Intel Reports: Saddam Could Have Had Nukes By 2007

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This week there were two news stories that re-opened an incredibly dangerous question about Saddam Hussein and nuclear weapons. Before examining those stories, it’s important to reflect on the historical facts regarding Saddam Hussein and claims from five years ago that he was a nuclear threat to stability in the region and the world.

In September 2002 there was a flood of secret intelligence reports flowing into the nation’s 16 different intelligence agencies. Washington was flustered with fears that Saddam Hussein would have a nuclear bomb soon. Some reports said he might have one already. After all, he had managed to secretly build a bomb back in 1992, and all he needed to make it work back then was the precious weapons-grade nuclear material; a special metal ball of highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Despite the hundreds of tons of nuclear material later found in Iraq, thankfully, none of it was of weapons-grade quality, form, or shape.

Still, in the late summer of 2002 the fear was building with every new intelligence report. It had been four years (December 1998) since the world had weapons inspectors and spies inside Iraq. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, intelligence officials were almost paranoid about making some sort of mistake, afraid of making the wrong comment, and afraid of dismissing a report that might prove to have been a real threat. This post-911 focus and fear, coupled with the lack of intelligence for four years, made the new flood of intelligence warnings disconcerting to say the least.

Whatever effect was being felt by people of the intelligence community was exacerbated by the rhetoric and tough talk in Washington D.C. by politicians. Actually, the saber rattling began right after the 911 attacks.

“There is no doubt that. Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status.”(2)

In the wake of the new reports about Saddam in the late summer/early fall of 2002, it seemed as if the Bush Administration and every politician in Washington was afraid. The drums of war were beating hard and fast towards war.

“As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I firmly believe that the issue of Iraq is not about politics. It’s about national security. We know that for at least 20 years, Saddam Hussein has obsessively sought weapons of mass destruction through every means available. … Each day he inches closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability — a capability that could be less than a year away.”(3)

The specter of war with Saddam was a grave image-particularly if the claims of weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Queda were correct. It was more than that though. Everyone knew that after 12 years of trying to make Saddam comply with the United Nations; not diplomacy, sanctions, blockades, sponsored coups, encouraged rebellions, assassination attempts, a partial invasion, infinite air strikes, or even entire bombing campaigns. Everyone knew it was going to take an invasion, and if he did have nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, then tens of thousands of Americans were going to die-probably a great many more.

So people wanted to be sure. Additionally, mid-elections were coming up, and the 2004 Presidential campaign had started half a year early. Gov. Howard Dean was already running for President, and at the core of his platform was the fueling of a following who opposed any sort of action against Iraq. Others who were planning to run for President in the subsequent months saw that he was sweeping up money and support around his anti-war theme. They had to decide if the 16 intelligence agencies saw a threat in Saddam worth confronting, or if the Governor of Vermont had better intelligence regarding Iraqi weapons and terrorist ties. The call went out for a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction-of particular concern was the nuclear threat.

Late on Wednesday, October 2, 2002 a classified version of the NIE (a combined threat assessment from all of the nation’s intelligence entities) was presented to Congress. Members could read it, but because portions of it contained classified sections that would reveal how the intelligence was collected, they couldn’t get their own copies. They had to go to a special room, sign in, and read it there. For reasons lost to history and politics, only a few of the hundreds of members of Congress chose to sign in and read the classified report(4).

A few others chose to read a de-classified version of the report that was open to the public, but they later complained that “caveats” about the reliability of various claims and sourcing had been removed (intrinsic to the very idea of creating a de-classified version was the idea that sources and the types of sources which vary in reliability by their nature were not to be revealed). Of course, if the members of Congress really cared about the sources and their reliability, they’d have read the classified version rather than dismissing the very reports that should have been at the core of their decision to authorize or not authorize the use of force (albeit after five months of yet another failed diplomatic effort). Whether they read the classified NIE, or the declassified one, or even if they were on an intelligence committee and had dozens of closed door secret meetings directly with intelligence officials; none of that mattered. What was important was looking tough, talking belligerently, and carrying the party line that Saddam’s regime was a threat-even a nuclear threat.

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program…. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”(5)

This claim and others were supported by the statements in the NIE regarding Saddam’s nuclear desires and capabilities

“How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.

  • If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year.
  • Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.

Most agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotor – as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools – provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program. (DOE agrees that reconstitution of the nuclear program is underway but assesses that the tubes probably are not part of the program.)”(6)

“It depends on”, “If Baghdad aquires”, “Without such material from abroad” These are caveats. Many of the people, who claimed to have read the declassified NIE and claimed that it lacked caveats, were misleading their constituents. Yet there were more, bigger, far more important caveats that those same people claimed never existed because-for whatever reason-they weren’t responsible enough, or energetic enough to read the classified version. In later years opponents of the war who falsely claimed the NIE lacked caveats should have had their misleading statements identified and questioned. Instead, many believed them. The fact remains that the NIE which so many deliberately chose to ignore did have caveats. They would point to aluminum tubes, uranium from Niger, and they hoped that people would forget their own warmongering, their authorization to use force, and their Congressional responsibility to the nation in terms of even informally declaring war.

