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Which Saddam ?

March 25th, 2006

Currency Lad seems to be down on someone called Saddam Hussein. It’s not clear who’s being referred to here. Certainly not the Saddam Hussein who collected $300 million from the Oil-for-Food fund, courtesy of the Australian government statutory authority/official privatised monopoly AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board). That’s a beatup of no interest.

I’ve generally been an admirer of Currency Lad, but this is truly dreadful stuff. Either he should stop insulting his readers with moralising about Saddam* and present an honest realpolitik line, or he should condemn without reservation those who financed Saddam’s arms purchases, and those who either encouraged them or looked the other way.

To be clear in advance, this includes all those who colluded in evading sanctions, whether they were from France, Russia, the US or elsewhere. However, as we now know, AWB operated on a scale that dwarfed the petty operators about whom we heard so much from the pro-war lobby until recently.

* Or anything else. If you’re willing to swallow this, your opinions on ethics aren’t worth considering regardless of the topic.

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  1. April 19th, 2006 at 11:34 | #1

    Majorajam,
    He was an intelligence officer, not regional chief. His main point is that intelligence reports were either not requested or abused – this supports the view, from the Downing Street Memos, that WMD was a pretext and that the real reason, as Pillar believes, was “…the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.”
    This is (IMHO) a humanitarian reason – with WMDs forming the legal pretext. See my arguments above.

  2. April 19th, 2006 at 11:35 | #2

    Katz,
    Have a look through the list of countries on the UNSC and tell me how many of them would want to have voted in favour of removing a repressive regime by force, not matter how oppressive.

  3. jquiggin
    April 19th, 2006 at 12:47 | #3

    AR, Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously, which certainly suggested a willingness to go to war with Saddam if he failed to readmit inspectors and destroy any WMDs he had.

    On the more general point of a war to remove a repressive regime, Howard, Bush and Blair all said that they would not pursue such a war, whcih suggests that the answer to your question is “zero”.

  4. Katz
    April 19th, 2006 at 13:15 | #4

    AR,

    My point precisely.

    The first responsibility of leaders in wartime is to pick fights that they can win.

    It ill-behooves great powers and super powers to act quixotically.

    Why blunder into a no-win situation when there is so much at stake?

    Why add stupidity to mendacity?

  5. April 19th, 2006 at 13:57 | #5

    Katz,
    Militarily, they did win – and in a very short time. What they have cocked up is the peace.
    .
    PrQ,
    Why it passed is that, according to many interpretations, it does not authorise military action, despite threatening serious consequences.

  6. jquiggin
    April 19th, 2006 at 14:10 | #6

    AR, it’s hard to see how military action would have been avoided if Saddam had refused to readmit the inspectors, or harassed them to the point that they withdrew again.

    But we’re dealing with the real world in which the US violated the resolutions and is now reaping the disastrous consequences. The idea that the US “cocked up” the peace, presupposes that there was a workable plan to win it. It’s clear that, short of committing the half-million troops who were required but not available, no such plan existed (even that one was not guaranteed to work, but might have had a chance).

  7. gordon
    April 19th, 2006 at 15:03 | #7

    Regarding the scale of sanctions avoidance, which Prof. Quggin says is “dwarfed” by the AWB kickbacks, lets not forget the US-tolerated illegal oil sales to Turkey and Jordan. These were on a large enough scale to dwarf AWB’s efforts, as indicated by the following quote from a CNN story of 2/2/05:

    “Estimates of how much revenue Iraq earned from these tolerated side sales of its oil to Jordan and Turkey, as well as to Syria and Egypt, range from $5.7 billion to $13.6 billion.

    This illicit revenue far exceeds the estimates of what Saddam pocketed through illegal surcharges on his U.N.-approved oil exports and illegal kickbacks on subsequent Iraqi purchases of food, medicine, and supplies — $1.7 billion to $4.4 billion — during the maligned seven-year U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.

    The Government Accountability Office estimated last July that Iraq earned $5.7 billion from smuggling oil out of the country, especially to Jordan, Turkey, and Syria between 1996 and 2002″.

    If Prof. Quiggin’s point is that the Currency Lad post is unbalanced and one-sided, I agree. But let’s not get too excited about Australia’s share in creating the monster – we were always bit players in a sanctions scenario which we didn’t create and which was misconceived from the start.

