Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A terrific, must-read column in The New Yorker, by Steve Coll. Some segments:
The study portrays the Iraqi President as a fading adversary who felt boxed in by sanctions and political pressure. Saddam’s former generals and civilian aides—such as his principal secretary, Lieutenant General Abed Hamid Mahmoud, and the former Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz—describe their old boss as a Lear-like figure, a confused despot in the enervating twilight of a ruthless career: unable to think straight, dependent upon his two lunatic and incompetent sons, and increasingly reliant on bluff and bluster to remain in power.

....Nor did this sham mask any plan to foil the invasion by launching a guerrilla war. There has long been speculation that the insurgency, which has so far taken more than twenty-three hundred American lives, might have been seeded in part by clandestine prewar cell formations or arms distributions. In fact, according to the study, there was no such preparation by Saddam or any of his generals, not even as the regime’s “world crumbled around it”; the insurgency was an unplanned, evolving response to the political failings and humiliations of the occupation.

As for weapons of mass destruction, there were none, but Saddam could not bring himself to admit it, because he feared a loss of prestige and, in particular, that Iran might take advantage of his weakness—a conclusion also sketched earlier by the C.I.A.-supervised Iraq Survey Group. He did not tell even his most senior generals that he had no W.M.D. until just before the invasion. They were appalled....Saddam “found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having W.M.D."

....President [Bush] and the members of his war cabinet now routinely wave at the horizon and speak about the long arc of history’s judgment—many years or decades must pass, they suggest, before the overthrow of Saddam and its impact on the Middle East can be properly evaluated. This is not only an evasion; it is bad historiography. Particularly in free societies, botched or unnecessary military invasions are almost always recognized as mistakes by the public and the professional military soon after they happen, and are rarely vindicated by time. This was true of the Boer War, Suez, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it will be true of Iraq. At best, when enough time has passed, and the human toll is not so palpable, we may come to think of the invasion, and its tragicomedy of missing weapons, as just another imperial folly, the way we now remember the Spanish-American War or the doomed British invasions of Afghanistan. But that will take a very long time, and it will never pass as vindication.
A key point: the sanctions and diplomatic pressure were working. Much like the measures taken during the Cold War, which over time wore down the Soviet Union and resulted in change. We didn't invade or cook up intel to do so (partly because thousands of known nuclear missiles has a way of deterring invasions), but rather we kept the pressure on and time took its toll with the help of the Soviet people.

In addition, even though Saddam's most senior generals were in the dark regarding Iraq not having WMD, the fact is we knew about it all along. Recall Richard Clarke's interviews, as he told of the constant "go back and get me the intel I want" when the CIA kept presenting WMD-free intel re Iraq. The recent Downing Street memos with GW admitting to Blair that we won't find any WMD but we still need to go to war. We invaded based on knowing lies.

The fact is our intel has been, and is, very good. It's only when top leadership gets involved and distorts it for political purposes does it then become bad.

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