Thursday, September 19, 2002


At the moment, the debate on Iraq has entered a near-flatline state. The pressure on Sammy has not relented at all, since it was all from the USA. Only the most demented optimist would think Bush will back off; the best Saddam can hope for is that the situation does not deteriorate.

Saddam is playing for time. As Steve Den Beste said, democracies lose interest. Whether it is because of a desire to see the best in people, or poor attention span, whatever. The fact is that we have an unlimited ability to want to move on, pay the mortgage, help the kids with their homework. It’s bloody hard to do the workaday stuff if your mind is occupied with seething rage and bloodthirsty dreams of revenge. So you put it to one side, and soon the edge comes off.

The mind of a dictator is not like that. It’s likely Saddam has moved from clinical paranoia to that interesting and rare place so few people reach; they really are all out to get him. So he doesn’t lose focus. He has maintained absolute power for over 20 years, and left to his own devices will never removed, until he either makes a mistake, or is removed by external forces. In the Arab world, this is seen as winning. To simply maintain power becomes a cause in and of itself. Saddam has outlasted everyone who went against him, except for the fellow dictators like Assad, who dropped off the twig by himself.

So let’s assume the inspection game starts again. It is reasonable to think this time around, the inspections will be much more robust, with greater powers. The team will be larger, by at least a factor of five. Assume helicopters, powers to enter anywhere, anytime unannounced. Add intensive satellite imagery, and all the intelligence gathered over the years from defectors, spies inserted after the war, and new defectors. It is possible the new inspectors will demand and get the right to accept the defection of anyone one the spot, along with their family. This will be a new mine of information likely to produce up to date locations of new installations.

It is difficult to imagine Saddam will allow any realistic troop presence to accompany the inspectors. The affront would be too great to bear, and besides, foreign troops stamping around Baghdad might make the locals uppity.

So what’s the problem? This all sounds like a good deal, and the best shot yet at finding the various WMD caches Sammy-boy has stashed in the back yard.

Well, yes. But what happens if the inspectors find something?

Suppose this process spins out for another year. Don’t laugh, it’s quite conceivable. This gives the Iraqi nuclear program another year in which every back will be bent to the task of acquiring and completing the construction of at least two, and probably four or more nukes.

Now suppose the Inspection team gets a hot tip: there is a secret underground base beneath Presidential Palace 16c, and there are two nukes there. The team plans and executes a lightning raid, gets inside the bunker, and finally locates the bombs. Now we have absolute proof that Iraq has pursued and achieved nuclear weapons. What’s next?

In my opinion, a whole bunch of dead inspectors, that’s what.

Consider the situation from Saddam’s point of view. Once the nukes are found (or plague bombs, or Ebola Kool-Aid), there are no more alternatives. There is a massed war machine at the borders, and a US Administration that probably won control of the Congress. Once word of this gets out, all bets are off. The bombing will start, the stealth fighters will reduce the air defences to a fond memory.

Suddenly all the inspector will go incommunicado. Iraqi officials will express ignorance, evade, delay. Then there will be a cover story, probably a “citizen’s uprising against the infidel” or some such. They will promise to investigate, maybe even execute a few dozen poor schmos who will confess on television to save their children from execution. This will buy a few weeks. There is no shortage of Western voices who will insist on “natural justice” and that the UN must investigate.

Saddam knows he will only live a few weeks at best, once the war starts. So he must delay the start of hostilities until he is capable of holding a gun to the West’s head. That will probably be a WMD smuggled into an unknown US city. He will present Bush with a fait accompli, and demand the end of all UN sanctions and hostilities.

The same people who are today insisting there is nothing to fear will be among the voices clamouring that Bush concede. Will a US President give the order to attack, knowing that it could result in the death of possibly millions of his citizens?

Frankly, I don’t know. My preference is for the immediate start of the war, before the Iraqi scientists have a chance to enter a crash process to achieve one working nuke. I don’t give a damn for due process, and there is no obligation to respect the rights of the Iraqi regime. This is not a court of law, and most especially it is not a court of US law. There is no presumption of innocence. This guy has form. Any cop will tell you: if they’ve done it once, they’ll do it again.

UPDATE: Lileks has a different line, on the same problem.
UPDATE UPDATE. Jane Galt has more, using Texas as the model.

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