Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Friday, April 18, 2003

That's an interesting theory.

While it is highly unlikely that Saddam was telling the truth, is it even remotely possible that Iraq had no significant quantities of WMD? If so, how could the reading of the situation by American intelligence have been so wrong?

President Bush's case for war against Iraq was based on a fairly simple set of legal rules and some basic accounting. The rules were clear: Saddam was required by various UN Security Council resolutions to account fully for his weapons of mass destruction, he was required to disarm, and it was up to him to prove Iraq had no illegal weapons. Saddam and his supporters claimed they had done so, but based on U.S. intelligence findings, President Bush did not believe him. Why? Official records, which Iraqi bureaucrats turned over to the UN in the 1990s, clearly showed the production of significant quantities of lethal chemical agents that Iraq did not turn over to UN inspectors for destruction. Thus, an "accounting-gap" existed between what the Iraqi's had apparently produced and what had been destroyed. Former UN chief inspector Richard Butler summed up this "accounting-gap" nicely before the war, stating, "The Iraqis are assiduous record keepers, they detailed everything." Butler concluded, "We know they have more than they turned over for destruction."

Now that the fighting is mostly over, the White House is still confident that with the help of Iraqi citizens, U.S. troops will soon discover the WMD. They may be sorely disappointed.

We must remember Saddam's Iraq was controlled by a "regime" whose tens of thousand of members were all supported financially by their connections to the government. Like past totalitarian regimes, the official salaries of army generals, police officers, party members, and family cronies are relatively modest. Great riches, however, were generated for members of "the regime" through widespread corruption. In totalitarian regimes like Saddam's, corruption occurs most readily in government contracting, with defense contracts being some of the most lucrative sources of wealth.

Here's a hypothetical example of how it might have worked. Ali, one of Saddam's clan members from Tikrit, was the Deputy Head of Defense for procurement. He contracted with Mohammed, the manager of Baghdad Chemical Corporation, to produce 100,000 liters of VX gas. The government paid Mohammed the entire price of the contract, but Mohammed produces only 90,000 liters. Ali records the delivery of 100,000 liters in his government ledger book. He and Mohammed then split the money for the 10,000 liters that were never produced. To insure his safety, Ali sends Saddam half of his cut, and then Ali and Mohammed each buy themselves a new Mercedes. Everyone is happy. Happy, that is, until years later when Richard Butler and various U.S. intelligence agencies start crosschecking the ledger books with the inventory of weapons destroyed by the UN.

Of course, how many Iraqi officials would play this game knowing that if Saddam turned his eye on their operation for even a second and noticed this it would mean a horrible death?

< email | 4/18/2003 02:00:00 PM | link

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