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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Dumbshit Theory

I think that Charles Dodgson and some of my readers may misunderstand one of the fundamentals about the Dumbshit Theory, as Jesse at Pandagon calls it.

When it is theorized that Saddam was bluffing about whether or not he had WMD before the war it is predicated on the fact that he played many games prior to 1998 and then refused, until 2002, to allow inspectors back in after they were withdrawn. He did not have any credibility and indeed the international community had absolutely no obligation to take his word for anything.

I’m sure he didn’t approve of David Kay and I’m sure he had good reason to doubt the Americans. And, of course we were spying. But as a leader who had been found to have lied extensively about his weapons programs in the past and had (with or without the tacit approval of the US) violated international law and invaded a sovereign country just a few years before, Saddam did not have much of a leg to stand on by complaining.

The facts are that Saddam had once had an active unconventional weapons program and nobody trusted that he wouldn’t start one up again if he got the chance.

In 1998 he basically pulled the plug on inspections. No, he didn’t kick the inspectors out, but he did restrict their movement to such an extent that it was tantamount to saying, “make me.” The Clinton administration withdrew the inspectors and launched Desert Fox.

Since that time, Saddam refused to allow the UN inspectors back in. The Dumbshit Theory assumes that Saddam made the calculation around 1998 that it was in his best interest to keep the world guessing about whether he was attempting to rebuild his weapons programs. (And, I thought he might have done it as much for internal reasons as any other. Tyants don't keep power if they allow themselves to look weak.)

By the time he agreed to give them unfettered access in 2002, under tremendous pressure, the Bush administration had already made the decision to invade.

None of this says that we had a right to go to war. The UN, with resolution 1441, was unanimous in its requirement that Iraq cooperate with inspections and it did. There is no doubt that we could and should have allowed the inspectors to complete their work while Saddam was on the hot seat and the whole world was watching.

Neither was there any reason that we had to call this bluff immediately after 9/11. The intelligence estimates, as we now know, did not anticipate that even if he was rebuilding his arsenal that he could accomplish it any time soon.

Here’s how the case is made, quite inadvertently, by a member of the Bush administration in a March article by Nicolas Lehman in the New Yorker:

Last week, I went to see Richard Haass, the director of the policy-planning staff at the State Department. Haass is probably the Administration’s most prominent moderate theoretician and is a leading member of the foreign-policy establishment …With his departure, it’s hard to think of whom one could call a prominent moderate theoretician in the Bush Administration.


After months of official talk about removing Saddam from power, would the United States really have been willing to accept his remaining as the Iraqi head of state if he complied with the weapons inspectors?

“That’s a hypothetical,” Haass said. “We said that we would have lived with it. My hunch is that, if you had had complete Iraqi co?peration and compliance, so we had eliminated to our satisfaction the W.M.D.”—weapons of mass destruction—“threat, the question would be, Could Saddam Hussein have survived that?

My hunch is, Saddam concluded he couldn’t survive it, which is one of the reasons why we are where we are. It would have been such a loss of face. But, assuming it did not lead to regime change from within, I do not think we could or would have launched a war in those circumstances.

Instead, if Saddam survived W.M.D. disarmament, we could have pursued regime change through other tools. That’s why you have diplomacy, that’s why you have propaganda, that’s why you have covert operations, that’s why you have sanctions. You have the rest of the tools. So my recommendations would have been, we pursue regime change and war-crimes prosecution—he still should have been responsible for war crimes—using other tools. But I think you had to reserve the military either for the W.M.D. issue or for incontrovertible evidence of support for terrorism.”


The issue is not that Saddam was much too smart to ever try to bluff the US, or that he was a fine upstanding member of the international community who had been truthful about his weapons programs and should have been believed. Neither of those things are true.

The fact is that whether or not Saddam was bluffing has absolutely nothing to do with whether we needed to depose him and occupy Iraq. As the leader of the world (and now purveyors of the Pax Americana) we are supposed to be able to figure that shit out. If we can’t then we don’t have any business taking it upon ourselves to be unilaterally establishing “global order” in the first place.

The problem is that either the intelligence agencies of most powerful nation on earth were so inept that they were unable to independently verify whether he did or did not have WMD or that the most powerful nation on earth knew very well that Saddam did not possess WMD and lied about it.

In either case it completely invalidates the central tenet of the Bush Doctrine --- the concept of “pre-emption.” The US has just proved that it cannot be trusted to launch wars of choice based upon its knowledge that a given country will present a threat in the future.