November 13, 2003

Matthew Yglesias Takes the Blame

Matthew Yglesias takes the blame for everything that goes wrong in Iraq:

Matthew Yglesias: I Told Myself So: ...The shame of the Iraq situation is that it could've been done better -- by a more honest, more competent, more moral administration, but it likely won't be. The big thing to look forward to, however, will be the recriminations. Do we blame liberal hawks and idealistic neocons for being duped by a gang of ruthless Rumsfeldites, or to they blame war skeptics for fostering an atmosphere of hopelessness that led the administration to abandon serious efforts?

As a dupe-turned-skeptic, of course, I'll get the blame either way.

Me too. I thought last winter that the Bush administration would not be doing this without *hard* evidence of serious nuclear weapons programs. I--hard as this may be for some of you to believe--trusted them. No more.

Posted by DeLong at November 13, 2003 08:16 AM | TrackBack


As for me, it was the opposite. I never bought their WMD bs. But, I still hoped that they would, at least, use the opportunity to do something good with Iraq. In addition to their lack of preparation, wishful thinking and sheer incompetency, it is now increasingly clear that the lack of progress of democracy in Iraq is due to attempts by these fools to dictate the outcome of "democracy" in Iraq.

This is very similar to the critics made by the same fools to Turkey, when the government bowed to democratic pressure on Iraq. Basically, the Bushies, regardless of what they say, couldn't care less about democracy in Muslim countries. They will self-righteously preach it when it seems like it's bringing up exactly the outcome they're hoping for, and trash it more or less openly, when they are dissatisfied with it... And the thing is that, contrary to what they seem to believe, Muslims see through this very clearly. After all, it is their hopes for actual democracy that the Bushies are trashing...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on November 13, 2003 08:49 AM


Glad to have you on board Brad. Once bitten...

Posted by: JC on November 13, 2003 08:59 AM


The purpose of the pre-war raising of concerns and objections, of insisting the Administration show some of its cards, was to prove they had thought about this. I mean, actuaully looked at all the angles and turned a skeptics eye toward the whole project before letting the tanks roll. They never did satisfy that criteria, choosing to hide behind classified documents, with us or against rhetoric, and ramblings about proving ones relevance in the 21st century. In the process they were able to bluff themselves into a war.

They provided every reason to believe they had a strong hand, except for actually showing the hand (which would have given them the victory easily, if they had it). And prayed on the trust that they were serious people. HFor their sake, better have a hand to play next time the cards are dealt.

Posted by: tegwar on November 13, 2003 09:03 AM

____'re missing something. The debate on WMD's is over.

The new debate is about Bush's democracy speech. Either you're for spreading liberty to the Iraqis, or you preferred keeping Saddam in power.

And this is the tougher debate, because suddenly the moral high ground is much more uncertain territory. I've found myself nearly flummoxed in trying to argue for multilateralism, soft power, and a dose of realism.

We need better talking points.

Posted by: praktike on November 13, 2003 09:31 AM


"I thought last winter that the Bush administration would not be doing this without *hard* evidence of serious nuclear weapons programs."

Looking at the examples of non-attacked nukies Pakistan, N.Korea and Iran; and the example of the attacked non-nukie Iraq, you have now good indications of:

that the Bush administration would not be doing this without *hard* evidence of the absence of any serious nuclear weapons programs.

Posted by: Mats on November 13, 2003 09:52 AM


I trusted Bush (or, rather, his handlers) as well, but in a different way. I trusted them not to shoot themselves in the foot.
I figured that their evidence had to be reliable, because a retarded bastard Irish goose could've foreseen how much harm the current scenario would do to the adminstration's reputation.

But Ive come to think that they were too short-sighted; they were concerned about the mid-term elections, not 2004. And, they succeeded in hijacking those elections- at the cost of perhaps sinking their hopes in '04.
In late '02, I was sure that Bush would allow himself to be restrained by the UN until summertime, when the weather would force a delay until, say approximately now. The war would be ending just as the campaign was heating up- criticism of the (then-successful) war effort could be labelled partisan politics, and Bush could coast to victory...
How they screwed this up, I have no idea. I used to dislike Rove, but I thought he was smarter than this.


Posted by: Carleton Wu on November 13, 2003 09:53 AM


I believed the UN inspectors, and thought they should be allowed to complete their inspections. I have had too much war in my life.

