did not approach those now in Iraq until late 1965. It would be more meaningful to compare casualties in Iraq to those in Vietnam at the height of war, 1966 to 1972. During that period U.S. fatalities totaled nearly 58,000. This translates to an average of almost 700 per month or 160 per week.
Some other dissimilarities between Vietnam and Iraq:
In short had the Vietnam war gone like the Iraq war, in 1965 our troops would have entered Hanoi to the cheers of the local population, and Ho Chi Mihn would have been captured a few months later.
While President George W. Bush may have been a victim of poor intelligence about Iraq, he has shown little distressingly interest in uncovering the reasons for the intelligence failures and correcting any problems that are found. He only reluctantly agreed to set up a commission to determine the causes of the intelligence failure. His less than enthusiastic support for the September 11 fact-finding commission does not give us much confidence that he will support this commission. Outside the U.S. his heavy-handed diplomacy ruffled quite a few feathers. (We must admit that some of those feathers needed to be ruffled, though.) The reconstruction effort in Iraq does not appear to have been well planned, and is not as effective as it should be. The Bush administration at least seems to understand that we cannot afford to fail, but they have yet to find a recipe for success.
Mr. Bush has thus blundered on a gigantic scale, and has given little indication that he intends to change his ways. We can't tell whether he was intentionally lying to us, or was simply wrong in his analysis, (we suspect that latter) but either way, the effect is the same.
Does this mean we should have a regime change in November 2004?
Unfortunately none of the Democratic candidates as yet offer a credible alternative. For example all criticize the Bush Administration's prewar diplomacy for failing to win the support of several important countries, notably France, Germany, Russia, and China; but none have shown how they would have won the support of these countries. It's easy for them to say they would have gotten the support of these countries, but actually doing it would have been very difficult. Given the military and commercial links that these countries had with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, we doubt it was possible to win their support. Further, many of the Democratic candidates also got it wrong. Senator Kerry, Senator Edwards, Rep. Gebhardt and Senator Lieberman all voted for the war, despite the fact that they had access to intelligence data. If President Bush is guilty, then so are they.
The "anti-war" candidates, Howard Dean and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, have offered no credible plan for succeeding in Iraq now that we are committed. Both say they would internationalize the reconstruction effort, but they have not said how they would do this. They also have not answered a more basic question: Why do they believe an international effort would be any better? The United Nations has a very poor track record in similar situations. The former Yugoslavia is only one of many recent examples of the U.N.'s inability to deal effectively with major conflicts.
We will thus not endorse any major party candidate.
UN Resolution 1441 The full text at the US State Department.
Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 The library of Congress site with the full text of the Congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq war. You can even see how your Congresscritter voted......
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) An American non-profit television network.
The NewsHour Forget ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and NBC; this is the best television news program in the USA. Their great strength is their in-depth interviews with important people. This is not soundbite journalism with the celebrity of the moment.
Frontline: PBS' documentary series
Nova: PBS' science series
BBC World Service Despite the richly earned criticism of the Hutton Report, the BBC is still among the best news organizations in the world.
National Public Radio A non-profit US news source. They're a bunch of flaming liberals, but they provide in-depth coverage that commercial radio news can't match.
The Star Ledger A wholly unremarkable fishwrapper based in Newark, New Jersey. It is notable only because of its coverage of New Jersey. Editorially, it is mainstream liberal. Corporately, it is owned by the Advance Publications, which is owned by media baron Sy Newhouse.
Islamic Republic News Agency The official news agency of the Iranian government. If you can overlook the strident anti-American rhetoric you'll sometimes find useful regional information here.
www.agonist.org A personal web site with news headlines and a forum about the war in Iraq.
www.methaz.com A site with satellite pictures of Iraq
United States Naval Institute Some news about the war in Iraq, and also some technical information. Their monthly magazine Proceedings provides excellent coverage of the US Navy and Marine Corps, along with history and opinion.
Globalsecurity.org Technical information about weapons being used in the war.
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