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February 7th, 2004

In the middle of a generally reasonable Newsweek article about the failure to find WMDs, I came across the following para

But if Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, why didn’t he come clean? After all, he could have given U.N. inspectors free rein; he could have allowed them to interview all of his scientists in private—even outside the country—and let them rummage through his palaces. Faced with war, wasn’t that the sensible option?

But, but …(lapses into stunned silence)

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  1. Kevin Slattery
    February 7th, 2004 at 09:06 | #1

    Huh? I must be missing the point of JQ’s criticism.

    After reading the Newsweek article, I think that it is obvious that the offending quoted paragraph is merely a rhetorical question demolished by the following paragraph in the article.

  2. February 7th, 2004 at 10:16 | #2

    Back when they were picking on Serbia the Spectator ran an article with an argument pointing out how for Serbia to roll over “reasonably” on those accords would have meant delivering themselves over bound hand and foot. It drew parallels with Austro-Hungarian demands on an earlier occasion. (The point has nothing to do with who is a “good guy”, if either, just with making oneself vulnerable when the track record suggests that this means worse trouble further down the track.)

  3. Factory
    February 7th, 2004 at 10:48 | #3

    My personal take on it was that Saddam believed that the UN inspectors had been infiltrated by US intelligence agencies and was merely using the search for WMD as cover for intelligence gathering. Given that there was most likely going to be a war regardless of what Saddam did, and that this type of thing had happened before, I don’t see this as odd behaviour.

  4. PK
    February 7th, 2004 at 11:51 | #4

    I was a pretty strong supporter of the war based on the WMD arguments. The evidence at the time was pretty convincing, and hindsight is a wonderful thing. However, in their absence, the strategic case for the war basically collapses.

    I think in the long-term, this error will cost the pre-empters dear. While the post-war euphoria is still high in the US, I think the public there will be a lot more sceptical about WMD claims and spending $100s of billions and lives in the future.

    We’ve had a pretty convincing demonstration that war never turns out as expected. The early pro-war arguments were based on strategy, while the anti-war ones were based on humanitarianism. Both sides turned out to be wrong, and we now have the bizarre situation of the pacifists having strategy on their side and the hawks having strong humanitarian arguments.

    In the end, almost everyone was wrong, but on balance it’s better to be wrong and save $100b and a couple of hundred allied lives.

    One point that I haven’t come across much yet is that Iraqi democrats seem to have tricked Western hawks into saving their country from oppression. If there’s one clear winner, it’s them. Perhaps other oppressed people could take a page from their book?

  5. February 7th, 2004 at 13:27 | #5

    A couple of points PK –

    I think the description of the peace movement allowed by hindsight is leaving out a level of the discussion which was central at the time, and strongly justified by what happened.

    We object to war as an instrument of policy per se, not for moral reasons (although these are powerful) but through pragmatic experience.

    War is not worth it. As an instrument of policy it is always so blunt, so destructive, so immoral, so illegitimate, so unpredictable it should not be used unless we are defending ourself and our allies against direct aggression. This is an obvious, timeworn homily – except we are having to learn it again.

    The political institutions of the Coalition have been degraded, governing cabals went insane, wider peace is threatened, a nation has had to militarise itself.. infrastructure has been pulverised.. US self belief threatened etc.. the politics is spinning out of control.. etc..

    And at the end, Iraqi “democrats” may have delivered their country to an oppression which is not just savage but historically regressive as well. Even the oil supply could end up less secure.

    The beast of war was let out of its cage a long time ago over Iraq. It all started with the support for Saddam’s attack on Iran. Everything else just follows..

  6. PK
    February 7th, 2004 at 17:44 | #6


    Some interesting points, and I largely agree with you.

    However, that war should always be avoided until aggressed against was generally proven wrong in the 20th century. The obvious example is the rise of Hitler, where waiting until the aggression came basically cost 10s of millions of lives and the destruction of Europe.

    In the world of WMD proliferation (which does and will exist despite the faulty Iraqi intelligence), these decisions are going to face us more and more. For all our high-tech wizardry, we’re still largely powerless against a nuclear arsenal.

    For example, if North Korea goes substantially nuclear, the cost to the West of any intervention against aggression could well be the destruction of Japan and South Korea. Once again, early intervention seems the more desirable path. None of the choices are good, however.

    Because of this, I fear the faulty intelligence on Iraq may stay our hand when it’s needed most. It was fear of another world war that Hitler and Japan exploited to build their military strength in the 30s.

    I hope you’re wrong about the Iraqi democrats. I’m sure you do too. Surely you wouldn’t want to win an argument at the expense of a nation’s freedom?

    I think it’s pretty hard to imagine how things could get worse (long-term) than they were. However, the point stands that they got what they wanted. We’ll have to see what the outcome is.

  7. February 7th, 2004 at 19:08 | #7

    “However, that war should always be avoided until aggressed against was generally proven wrong in the 20th century. The obvious example is the rise of Hitler, where waiting until the aggression came basically cost 10s of millions of lives and the destruction of Europe.”

    Actually, the 1930s experience reinforces the point. They had collective security arrangements in place, and the dictators were being aggressive against those from the mid-1930s on. That was the point at which diplomacy should have recognised that it was time to stop talking and apply direct measures (diplomacy isn’t the art of being tactful but of knowing precisely when not to be, “saying ‘good dog’ while looking for a stick”). That means more than just sanctions – though they did have the minor excuse of not knowing that sanctions only work as part of a larger scheme, that had been known since at least the US Embargo of the early 19th century, and the statesmen were being paid to know.