  8. April 19th, 2006 at 18:20 | #8

    PrQ,
    Which is precisely why he did not do either of them. It is also hard to see why inspectors would have made a difference – for two reasons. Firstly, if he had WMD he already had several years without inspectors to hide them and plenty of warning of the consequences of them being found. Secondly and relatedly, and as I have said before, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    The chances of the US simply saying “Oh, that’s OK then”, packing up and going if the inspectors had found nothing would have been zero. Saddam still had sources of funding (both through corruption of the UN programs and through illegal sales of oil) and the sanctions would have required continued monitoring if they were not to be dropped. With or without sanctions Saddam continued to be a threat to his own people and his neighbours. He had two sons that he was grooming up to take his place when he died. As with Syria, there was no real end in sight.
    Simply hoping for an end to the situation, particularly when there is large quantites of the world’s oil within a couple of day’s tank drive was not, IMHO, a live option.

  9. Katz
    April 19th, 2006 at 22:23 | #9

    AR,

    “Militarily, they did win – and in a very short time. What they have cocked up is the peace.”

    Nonsense. There never a period of peace. The war simply evolved from one stage to another.

    In fact, the actual invasion phase was more peaceful than the later occupation phase because Saddam’s regular forces frequently dissolved into the landscape.

    On a broader issue, I’m struggling to work out what is the point of your argument. If one were in complete agreement with you, what would one be agreeing with?

    And what is the purported significance of your argument?

    Is it nothing more than the conclusion that Bush was sincere, but stupid?

    Have you devoted your efforts to arguing that Bush paved his road to hell with good intentions?

    If so, how do you argue that your self-appointed task been worth the effort?

  10. April 20th, 2006 at 01:05 | #10

    Katz,
    The war was to remove Saddam – or have you forgotten this? That was successful.
    From your argument am I to understand that WWII did not finish until the last Japanese soldier had stopped fighting? I think this happened some time in the late 1970s. Fell free to correct me if I got the date wrong. There are a few history books that may need rewriting.
    .
    On the broader issue (as you put it) I thought the point of this was to have a discussion – raising points and evolving positions as new information comes to hand and other opinions are raised. My position on this is changing as further information comes to hand, my evaluation of that information affects my position and as your arguments are made. If that has never happened to you in a discussion then we are in a dialogue of the deaf.
    As for my position – on the basis of the available information, I believe the war was justified. Whether Bush, Blair or Howard or anyone else was sincere or not is not proven on the basis of that information.
    A planning failure for phase 2 of a project does not mean that either phase 1 or the entire project could not be regarded as justified.
    Whether they are going to hell is between them and whatever God may exist.
    There are my cards. Let’s see yours.

  11. Majorajam
    April 20th, 2006 at 04:24 | #11

    Andrew Reynolds,

    He was an intelligence officer, not regional chief.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. He was the most senior officer in charge of all elements of intelligence gathering and analysis for the Middle East at the time of the Iraq war and before. He reported directly into the Deputy Director of Intelligence. Are you suggesting he wasn’t well placed to know of which he speaks?

    His main point is that intelligence reports were either not requested or abused – this supports the view, from the Downing Street Memos, that WMD was a pretext and that the real reason, as Pillar believes, was “…the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.â€?
    This is (IMHO) a humanitarian reason – with WMDs forming the legal pretext. See my arguments above

    Ok, so WMD was a pretext despite a deluge of lies to the contrary that continue to this day, yet as an article of faith we are to 1) be OK that the decision makers falsely misled us into this misbegotten war, and 2) guess in the face of a menu of more diabolical options that their motives were actually the spreading of liberal politics and economics in the region. Is this how the argument goes? I suppose while we are doing this we have to suspend our knowledge that the decision makers in question (the relevant ones, i.e. the Bush administration) have shown contemptuous neglect of the poor and disadvantaged whenever they’ve had the opportunity (and many times by opportunities of their own making).

    A short list would include the speed by which they responded to Hurricane Katrina (Bush left his vacation in half the time to pass injunctions against taking a vegetable off of life support) and a summary of their budget priorities which include deep cuts to Medicaid (the sole health insurance for the poor and, just by coincidence, lobby-less), cutting food stamps, deep cuts to grants that go to the collegiate tuition costs of most needy and well qualified (the Pell grant), while making permanent dividend and capital gains tax cuts which flow almost exclusively to the richest of the rich. You would also have to throw in some of their more notable international efforts to express their disdain of the powerless by trying to keep sub-Saharan Africans, South East Asians, etc. unawares of the potentially life saving benefits of a condom.