Posted by: big al on November 13, 2003 10:01 AM



American soldiers 258
British soldiers 20
Coalition soldiers 22
300 Since May 2

American 397
British 53
Coalition 22
472 Since March 20


American soldiers ~2299 Since March 20

Note: American forces have fallen to 130,000
British forces have risen to 11,000

Posted by: lise on November 13, 2003 10:15 AM


It is not surprising that they got the intelligence wrong. After all they failed to predict the Soviet Union collapse in the 1980s, perhaps a larger intelligence failure.

I suspect that BushCo were shocked to discover that Iraq did not have WMD. They were also shocked that the situation deteriorated the way it did.

The Brits have him pegged:

"And all this done with a certainty ill-befitting a man with scant knowledge of the world's complexities, and a quite scary lack of curiosity about what makes other people and other cultures tick. As the political writer Joe Klein put it in a Time magazine column just before the second Iraq war: "George W Bush lives at the intersection of faith and inexperience. This is not a reassuring address, especially in a time of trouble." No more reassuring is the secrecy with which he and his high command operate. Add that to Bush's aversion to press conferences and Republican control of both houses of Congress, and the Bush White House often appears beyond accountability.

Indeed, today's Washington has a whiff of Soviet ways; suffocating internal discipline, resentment of even reasoned, moderate opposition, and a refusal to admit even the tiniest error. For imperialists, read "evildoers". With their condescending "we know best" attitude, Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest offer as close an impersonation of the Politburo as you will find. As was said of the pre-glasnost Kremlin then, so with the White House now: you know nothing, but understand everything."

Posted by: bakho on November 13, 2003 10:30 AM


There seems to have been an attempt to blame the Iraqi Provisional Ruling Council, as though it been empowered to do anything, which it had not.
Bremer looks like a total incompetent to me, though probably Cheney lies behind all his bad decisions.
This is all looking like a coming human tragedy of Vietnam proportions.

Posted by: BobNJ on November 13, 2003 10:49 AM


There seems to have been an attempt to blame the Iraqi Provisional Ruling Council, as though it been empowered to do anything, which it had not.
Bremer looks like a total incompetent to me, though probably Cheney lies behind all his bad decisions.
This is all looking like a coming human tragedy of Vietnam proportions.

Posted by: BobNJ on November 13, 2003 10:54 AM



My father insisted right up to the war and "after" that there were no WMD's and that Bush and Co knew it but were sure that the "big lie" would get them over the hump of starting the war. I was against the war, I thought the WMD issue was overblown and that the "war on terror" could be/would be better fought elsewhere than on the fields of Iraq (or do I mean the plains?) but I never thought there just would be NO WMD's at all. I don't think of myself as a starry eyed idealist but I still can't get over the fact that the right thing to believe/know was that the Bush people made the whole thing up.

But as one of the other posters pointed out, the Bush people have reset the game (like Frist resetting the online poll twice until he got the answer he wanted) and we will hear no more about WMD's and now its all "democracy and freedom"--at least until they appoint a dictator, with some useful Arabic version of the word for "supreme leader" or "fuehrer" (sp?) and pull out. Then we will be bashed for having believed that Iraqis could ever have governed themselves without a strongman.

Oh, by the way, I recommend Riverbend today. Great posts on Bremer and on the Iraqi governing council. I'm wondering where on earth bremer is going to find anyone who will take over?

Posted by: Kate Gilbert on November 13, 2003 11:02 AM


The military guy before Bremer was even worse. The Pentagon does nation destroying. The State Department does nation building. The experts at Foggy Bottom probably could have delayed the inevitable by not making stupid mistakes like dismissing the Iraqi army. However, Iraq is not something Bremer or anyone could have done without Mr. Phelps.

"It is one of the great fallacies of international politics that a solution is available for every problem in the world’s trouble spots."

Posted by: bakho on November 13, 2003 11:10 AM


Remember Scott Ritter? He was the model for the treatment of Plame, Kofi Annan, ElBaradei, et al. Remember Powell"s UN speech? It was demolished, shown to be almost exclusively a list of fabrications, overstatements and misdirections, within days. Remember the UN inspectors' reports before the Security Council? They reported problems, yes, but were hardly an excuse for war. US officials simply called UN inspectors idiots and went on about their bloody business. Bolton is doing it again regarding Iran.

Sorry, Brad, but there was not only no evidence of illicit weapons, and no evidence that Iraq was a threat to the US, but most important, no evidence that Bush officials were telling the truth.

This is like knowing the answer to a puzzle and not being able to understand why others can"t see it. I do not understand how people could have believed Bush and company, after watching them on the way to war, but many obviously did.

