Friday, January 25, 2008

Saddam lied... Fear of Iran greater than fear of US... Bad strategy and its snowball effect...

George Piro, an Arabic-speaking FBI dude, will be the star of some must-see TV on Sunday. An interview with Piro will appear on CBS' venerable 60 Minutes and will create another wave of discussion about Iraq and our government's incorrectly-held belief that Saddam was sitting on a heap of WMDs.

The US government positioned Piro as an envoy with access to Bush. They made him Saddam's key contact after he was excised from the spider hole. Piro was Saddam's go-to guy for paper, pens, toiletries, etc. Eventually, Piro asked questions. Saddam provided answers.

Those discussions indicate that the US intelligence community and President George W. Bush's administration were completely faked out by Saddam. Saddam didn't have WMDs. He did, however, want the world to think he did. He incorrectly believed that the illusion of WMDs served as a shield against Iranian attack, Piro said.

That's why Saddam would unconvincingly deny possession of forbidden weapons while simultaneously being a pain in the ass for UN inspectors and others who wanted to validate his half-hearted assertion. Hussein was walking a pretty thin strategic line--trying to scare one batch of enemies enough to keep them at bay while simultaneously trying to appease other possible enemies to keep them from going ballistic, according to the FBI guy.

Saddam goofed. He managed to avoid any nastiness with the Iranians, but he failed to keep the US from invading.

Based on accounts of Piro's upcoming interview, Saddam admitted the strategic miscue. He also wrongly figured that if the US did take action, we'd just bomb the crap out of him for a few days again. He was ready to accept that fate. He wasn't ready for an all-out boots-on-the-ground war, though. Of course, that's what he got. Now he's dead.

He lost power, hid in a hole, grew crazy hair, had a wacky trial, heard about his kids being killed, and eventually suffered a humiliating death via the ol' neck-snap. His "strategy" turned out to be a Massive Error.

On the other hand, Bush and those who supported the invasion of Iraq screwed up just as badly. They fell for the line directed toward the Iranians instead of the one sent to Washington.

It seems almost unimaginable to me that the generally brilliant people in our intelligence community and the higher echelons of the executive branch were unable to discern which messages were posturing on the part of Hussein to stave off regional problems and which were not.

I find it much easier to believe that analysts and proponents of a military mission to Iraq didn't intentionally interpret some of Saddam's bullshit as proof of a legitimate threat, though. I think there were people who knew better than to believe some of the mixed message but decided to do so in order to create justification for the invasion.

I could be wrong, of course. Saddam might have been fibbing. Piro could be goofy, too. I don't know the guy or anything.

In the interests of being fair about the whole thing, it is worth mentioning that Piro will also state that Saddam did have the capabilities to create WMDs if he so desired. He had the infrastructure and engineers to get the job done if he felt like a little chem-bio warfare was necessary. I guess that's good news for those who refuse to believe that Bush & Co. couldn't have been THAT wrong...

My point here isn't to mock the Bush Administration. I could do that. In fact, I could probably do a helluva job. There's plenty of material with which to work. I can think of many errors in judgment and failures in execution. That really isn't the point, though...

The point is, if Piro is a straight-shooter, that Saddam's bluff for Iran ended up being a key part of why we were goaded into war. Those who like to yell "Bush lied" can refine their understanding of how he got the raw material to craft his story. Now we have our own little Iran problem brewing while we try to figure out how to handle an increasingly complicated situation in Iraq.

This mess stems from either (a) our inability to correctly interpret Saddam's motivations, situations and actual capacities or (b) our unwillingness to do so.

Either way, we sucked almost as bad as Saddam.

And I say WE for a reason. It's easy for those of us who generally vote with the Democrats to forget, but in the days after 9/11 and during the lead up to the war in Iraq, many of us (not me, but many) and most of the elected leadership were on board with the war. I know it stinks, but the decision to go in there was really about as bipartisan as anything to come from Washington in recent memory.

Blame whoever... I choose everyone. The world can be a complicated place. Sometimes you're stuck dealing with liars--our own liars and the ones on the other side. When things get muddled, your best hope is to find someone with the smarts and the guts to think harder, look more closely and stand up when it's not easy. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough people like that around when the war drums started beating, did we?

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3 comments:

  1. Yeah, you're of course, right, John, that many were just providing ammo for the cause of invasion and weren't really concerned with whether the intelligence was right or not.

    This conversation is always complicated because, as many Republicans like to point out in a way that is somewhat disingenuous to the distinction between nuclear weapons and biological weapons as WMD's and Saddam's capacity to deliver any of the above to American targets, we did know that Saddam has biological and/or chemical weapons because he had used them against the Kurds post-Persian Gulf War (if my historical memory is correct, there; you can check me).

    But it's still bullshit to argue that we knew that he had nukes when he didn't, by all reasonable estimates, at this point, and to argue that this was somehow irrelevant to scaring the American people into giving warrant for an invasion. A lot of people are stupid and wouldn't know the difference between Iraq and their grandmother's pickled beets and were easily fooled when the red flag was raised high enough.

    The Administration is definitely guilty of bullshitting that story and quite the bullshit it turned out to be.

    You, likely, like I, did not buy that bullshit, up front. I was fairly convinced that it was bullshit designed to do exactly what it did - to beat the drum for war - but I also knew that the legitimate case for war was actually more complicated and there was a credible case to be made - which I agreed with, at the time, but I was concerned about the very strategic issues that we are facing today - even as I opposed the war, up front.

    Over the course of the war, I became more convinced of the legitimacy of the original concerns - the more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that non-violent methods were both completely unrealistic and, if Iraqis were willing to risk it with us and were in favor of overthrowing that sick bastard -which was and is the million dollar "if" - then, if I were Iraqi, given the conditions they lived under, I would rather risk it than wait another 10-30 years before some hope of democratic change my remove this asshole who was clearly in far less good faith than, say, Mikhail Gorbachev, with the fall of the Soviet Union.

    I would, for the record, have the same position if I were in North Korea, given the attrociousness of the conditions, there, as well, but the big question is not whether I would be willing to risk war for freedom but whether real North Koreans would be willing to do the same. But if North Koreans were somehow en masse willing to overthrow their dictator and magically were able to ask Americans for help without tipping off the Dark Porn Prince of Pyongyang, I would be willing to entertain their request, though fulfilling it would involve a lot more than just thinking about it and would involve a lot of thinking on the part of the American people and the world community, none of whom seem like they'd really be in the mood for such a thing at this point in history.

    That's one of the saddest consequences of this whole mess is that legitimate efforts involving military intervention will likely get a cold shoulder for awhile - is anyone still thinking about intervening in Sudan? - while the world tries to come to terms with the unnecessary tragedy and political polarization created by this war in Iraq.

    Nice posts, by the way, John. It is so good to hear your voice out in the big bad world.

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