The new 918-page report by Charles Duelfer, the Bush administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq sinks the already torpedoed argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
To the contrary,
The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.
Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."
"We were almost all wrong" on Iraq, Duelfer told a Senate panel yesterday.
The new report contains some hitherto unknown Machiavellian plot twists. This piece reports that Saddam kept the fact that Iraq had no WMDs secret even from his closest aides:
The accounts contradict many previous U.S. assumptions about relations between Saddam and his senior aides, as well as previous U.S. views on what Saddam was doing and how he saw the outside world before the Iraq war.
Previously, for example, many in the U.S. intelligence community believed Saddam's sycophantic generals kept him in the dark about the true state of Iraq's chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs — that is, that the dictator was misled by associates who told him what he wanted to hear.
Far from being misinformed, the ISG [the U.S. arms inspectors] report says, Saddam had been micromanaging Iraq's WMD policy himself and kept even his most loyal aides from gaining a clear picture of what was going on — and, more important, not going on — with the program.
The Duelfer report also advances the simmering oil-for-food scandal in which Saddam tendered lucrative oil-trading vouchers to influential people around the world who might do him a favor in return. And this section of the report does provide fodder for an oft-repeated Bush administration post hoc justification for the war: that Saddam had the "intent" to create WMDs and would've if he could've.
From The Washington Post (free site registration may be required):
Saddam Hussein made $11 billion in illegal income and eroded the world's toughest economic embargo during his final years as Iraq's leader through shrewd schemes to secretly buy off dozens of countries, top foreign officials and major international figures, according to a new report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector released yesterday.
Oil "vouchers" that could be resold for large profits were given to officials including Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and former Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky as well as governments, companies and influential individuals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the report said.
Russia, France and China -- all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- were the top three countries in which individuals, companies or entities received the lucrative vouchers. Hussein's goal, the report said, was to provide financial incentives so that these nations would use their influence to help undermine what Duelfer called an "economic stranglehold" imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Hussein's effort to thwart the embargo and divide the nations that supported it has long been known, but the Duelfer report reveals the lengths to which he went in attempting to defy the United Nations. The details could buttress Washington's contention that important players were preventing the U.N. program from squeezing Saddam, forcing the United States to launch a war to topple him.
There's also this disquieting disclosure:
Several American companies on the list, compiled from 13 documents kept by Hussein's vice president and oil minister, were given vouchers to purchase billions of dollars of oil at discounted prices. The U.S. companies are not named in the report because of privacy laws, U.S. officials said.
Gee, I bet they're insignificant little outfits we've never heard of with no ties to anyone we know in Washington and I have full confidence they'll be investigated and, as they love to say back there, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But meanwhile, let's beat up the French, who certainly deserve it. From The Scotsman:
Saddam Hussein believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.
Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions -- which stopped him acquiring weapons -- were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focused on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" and spokesman for his re-election campaign.
They even assessed the chances for "supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election." Chirac is not mentioned by name.
A memo sent to Saddam dated in May last year from his intelligence corps said they met with a "French parliamentarian" who "assured Iraq that France would use its veto in the UN Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq."
As George Bush has discovered, trying to retroactively justify a war is hard work. On the other hand, the sad truth is that the Chirac government most likely would have found a way to oppose military action in Iraq even if there had been concrete proof of WMDs. Fortunately, France is a democracy, and governments there come and go, too.