Here's a notion for you. Our own leaders were no more honest about Iraq's pre-war circumstance than Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: K Harris on November 13, 2003 11:42 AM


Each post is important. K Harris, however, reminds me of how quickly the UN speech by Colin Powell was shown to be wrong point for point. The most influential media seemed to ignore the content of the speech as the content proved wrong. Remember the California graduate school thesis that was copied for evidence on WMDs by Tony Blair and then by Colin Powell? Where was the media?

This war is a tragedy.

Posted by: jd on November 13, 2003 12:13 PM


A person who would steal an election, would gain power despite the clear will of the people, would also do anything, tell any lie.

Until there is truth about Election 2000, nothing will get better in this country. Lie is being stacked upon lie, but the root lie is the legitimacy of the "president." Lies are spreading outward from the presidency, engulfing the media and the Congress. Neither the media nor the Congress were beacons of virtue before 2000, but this president requires others to lie to cover his lies. He trains them to do wrong.

I am surprised by Professor DeLong's confessed gullibility, but pleased that he's an honest man: he confessed it.

Posted by: Charles on November 13, 2003 02:03 PM


Speaking personally, I think I gave them way too much credit in several ways as a result of following world media closely during the Afghanistan war.

I expected Bush's administration to handle the immediate Sept. 11 aftermath with maximal stupidity and rage, and they didn't, at least not in the initial months. Meanwhile, I was reading the British left-wing press to get some sort of opposition perspective, and it was full of antiwar and anti-Bush rhetoric at the time, much of which was both outrageous and bogus. There were conspiracy theories about how the war was trumped up to pave the way for a natural gas pipeline; ridicule of the evidence against bin Laden; wildly exaggerated civilian casualty reports; stories of phantom massacres and secret mass graves on American bases, reported on the basis of hearsay and headlined as truth. A few fringe-left characters in the US picked up on this stuff. The conclusion I got was that Bush was a much better war leader than I had assumed, and that there was a determined antiwar left, especially in Europe, that was basically nuts.

So when Bush and Blair and Colin Powell started saying they had good evidence about Saddam's WMD programs, and the same cycle of ridicule and vilification started up, well, I still didn't like Bush a whole lot, but I was willing to extend him some credence, especially since there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein really was a disgusting and dishonest fellow.

Bush had nothing. It was wholesale abuse of political capital.

And a lot of people on the further left at this point started screaming, "WHAT WERE WE TELLING YOU ALL ALONG, YOU IDIOTS???" Well, a few of you were destroying your own credibility by telling me that bin Laden had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and the fight with the Taliban was a secret plot by Unocal.

...And many more, in particular many American liberals, were right about both Afghanistan *and* Iraq from the beginning. But having spent too much time reading Robert Fisk columns instead, I was having the boy-who-cried-wolf reaction.

Two lessons to take away from all this:

1. Seeking out extreme views is a really bad way to educate yourself about any contentious situation. (This is something I fall prey to particularly often because I have a dark fascination with crackpots and apocalyptic scenarios. I think it's really a way to avoid responsibility.)

2. When a politician with motivations you suspect turns out to have been right all along in situation A, this does not mean you ought to give him immense credence in situation B.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on November 13, 2003 03:07 PM


By the way, if any right-wing screwhead quotes my previous post out of context to imply that I blame liberals for the Iraq war, I... I... I will get mad and jump up and down. That's all I'm saying.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on November 13, 2003 03:20 PM


Matt, I would be cautious about jumping to conclusions even still. Many of the items you label "conspiracy theories" are not quite that, though of course there are some far-out ideas floating around. Until there is a full and open investigation of everything surrounding the attacks of 911 and the Afghan War, one should be circumpect.

On the "phantom massacres", for example, I don't doubt that there were many exaggerated or even false reports. However, I suggest you examine former BBC producer Jamie Doran's documentary, Afghan Massacre (
That describes the murder of 3,000 people.

I do give the Bush Administration credit for taking the time to plan the Afghan operation. I agree with you that those who opposed intervention in Afghanistan were not realistic. But I also know that we have been extensively lied to. Read the report of the Guatemalan Truth Commission if you want to know the depth of horror to which the United States has, at times, allied itself. (

Two hundred THOUSAND people, a number certainly on par with Saddam's victims, were killed by the Guatemalan government using US weapons and US dollars. Rape was widespread, as was the mutilation of corpses and the forcing of civilians to commit rape and mutilation on threat of death. (The Commission's conclusion was that the US role culminated in "criminal counterinsurgency." ( (Note: The Commission found that 90% of the atrocities were committed by US-backed forces, but 10% were committed by the guerrillas).