    None of this is hindsight. Chesterton died in 1936, and I have a collection of his essays with one that gives a remarkably clear eyed analysis of just where and how pacifism goes wrong. People knew at the time, only there were proto-PC people like Professor Joad who made a living proving there would never be another war. Until one day there was.

  8. eric bloodaxe
    February 7th, 2004 at 22:55 | #8

    The Brits were ready to go, after the germans took the Ruhr, but the french backed off.As for the WMD, the Bush attitude was that of Sam goldwyn, one of my favourite quotes:- ” I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with facts”.

  9. February 8th, 2004 at 00:33 | #9

    Well yeah. It’s also worth noting that pre-War Germany and Japan had significant industrial capalities, whereas Iraq – thanks in part to UN sanctions – was an economic basketcase. This is one of the reasons Saddam-Hitler comparisons strike me as somewhat asinine.

    Saddam’s perceived aggression was fiddlesticks compared with the annexation of Sudetenland, for instance. He was just a domestic thug with no illusions about world power, aside from giving the UN a tweak every now and again. (Al-Qaeda et al, however, is another matter, even though they’re starting small.)

    On the other hand, North Korea are erratic and seem to be on a hair trigger, so I don’t know what the hell is the best solution, and thus won’t pretend to punditize. If they do crack, however, the dynamic will certainly be more akin to terrorism (hyperterrorism?) than a conventional war. Perhaps the only thing staying NK is the knowledge that if they do lash out, they are dead meat.

    Whereas Saddam was an easy and desirable target, when all is said and done. I suppose the US is having this inquiry about the evidence now because it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

  10. February 9th, 2004 at 10:07 | #10

    actually everything turned out exactly as predicted:

    there never were any WMDs…this was pretty self evident, iraq was at its militarily weakest point in twenty years. the economy was horrible. they had no parts for machinery, cars, tanks etcetera. (actually put onto this by a UNSW history lecturer in 2002 but it was pretty easy to see this was the case)

    the US never thought there were any WMDs, nor is this why they went there. if i and anyone who bothered to investigate even the most recent iraq history knew this, of course the US intelligence knew this. theyd had on and off inspections. they have spy planes flying over, they have satellites, they have contacts, and probably even americans in the country before the war.

    the stated reason was weapons of mass destruction because they couldnt sell the real reasons to the idiot public. the public doesnt care about containing the middle east in the next fifty years, preventing future weapons of mass destruction. they only care about the now.

    who was going to contain iraq? the UN? hussein would always push inspections right to the point where he could just avoid invasion. the US called him on it.

    rational, informed people supported the war because a) hussein needed to be contained (he couldnt be allowed to use iraqi oil to remilitarize) and sanctions werent doing much to cripple him internally. he never would have been overthrown in a revolution, and b) the iraqi people would be better off afterwards.

    the ends justify the means, because what else does? (garret hardin)

    (btw, hussein wasnt going for controlling the world, just its oil supply. after kuwait, saudi was next, and ive been informed by saudis that in the early nineties iraq would have marched in with next to zero resistance. if the US hadnt intervened. for all everyone’s whingeing about the US, who else would stop these people…you?)

  11. derrida derider
    February 9th, 2004 at 17:16 | #11

    Umm, c8to, how do you reconcile “the [Iraqi] economy was horrible” with “sanctions werent doing much to cripple him”? Seems to me the sanctions certainly did cripple him. And if Saddam had the intent to dominate the world’s oil supply, and (according to you) the means to do so by invading SA in the early 90s, why didn’t he?

    And I do think your position – that the “idiot public” cannot be trusted with the real reasons why their children are having to kill and be killed – a strange one for somebody supposedly of libertarian views. Why then should such an idiot public be trusted with the right to speak and vote freely? Or perhaps you think that only “non-idiots” (that is, people you agree with) should have such rights?

    Having said all that, I’m pleased to see you’re not one of those now trying to rewrite history by saying “but everybody, not just us, believed he had the weapons”. A lot of people believed he couldn’t possibly have any significant ones on precisely the grounds you outlined.

  12. February 9th, 2004 at 23:39 | #12

    that was a bit vague – i meant to say sanctions did nothing to cripple him internally. he was still living it up in iraq, with a stranglehold on the nation, while iraqi children starved.

    they were effective in curbing his desire to invade other nations.

    i will have to look up some statistics on the number of people dieing because of the sanctions. im going to go out on a limb here and say im pretty certain it was more than died in the invasion and occupation so far.

    i agree my views on democracy are ill formed. im essentially libertarian, being an individual the only thing that counts is individual freedom. whatever state provides the maximum amount of freedom i support. my problem with democracy is that most people are really really stupid, and ignorant. im not an elitist, i dont think im better than anyone, or that my life is worth more, i just think most people have serious difficulty running their own lives, and cant be trusted with running a country.

    the other problem with democracy is mob rule. imagine a democracy of 5 million people of one race who decide to kill 1 million people of the other race in the state. this is democratic. now imagine israel.

    i like the idea of a republic where individual liberties are enshrined and its hard to overthrow these civil liberties. the *idea* of the united states is good. its less good in practise (poor levels of education, high crime and poverty etcetera, a corrupt political system)

    i dont have any problem with the public speaking freely, but maybe we should have a test before people can vote. maybe ask them some basic logic questions, or questions about the voting system. shame on us that we would insist on some level of education in democracy.

    finally, to return to iraq. to answer the question “why didnt he?” is because the US went to war and drove him out of kuwait. by killing iraqi soldiers. those who think war never achieves anything are fools. (derider didnt claim this, but it was hinted at elsewhere)

    anyhoo, thanks for your thoughtful comments derider…

  13. February 9th, 2004 at 23:41 | #13

    actually…another error.

    the second paragraph should be “they were effective in curbing his ability to invade other nations.”

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