Among the famous quotes attributed to JM Keynes, one that stands out is
When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir
I am reminded of this whenever I read discussions of what was in the minds of those who pushed us into the Iraq war. It’s regularly stated that the behavior of Saddam Hussein in obstructing weapons inspections led analysts to assume he had something to hide. I shared this view until late 2002, and was reinforced in this by the behavior of Bush and Blair, including the various dossiers they published and the push for UN Resolution 1441 – they acted like police who had their suspect dead to rights, and only needed a search warrant.
In November and December 2002, however, the facts changed. First Saddam announced that he would readmit UN inspectors, without restrictions on the sites to be inspected and that he would declare all his weapons. Then he proceeded to do just that, claiming to have no weapons at all. Meanwhile Bush and Blair suddenly started hedging about the nature of the knowledge they had declared. The same pattern proceeded right up to the outbreak of war. Time after time, some condition would be declared crucial by Bush and Blair (overflights, interviews with Iraqi scientists, out-of-country interviews with Iraqi scientists), the Iraqi government would agree after a brief delay and then new condition would be raised. As quite a few observers noted, the behavior was the same as that of the Austro-Hungarian government with respect to Serbia in 1914.
Given the change in facts, any unbiased observer would have concluded, correctly that the balance of probabilities favored the hypotheses Bush and Blair were bluffing and that there were no weapons of mass destruction in usable form. I drew precisely this conclusion at the time, though with the mistaken corollary that Blair would stick to his word and refuse to go to war once Saddam called their bluff.
If those facts weren’t enough, it was obvious that, if Saddam did have weapons he would use them in the early days of war, preferably before Coalition troops had entered the country. Thus, it was apparent by the first days of the war that (with probability close to 1), there were no usable weapons. The fact that the contrary belief prevailed for so long is testament to the power of faith in the face of experience.