It's ok to read extremist sources. But one needs to understand that there are many sides to any issue, and to read with appropriate skepticism. Because I rely on the principle that one should listen fairly and skeptically to all sides, two years into the "War on Terror", my articles-- written only a couple of weeks after 911-- are still quite sound and give insight into events unfolding even now.

Posted by: Charles on November 13, 2003 04:20 PM


I saw this post when it first came up- insomnia-, but held my fire. But, really, doesn't anyone remember Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam?

Two points: 1) Iraq was attacked not because it was an actual threat, but because it was so weak, the regime strangled by sanctions and rotted out from within. This was intended as a military demonstration exercise, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, at least for the purely conventional military phase. 2) The independent good of overthrowing Saddam was always woven into this affair as a fall-back position. Who, but his relatives, could object to that? This could be used to seduce some liberals and to marginalize critics and opponents- never mind such subtleties as the international norms constraining military action and what precisely "democracy" in Iraq would mean or involve. That at the core of the idea of "democracy" lies the difficult task of garnering and sustaining public legitimation for policies and underlying arrangements- (and talk about your free rider problems!)- was, of course, of no concern to the Bush administration, for they are immune to any doubts about their legitimacy. But it should have given the rest of us some pause as the concerns of both international opinion and the Iraqi people would have been of prime importance in succeeding in bringing about a "democratic" outcome, let alone any consideration of the actual willingness of the American people to sustain the costs and sacrifices long-term of such a project. This assumes of course, that bring "democracy" to Iraq was that true objective of the operation, rather than "securing" a prime piece of international oil reserves, as oil reserves in the rest of the world decline, then plunge past peak production, as is currently the case. (And regardless of whether or to what extent this last point is true, I'm pretty sure the majority of the Iraqi people believe it.)

But "democracy", which everyone knows is identical with free markets, is what we in America love to preach, regardless of how well we practice it. It is because we love "freedom" so much that we are pemitted to bomb other people to hell, for there can never be any legitimation-deficit attaching to the idea of "freedom". That this is the rankest and emptiest sort of collective narcissism need never be acknowledged, for such cultural self-recognition perhaps requires the recognition that there are cultural worlds different from our own. No, the "reason" the rest of the world so hates and resents us so much is because they are envious of our freedom and prosperity. What other reason could there be?

But what do I know? I'm just an obscure member of that insignificant "focus group".

Posted by: john c. halasz on November 13, 2003 06:23 PM


I'm not disillusioned because it was clear to me that Iraq would be a disaster. I might have supported it with a President who had an actual sense of public service and reality (Clinton, Gore, Dole, 1st Bush). However, by September 2002 the Bushies were actively dropping the ball in Afghanistan, unwilling to make real sacrifices in general, and working for political advantages in the midterms. By September of 2002, I knew these people couldn't be trusted at all, much less with this type of responsibility. I remain baffled that smart people like Drum, Marshall, Yglesias, and you trusted them. Y'all may be brilliant, but I sometimes wonder what you're thinking.

Posted by: MDtoMN on November 13, 2003 06:46 PM


I also thought the Administration couldn’t be lying about something so important as WMD’s, and I was especially influenced by the Ken Pollack book. (It makes a strong geopolitical argument.) But I also thought we should’ve taken some more time with the U.N. (because a war against terrorism will require, in public, a united front), and the reticence of the U.N., despite it problematic history, gave me pause. I never bought the argument that the French were balking due to current contracts with the Iraqis, since an easy precondition for French involvement with our invasion would be to guarantee their contract repayments...

Now I’m wondering if there’s more here than meets the eye.

Now I’m wondering many things... Is Cheney just hopelessly shortsighted? For example, are the reports true that he also advocated fomenting a violent rebellion in the Soviet Union during the Reagan Administration, and voted in the House against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from jail? Did the “neocon cabal” start enacting their PNAC strategy--with Bush’s approval--just after his election, and was a lot of what’s happened since, already “in the hopper” before 9-11? For example: did planning for an invasion of Afganistan begin much earlier in 2001, as was reported at the time in foreign papers? Had the neocons taken-to-heart their OWN assertion that the American people would never get behind military action in the Middle East without a direct PROVOCATION of some sort? Did they believe that there was a simple “non-traditional” hijacking (in Condoleeza Rice’s immortal words) somewhere in the works at the end of the summer; and they, NOT SUSPECTING THE AWFUL EVENT WHICH WAS TO OCCUR, decided to let it go, to “accept” a hijacking, and make it the provocation? For example, is it true that the Administration had a “virtual blueprint” of what was going to happen on 9-11, as Arlen Spector said, and is it true that six or eight different foreign intelligence services also warned the Administration? Would this explain why there was no increased airport security at the end of the summer, despite the heightened threat status that had been going on for months? (And why no one has been fired from the CIA or the FBI for intelligence failures, unless of course they all did their jobs PROPERLY, and sent the intelligence into the NSC as they are required by law?)