    I could go on ad infinitum, but I have a more pressing question on my mind: where do you get this boundless optimism? I’m sure it could be put to better use because this altruistic motive you posit is so full of manure, it must take otherworldly willpower to lap it up like it’s fillet mignon. All I can say is, chow down- you most certainly can have my share.

  12. Katz
    April 20th, 2006 at 08:34 | #12

    “As for my position – on the basis of the available information, I believe the war was justified.”

    There’s that pesky old word agains AR — “justified”.

    It’s pesky because it conflates two concepts:

    1. That the action was well-intended regardless of results, i.e., Bush’s God is going to judge him on his good intentions.

    2. The action was productive of fruitful results.

    Yes, Saddam was removed. No argument about that, but does that fruitful result seem likely to counterbalance. But:

    a. turmoil and civil war in Iraq.
    b. the extension of the influence of Iran in the region.
    c. encouragement of islamic extremism worldwide.
    d. diplomatic isolation of the US.
    e. the price in blood and treasure of the venture.
    f. loss of Republican control of US politics.
    g. encouragement of isolationist sentiment in the US.

    Which of these do you believe are significant costs for the removal of Saddam?

  13. gordon
    April 20th, 2006 at 11:59 | #13

    And while we are on the subject of corruption, here is a quote from the Independent newspaper 19/9/05:

    “The sum missing over an eight-month period in 2004 and 2005 is the equivalent of the $1.8bn that Saddam allegedly received in kick- backs under the UN’s oil-for-food programme between 1997 and 2003″.

    The reference is from money missing from the funds supposed to be used for equipping an Iraqi army, plus money missing from electricity, transport, interior and other ministries.

    So the corruption of public institutions to which Majorajam draws our attention was mirrored by plain, old-fashioned theft. A lot of people (not the Iraqi population, of course) have done well out of the war. Maybe that’s where we should be looking for the “real reasons”.

  14. April 20th, 2006 at 15:25 | #14

    Sorry, Majorajam, but if we were all as pessimistic as you seem to be perhaps coming down from the trees was too much of a risk and we should have just been nice to each other up there and all would have been well.
    You seem to confuse me with a dyed in the wool Bush supporter.
    .
    Katz,
    Both 1 and 2 and a through g were only known after the event. Unless you are God, those were not known before. Try to look at the situation before the invasion – you cannot know results until after actions.

  15. Katz
    April 20th, 2006 at 17:21 | #15

    AR,

    More linguistic tricks. Will you never tire of them?

    It is a trivial debating point that no human “knows” what is going to happen in the future. For example, if I put a gun to your head and pull the trigger I don’t know that the appropriate chain of explosive and propulsive events will happen until they happen. Sensibly, humans’ inherent lack of knowledge about the consequences of future events doesn’t stand up well in a court of law. Were I to pull the trigger I’d be rightly convicted of murder, despite my lack of ‘knowledge” about the consequences of my actions. My defence can’t be “I’m innocent because I’m not God.” It’s laughable.

    Analysis, including historical analysis, has been developed and refined over time to test and to systematise our knowledge of how the world works. Concepts such as insurgency, balance of power, revolution in rising expectations, isolationism, have been developed by historians to conceptualise situations like those encountered in Iraq. Debate then occurs about the power of these forces and priorities in different circumstances, such as the situation in Iraq.

    The challenge the US faced in Iraq was by no means unprecedented. Certainly there were unique features. But these unique features were deemed by many analysts to be merely incidental. These analysts had seen failures arise from similar circumstances and concluded, rightly, that failure would dog Bush’s Mesopotamian adventure.

    Interestingly, the neocons attempted to counter by pointing to a purported unique feature, the so-called “revolution in military affairs”. Neocons asserted that military dominance would redress the balance in the favour of the US. Sadly for the neocons and their careers, they were proven to be quite wrong. It is noteworthy that many ex-neocons are now jumping ship. Better late than never, I suppose.

    Thus AR, your scepticism about being able to make a fairly accurate statement about the results of certain actions is just wrong-headed.

    Bush listened to the wrong experts. They gave him advice that intelligent analysts thought to be risible long before the first shots were fired in Iraq.

    If only Bush had been half as sceptical as you are.

  16. April 20th, 2006 at 23:28 | #16

    While we are on the point, Katz, perhaps you would like to say what someone agreeing with you would be agreeing with – a challenge you passed up when raised before.