SO: Are events in Iraq a result of OVER-COMPENSATION for the enormous GUILT this sequence of events would’ve caused in our leaders? Have we been witnessing a long spectacle of emotional juveniles scrambling to justify a big mistake?

How else did they come to be ready to decide to go into Iraq within days of 9-11? Why else did they ignore, not only the WMD intelligence, but the Pentagon studies on what the post-war situation in Iraq could likely be? How else did they get to the point where the facts didn’t matter, where the need to believe in ideals had taken them beyond common sense? How else do these brain-bubbles happen?

To Praktike: Don’t be flummoxed. Try this question: if we support democracy, why are we propping up Karimov in Uzbekistan, who BOILS PEOPLE ALIVE? The talking point is: democracy’s good for Iraq, but U.S. imposition of it will be tough to swallow by a people whose dictator was enabled by the U.S. for decades, and whose innocents are being killed in the line of fire. Bush’s goal isn’t bad, but it just needs to be done SMARTER. The "fact of terrorism" has changed the definition of our national security to include the community of free nations in all our decisions, no matter how slow and painful that process will be. This drives an immediate wedge between the peace-loving majority of Muslims and the terrorist minority that recruits from them, and it is the best long-run strategy against terrorism and for peace (in addition to secret ops to track down terrorist cells, which we will assume is ongoing). The idea that “they hate us because we’re rich” is more juvenile psychology, no matter if it’s touted by Bernard Lewis or, again the other day, Charles Krauthammer. We should accept whatever the U.N. wants in return for taking over Iraq IMMEDIATELY, and deal with the adverse effects of THAT policy, as opposed to the tragedy we’re in now...

The talking points for the Dems in 2004 should be: the GOALS are RIGHT, but the Bush Administration is SHORT-SIGHTED, and it can be done SMARTER.

Posted by: Lee A. on November 13, 2003 07:05 PM


And I would like to add: Bush's goal isn't bad, because we are all for the ridding of dictators and the promotion of democracy. In fact, we welcome the fact that IN THIS, BUSH HAS JOINED THE LIBERAL WING OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY...

Posted by: Lee A. on November 13, 2003 07:11 PM


Dear Brad

I find your mea culpa unconvincing. I recall our semi heated e-mail debate about invading Iraq in March 2003. I don't recall your mentioning nuclear weapons. If you had, I would have pointed out that the "evidence" presented by the Bush administration was simply proof that they had no evidence (the point that the Niger documents were extremely obvious forgeries was public knowledge as was the point that the aluminum tubes were clearly rocket casings). I recall you argued for invading (only with UN approval) based on Saddam Hussein's depravity (and I admit I wasn't sure the invasion would be a mistake). How did trusting Bush come to be the explanation of your view ex poste ?

Now on chemical and biological weapons, I assumed that the Bush administration didn't have any secret evidence to speak of thingking that, if they had evidence they would have shared it with the UN inspectors ? I was also 99% sure that Iraq had gas and biological weapons. The reason is not that I overestimated Bush but that I overestimated Saddam Hussein. I knew he was a depraved idiot but I didn't think he was enough of a depraved idiot to allow his country to suffer sanctions to hide the fact that he had nothing to hide. The evidence which convinced me, you and I'm sure Bush that Iraq had gas and biological weapons was Iraq's resistance of inspections during the Bush Sr and Clinton Administrations.

I know you Brad and I don't believe that you could have trusted Bush. You are too smart to do that.

I have another theory, if I may be so bold. I will consider a hypothetical smart person with dovish inclinations who was in favor of invading Iraq (with UN approval) (ahspwdi for short). I think ahspwdi internalised political calculations or maybe Ahspwdi waw swayed by herd psychology. Ahspwdi knew that it would be politically highly costly to say that ahspwdi opposed invasion even with UN approval. In order not to feel like a hypocrite, ahspwdi decided made himself or herself believe what ge or she thought the Dems should say for political reasons.

I, in contrast, live in Italy and have yet to hear someone say they are in favor of invading Iraq (as opposed to reading on the web or in newspapers) except on TV (maybe not sure of that). So following the herd and with the exact same opinions you had about WMD I was opposed to invading.

Now I might add that I was not then and am not now sure I was right. I am not at all sure it was a bad idea to invade Iraq. As I have explained, on my blog for example, the absence of WMD, for me, tends to convince me that the invasion was not as bad an idea as I thought.

Posted by: Robert on November 13, 2003 07:38 PM


Matt McIrvin, I don't recall Robert Fisk writing "conspiracy theory" columns about Afghanistan. Maybe you are confusing Fisk with Ted Rall? I am sure Fisk questioned the lack of post war effort in Afghanistan but I don't recall a Unocal column. Fisk also wrote about US oil interests, but I don't recall Fisk writing that Afghanistan war was started for oil and not to take out bin Laden.

The US policy in the Middle East for years was to support Muslim fundamentalists in their Jihad against the Soviets and communism. Steele writes an interesting story on what the effect of not backing the Mujahadeen against the Soviets might have been for Afghanistan.,3604,1083742,00.html

In the game between Super Powers for hegemony, the rights of people to self determination and progress get trampled. This is the sub-plot of the cold war.

Posted by: bakho on November 13, 2003 07:57 PM


There were no WMD's and we knew there were no WMD's that were credible threats. We knew because if there were - Bush would not have invaded. Witness his behaviour with North Korea.

The less on of Iraq, for the rest of the world, is not that you will be invaded if you have WMD's but that you will be invaded if you don't.

Get those nukes now, because they will keep you safe from American invasion.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on November 13, 2003 09:05 PM


Yeah, the pipeline thing was more Rall.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on November 13, 2003 09:24 PM


Strangely, I was utterly convinced in the months before the war that the Administration didn't have the information it claimed -- and therefore that the war in Iraq was at best bogus, at worst motivated by some darker strategem -- because they sounded increasingly like a piss-poor student trying to BS their way on a test.

Further revelations from the Administration (and experience with piss-poor students) haven't done anything to disabuse me of this image.

Posted by: Anarch on November 14, 2003 12:16 AM


Many of you are missing the point on WMDs. There was plenty of general evidence of several things.

1) That Saddam had been trying to acquire WMD's of all types, including nuclear, for several decades.

2) That Saddam had constructed hidden nuclear weapons facilities in the past that were seriously on the road to eventual success.

3) That Saddam would actually use WMDs if given a chance. And had already used chemical weapons twice.

4) That Saddam had chemical weapons and missiles left over after the 1991 war.

5) That the sanctions and embargoes on Iraq that Saddam was complaining about would be lifted if Iraq would just destroy those leftover weapons in front of UN inspectors.

6) That even when Saddam dies his psycho sons would take over, and who knows what they would do with the WMDs?

7) That the sanctions were coming apart due to an international movement and the actions of Syria, France, and Russia.

8) That Saddam would use the oil billions to build WMDs and military forces in general.

9) That once Saddam had WMDs he was likely to attack Iran or Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or Israel. Maybe even Turkey.

10) That just because we can't find them doesn't mean they didn't exist or don't exist somewhere.

11) That Saddam often displays near-suicidal stupidity and was not predictable nor necessarily deterrable. Witness the stupidity of refusing to leave Kuwait and refusing to destroy the WMD's we know he had in front of the UN inspectors. How could we say he would respect a nuclear counter-threat?

12) That Saddam repeatedly blocked inspections, especially re-blocking in 1998, and that only the nearness of a massive US force would get him to allow inspections again.

13) That even if Saddam let in the inspectors and turned over the weapons we all knew he had, he would then use the dropping of the sanctions and no-fly zones to restart his WMD and his nuclear weapons program.

14) France and Russia are on the Security Council and had both made huge loans to Saddam that did an end-run around the sanctions and meant that they were very unlikely to support his overthrow in the next few decades.

15) If Iraq turns into a wonderful Arab democracy in five years or so, George W Bush will go down in history as a visionary statesman of unparalleled courage. Amazing, isn't it?

16) If Saddam still had WMD's he certainly had the ability to hide them from UN inspectors forever. The UN inspector force was not able to search all of Iraq, but was created to be a witness to the voluntary destruction of a short list of known weapons itemized in UN Security Council Resolution 687 of 1991.