  17. Majorajam
    April 21st, 2006 at 01:15 | #17

    You’ve misunderstood Andrew Reynolds. I had you not as a Bush supporter, only as exceedingly keen to rescind Ockham’s Razor (it’s an if, rather than if only if relationship). Incidentally, human experience on the ground and in the trees is consistent on one point: hallucinations typically presage demise. The prognosis for the deliberate variety is only more dire.

  18. April 21st, 2006 at 01:42 | #18

    Majorajam,
    Perhaps you are misunderstanding Ockham’s razor in this instance. “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate”, which translates as “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”.
    There is no need to interpose a conspiracy (even one involving those nasty people, Katz’s neo-cons) to go to war (or even to hold down the poor and dispossessed) where the evidence supports a simpler explanation – in this instance I would think the simpler explanation would be that they went to war on incomplete and inaccurate intelligence and it might even have been (shock, horror) for good reasons – if not necessarily the ones stated.

  19. Majorajam
    April 21st, 2006 at 07:06 | #19

    Therein lies the rub Andrew Reynolds. The simplest answer is not defined as one acceptable to a simpleton. Another if, not if and only if relationship. No, there is no evidence to support the idea of a noble deception gone awry, which probably explains why you haven’t offered any. In fact, there is no evidence of nobility to be found in any of this administration’s policy initiatives. There is however, plenty of evidence of moneyed interests calling the shots and getting a tidy return on investment. If it would shake the scales from your eyes, I’d inventory these- they are indeed legion- however, I get the distinct feeling this is a forlorn hope.

  20. Katz
    April 21st, 2006 at 09:23 | #20

    AR

    “There is no need to interpose a conspiracy (even one involving those nasty people, Katz’s neo-cons) to go to war (or even to hold down the poor and dispossessed)”

    Where the hell did you get this idea?

    Yes there was a conspiracy to lie about actual motives to the publics of the US, the UK and mionr members of the COW.

    But my major argument, as it has been since before the beginning of the invasion, is that the planning was incompetent. I’ll leave it for moralists and finger waggers to declare on moral rights wnd wrongs. I’m solely interested in cans and can’ts.

    My objection to the conspiracy of lies, noted above, was that the whole episode was so badly botched. If I’m to be lied to I don’t want to be insulted with clumsy lies.

    Interestingly, last night after my previous post I caught up with an episode MacNeil/Lehrer that I recorded from SBS. General Keane was taking the heat for Rumsfeld. He claimed that all of the High Command, including himself, had signed off on the war plan, not just Rumsfeld.

    Remarkably, he said that they had not expected Saddam to dissolve his forces into an insurgency. Saddam blindsided them. Moreover, he said somerthing to the effect that since Vietnam the US Armed Forces had “purged” discussion of insurgency from their war planning.

    He’s the quote:

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june06/rumsfeld_4-18.html

    “GEN. JOHN KEANE: We, meaning the senior military leaders. It’s conventional to blame the intel people; I don’t blame them for that. We were not inside the thinking process of Saddam Hussein.

    But we have 35 years of judgment and experience that we should have applied here. And it’s our fault. I blame myself for this. I was party to it. We didn’t see it coming.

    The second thing is we put an army on the battlefield that I had been a part of for 37 years. The truth of the matter is: It doesn’t have any doctrine, nor was it educated and trained, to deal with an insurgency. And that insurgency challenged us, as I knew it would for that first year.

    After the Vietnam War, we purged ourselves of everything that dealt with irregular warfare or insurgency, because it had to do with how we lost that war. In hindsight, that was a bad decision. But my point is, is that you cannot…”

    This admission is breathtaking. If ever Santayana’s oft-quoted aphorisim about repeating the past is applicable, it is applicable in this case.

    Here, AR, is firm proof of my thesis about incompetence.

    This mistake is not justifiable, it is tantamount to criminal negligence.

    A person agreeing with me would agree with that conclusion.

  21. Hal9000
    April 21st, 2006 at 09:53 | #21

    Purblind ignorance of counterinsurgency warfare seems to be a condition built in to the genetic makeup of the US military, Katz. In Vietnam they refused to take any notice of the lessons of the Malayan Emergency – the only significant example of victory over a major insurgency and right next door. Now they’ve purged the corporate memory of the lessons of Vietnam. I suspect it has something to do with all the trade fairs flogging fancy weapons the generals and admirals attend, and all the free hospitality consumed. Counterinsurgency is very low-tech, high-labour.

    An alternative, but not mutually exclusive, theory is that they listen too much to the Israelis, who are making a hamfisted job with a multiple of the troops on the ground available to the US in Iraq, a fraction of the insurgent-supporting population, and a much poorer-armed lot of actual insurgents.