On the other hand, we also realize that:

1) Nobody knows exactly what Bush meant when he said Iraqi violence was "imminant". I am willing to expand the time frame in the case of hidden nuclear weapons, but I for one did not expect an attack from Iraq within 2 years.

2) We don't know why Bush made the unsupportable claim that Saddam was working with al-Queda. If Bush did not have evidence that could eventually be made public, then mentioning this idea was at best, stupid.

3) George W. Bush should be called "The Poor Communicator".

4) Bush did say that the lesson he learned from previous administrations was that he should "Use the political capital" while he still had it. Apparently he figured that the afterglow of 9/11 would provide him the political support to engage in risky foreign policy initiatives.

5) Instead of the world worrying about crazy Arab terrorists, the world is now worrying about the crazy Americans. I have a feeling this was the administration strategy all along. The attack of 9/11 showed the US to be vulnerable. The wars in Afganhistan and Iraq, on the other hand, terrify both the guilty and the innocent.

I think that all that really happened was that there was no new evidence of consequence discovered about Iraq after 9/11. But the situation was changed and re-evaluated by the US Administration in light of the 9/11 events, and Saddam was found to be the most dangerous and easily toppled source of trouble.

I also think that the Bush Adminstration was and may still be very worried about additional terrorist attacks after 9/11, especially before the next presidential elections. More worried than the rest of us realize, and that this was and may still be a prime motive that most of us just don't take into account when trying to figure out George W Bush. Bush doesn't want to be seen as "The President that Lost the Battle of America".

Posted by: Warren on November 14, 2003 03:29 AM


Warren, what you say is true and even President Clinton had said that the next administration would have to deal with Saddam. Saddam was an obstacle to reform and a modern progressive economy in Iraq, no doubt. However, the manner that Mr. Bush ousted Saddam was a huge miscalculation. Mr. Bush ingnored the advice of our allies and went ahead anyway. The result is what Mr. Chirac (who fought in Algeria, BTW) predicted would happen.

Saddam was a long term threat, and action sooner rather than later was needed. The sanctions were hurting the Iraqi people and having little effect on Saddam power. However, action did not have to happen immediately. Had Mr. Bush worked with the UN and spent more time planning for post war Iraq, he may have been able to avoid some of the quagmire. However, the planning was inadequate. They have not even found Saddam yet.

Blumenthal is now writing that the WMD argument was Tony Blairs idea to get a coalition behind the Saddam ouster. Inside sources are saying that Blair supported the Iraq action in exchange for movement on the Israel/Palestinian road map. It will be interesting to see how well the Brits handle the Bush visit with the queen. The large number of expected angry protesters could make the situation WTO ugly.,3604,1084880,00.html

Posted by: bakho on November 14, 2003 05:49 AM



Quite a long list, but dubious at many points on fact, implication or interpretation.

1)The whole notion of WMD is a conflation: biological weapons have never been successfully weaponized and integrated strategically into a military m.o., chemical weapons are not only deterable, but can be protected against and are not effective against a modern army using modern methods, and nuclear weapons are really, really frightening.

2)The claim that Saddam was 6 months away from developing a nuclear device after the Gulf War is a piece of misreporting: the actual claim was that scientists in his program were 6 months away from deciding on which one of 5 methods of generating weapons grade material which they had been investigating to pursue, and were leaning toward 2 of the 5. As for chemical and biological stocks, the expert testimony was that they are difficult to maintain and degrade with time, so that anything that remained after large stocks had been destroyed up to 1998 would be useless. Anything Saddam may have had in the chemical and biological area would have been fairly negligible and there was no evidence of anything remaining in the nuclear area.

3)Saddam had been successfully contained by the sanctions regime and was so declared by both Rice and Powell emphatically before 9/11. Further U.N. inspections and conditionality in modifying sanctions could have been and, in fact, were applied.

4)The removal of Saddam was primarily a matter for the Iraqi people and for their benefit. Yes, we could have been more solicitous and rendered them more assistance on this account, especially after the Gulf War. But this does not justify occupying their country and attempting to refashion it in our image, regardless of the balance of forces in Iraqi society and of their rights to self-determination.

Posted by: john c. halasz on November 14, 2003 08:38 AM


akho, the reason that President Clinton and other Democrats believed that Saddam Hussein posed a threat was the accounting problem that Scott Ritter presented so forcefully in the late 90s. Briefly, they had records proving that Saddam had purchased so-and-so-many liters or culture media, so where was it? (and so on)

One answer would have been that it had been converted to anthrax. However, as anyone knowledgeable who follows these issues knows, biological and chemical weapons have a shelf life. By 2003, there was zero chance that these materials would have been potent as WMDs. Clinton, being a lawyer rather than a scientist, was simply wrong.

Furthermore, Operation Desert Fox was directed against all facilities the weapons inspectors believed could be used for WMD production. The inspectors brought in under Hans Blix and Mohammed Al-Baradei concluded that between previous inspections, sanctions and Desert Fox, there were no WMDs.

Clinton (or any reasonable politician) would not have invaded.

I read what Blumenthal said a bit differently. Tony Blair knew that invasion of Iraq in the absence of an imminent threat would be a war crime. Therefore, he persuaded Bush to focus on that as the issue and forget rationales that are NOT excuses for pre-emptive war (bad dictator, possible future threat, etc.)

Posted by: Charles on November 14, 2003 09:31 AM


John Halasz makes a good point. Biological weapons have never been used militarily because of the fear of blowback. However, the six months figure is actually this: in 1991, if Saddam had had all the materials for a nuclear weapon, he had the know how to produce a device in 6 months. He didn't have enriched uranium. He had centrifuges which could have been used to enrich the ore he had. He may have had a working design, but until one actually tests a design, it's never very certain (plus it's no good as a deterrent unless one tests and makes the adversary aware of the existence of a working nuclear device.) Hence one has to build two weapons to have one. And then there's the minor issue of delivery. All in all, my guess is that he was more like 2-3 years from constructing a nuclear weapon and 5 years from having one that was a menace to Europe or the US.

Posted by: Charles on November 14, 2003 09:32 AM


Warren, there's one point you need to be made aware of. It is a war crime, indeed the primary war crime, to attack a state unless one has definite evidence that it is imminently going to attack. Here are some other points to consider:

1) the US is the only nation to have used a nuclear device in war, specifically on civilians
2) the US has experimented with WMDs on its own people (no, I'm not kidding. See There were also tests of biological agents that caused deaths.
3) the US has half the military strength in the world. Even in 1991, Saddam Hussein's force was pathetically weak in comparison, and was destroyed in 100 hours on the ground. By 1993, it was a shadow of that.

You're correct that if Iraq turns into a democracy, George Bush will be viewed as a visionary. And if pigs grow wings, they'll be viewed as birds.

Posted by: Charles on November 14, 2003 09:35 AM


Warren: Your first 16 points would make a good precis of the Pollack book, and I'm with bakho that it still allows the same caveat: waiting a few more years to work with the U.N., and meanwhile keeping Saddam under an intense spotlight to prevent his any move (his m.o. was always to to capitulate under pressure), would have yielded several benefits.

Now the Bush strategy is something like: A) allow an elected, inevitably Islamic republic and B) substitute a quickly-trained Iraqi police force--and if either of these screw up, the U.S. can't be blamed--and C) retract a standing U.S. military presence onto heavily fortified garrisons far from dangerous population centers, to prevent invasions by Turkey or Iran, and keep an eye on everything else (e.g. the Saudi oil fields) for decades. Not a bad geopolitical outcome--the main qustion's going to be, can they sell it to the American electorate to justify U.S. soldiers dead, and in time for next November?

Your second set of 5 points doesn't go far enough. The Bush neocons have revealed a psychological ineptitude. Making the world fear the U.S. will NOT stop terrorists, it will only up the ante, while handing them propaganda to gain recruits. (This is the same problem the Israelis have run into with the policy of retaliation: now they have to build a wall.) Gettting the free world to work in a unified way would 1) drive a wedge between the terrorists and the larger Muslim base, and 2) spread the risk.

My question is, what causes this psychological ineptitude?

Posted by: Lee A. on November 14, 2003 10:08 AM


Also: Condoleeza Rice told the Lehrer Newshour, after the invasion was over, that Saddam mightn't have had anything weaponizable for a decade. They knew.

Posted by: Lee A. on November 14, 2003 10:22 AM


Lee A., both Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell were quoted *before* the war to the effect that sanctions had worked and Saddam Hussein's program of WMD was completely contained.

Here's Powell: "We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors." (

It was all a lie.

Posted by: Charles on November 14, 2003 01:49 PM


Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.

Posted by: Pedraza Aurora on December 10, 2003 06:09 PM


Make it your guiding principle to do your best for others and to be trustworthy in what you say. Do not accept as friend anyone who is not as good as you. When you make a mistake do not be afraid of mending your ways.

Posted by: Klein Sarah on January 9, 2004 08:27 PM


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