    I hear on Radio National that General Shoomaker’s Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife – Lessons of the Malayan Emergency is a best-seller in Pentagon circles these days. A bit late.

  22. Hal9000
    April 21st, 2006 at 09:54 | #22

    Oops. The author of the book is John A Nagl – the forword is by the good General.

  23. Majorajam
    April 21st, 2006 at 10:58 | #23

    Katz,

    Before you pull this one apart, it is instructive to consider one historical analogy. Twice Richard the Lionhearted directed his army to Jerusalem, and twice he withdrew without attempting to sack it. In the face of inordinate incentive to press on, (including the righteousness of doing so in a 12th century mind), he knew full well the balance of risks was against him. In his case, morality, competence and probity were mutually reinforcing, even as the success of his endeavors highlighted them separately. By contrast… well, you get the point.

    Just fyi, it’s the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. When MacNeil retired I was still at uni (i.e. many moons ago).

  24. April 21st, 2006 at 11:14 | #24

    Katz,
    You seemed to be getting pretty worked up about the neo-cons here, here and here. Now it appears to be a military incompetence issue and not the neo-cons or Donald Rumsfeld’s error at all – as far as I am aware none of the so-called neo-cons are military men. Were you wrong before (as I have been on elements of this issue) or is there some way to square the circle that I have missed?
    .
    Majorajam – the essence of the razor is that, if you need to interpose an entity (in this case what sounds like a conspiracy) where simple errors, mistakes or other foul ups will explain then you need evidence other than your own personal feelings. On the moneyed interests – this is the way US politics (and, to an extent all politics) works. The returns to moneyed interests in Russia under Yeltsin for example, were spectacular.
    This is why, as far as I pigeon hole myself, I am a libertarian. The less power the government has the less power than can abuse in the service of moneyed interests. The thing that staggers me is that many people that tend to dislike the influence of moneyed interests are also those who advocate more power to the government. Lord Acton, again – “All power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

  25. Katz
    April 21st, 2006 at 11:18 | #25

    It’s a wonderful program which I enjoyed even more moons ago when I lived in the States.

    It is rebroadcast here 12 hours later.

    I couldn’t remember the program’s current name, but it is interesting that the background logo still features MacNeil.

    (This may be a result of the extreme poverty of PBS)!

    I wish more TV both here and there attempted to emulate this program (whatever its name is).

  26. Katz
    April 21st, 2006 at 11:29 | #26

    “Now it appears to be a military incompetence issue and not the neo-cons or Donald Rumsfeld’s error at all – as far as I am aware none of the so-called neo-cons are military men.”

    That’s a debate for the historians.

    1. Was Keane simply taking the hit for Rumsfeld, who is a neocon?

    2. More important. Soldiers are given a military task, one set by the Commander-in-Chief, who is in the military chain of command and who was subject to ceocon suasion when the decision was made.

    3. Keane could have called the neocon plan a crock of crap, but by his own admission he didn’t.

    Bottom line: whatever the source of the plan, it was laughably deficient.

  27. Majorajam
    April 21st, 2006 at 11:45 | #27

    Andrew Reynolds,

    Nope, no nebulous entity- just some pretty straightforward, (if twisted), mechanics. What this really sounds like is you putting up a wall of words without articulating a thing. I won’t provide the blogspeak synonym. Just what is it you are saying is ok about the decision, execution or results of the War in Iraq?

    And what the hell- let’s close the book on “the razor”, et al. The razor is used to distinguish between equally logical explanations of phenomena and is handy in this regard. It is not however applicable to the choice between a logical explanation that requires minimal inference on the one hand and an asinine explanation that requires only abstract nouns like, “mistakes”, and “foul ups” on the other. There is insufficient ambiguity in such a choice to require a heuristic.

    As to the moneyed interests, your relativist hand washing is also specious. Would you equate Randall Cunningham’s quid pro quo menu (various legislative services for bribes) with your average campaign fund raising? Is corrupt “pork barrel” spending a sin on par with leading a country into a misbegotten war under false pretenses? Can we dispense with the bovine scatology?

  28. October 7th, 2007 at 03:23 | #28

    John, can you refer me to the exact quote and date of Bush’s public response to 9/11, (something similar to) “…go to the mall and buy something, support business and make America free.” Have been searching the net but cannot find it. Thanks, Don Reid, Amarillo TX.

    I vaguely recall this, but can’t find an exact quote – JQ

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