The classified NIE did include caveats about the aluminum tubes. Members of the Bush Administration and of the intelligence community had said that Iraq had Sought aluminum tubes with very unique and precision machining that could be used to turn them into centrifuges for enriching uranium. Opponents distracted from the tubes Sought, and instead they focused on the tubes Bought; tubes that were used to make illegal conventional munitions, not illegal unconventional arms).  (DOE agrees that reconstitution of the nuclear program is underway but assesses that the tubes probably are not part of the program.)(6)

Sometimes politicians have skills that make magicians seem inept, and a similar sleight of hand was used to spin the intelligence reporting that was in regards to uranium and Niger, but the NIE was clear (at least to those who read it):

Annex A
Iraq’s Attempts to Acquire aluminum Tubes
(This excerpt from a longer view includes INR’s position on the African uranium issue)

INR’s Alternative View: Iraq’s Attempts to Acquire Aluminum Tubes

Some of the specialized but dual-use items being sought are, by all indications, bound for Iraq’s missile program. Other cases are ambiguous, such as that of a planned magnet-production line whose suitability for centrifuge operations remains unknown. Some efforts involve non-controlled industrial material and equipment – including a variety of machine tools – and are troubling because they would help establish the infrastructure for a renewed nuclear program. But such efforts (which began well before the inspectors departed) are not clearly linked to a nuclear end-use. Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious.(6)

The combination of intelligence reports that were coming into the 16 different intelligence agencies was high in quantity, low in quality, and as such these caveats and doubts and question marks remained. The best assessment that the entire intelligence community could declare was that:

  1. Saddam wanted a bomb
  2. Saddam still had some nuclear program infrastructure, and was acquiring some more (though they couldn’t reveal it at the time, many knew about the AQ Khan network which was selling nuclear program components to anyone and everyone in 2002).
  3. Saddam had already built a bomb back in 1992, but it didn’t have a warhead because he didn’t have the special weapons grade material, and if he could somehow get that material from outside Iraq, then he could rebuild his bomb in no time. Some said months. Some said years. The consensus was that if nothing was done about Iraq, and sanctions continued to decay or were lifted, then he’d most likely have a bomb as early as 2007.

Even if they hadn’t read the declassified report as responsible members of Congress with the slightest bit of integrity and responsibility would have done, just about everyone pretended to be authorities on Iraq. Many politicians “hyped” the intelligence, exaggerated, and otherwise tried to scare the nation into war despite the caveats shown in the NIE (something that probably wouldn’t have happened if they’d have read the NIE report that they “demanded” earlier).

“There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.”(7)

“If Iraq could acquire this material from abroad, the CIA estimates that it could have a nuclear weapon within one year.”(8)

“Saddam Hussein’s track record is too compelling to ignore. We know that he continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices.”(9)

Oddly enough, while President Bush was being portrayed by opponents of the war and fair weather patriots  (positive polling patriots?) as rushing to war…., it was he who tried to be realistic about the threat, the lack of solid intelligence reporting, and the need to try diplomacy before rushing to war as he himself had been accused of doing.

“Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a nuclear weapon. Well, we don’t know exactly, and that’s the problem.”

snip.jpg

Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. As President Kennedy said in October of 1962, “Neither the United States of America, nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world,” he said, “where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nations security to constitute maximum peril.”(10)

The harsh, threatening rhetoric of war continued almost entirely unabated despite the President’s effort to convey the lack of understanding, and the need for inspectors to resolve the dangerous questions of loose WMD in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

“In October 2001, we picked up warnings that terrorists had acquired a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb. If detonated in New York City, hundreds of thousands of Americans would have died, and most of Manhattan would have been destroyed. Sam Nunn had an important warning, “This intelligence report was judged to be false. But it was never judged to be implausible or impossible.”(11)

Not included in the NIE, and known only to a handful of people in the entire world, was the fact that the U.S. had finally managed to secure a human intelligence source inside Saddam’s inner circle, and in September 2002, the source reported that,

“The Committee told Saddam that a nuclear weapon would be ready within 18-24 months of acquiring the fissile material. The return of UN inspectors would cause minimal disruption because Iraq was expert at denial and deception.”(12).

Saddam did not have a reconstituted nuclear bomb program when the US and its Coalition allies invaded in March 2003. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) (13) put together a three-volume 1000+ page report (packed with very clear pictures). 1400 people, hundreds of millions of dollars, and two servicemen’s lives were the cost of the investigation. One of the things that are particularly interesting in regards to the ISG’s findings is that Saddam had in fact successfully secreted away valuable portions of his nuclear program. Some equipment was hidden in bunkers, others in secret labs, and more disguised as benign, everyday dual-use equipment. This is stated repeatedly, but the pictures in the report demonstrate it unmistakably. After years of inspections, and months of renewed inspections, after the IAEA had declared that Saddam’s regime was not a nuclear threat, the truth was hidden everywhere. There were even centrifuge parts hidden in a person’s rose garden and blueprints hidden in a scientist’s home.

“Iraq has maintained its nuclear scientists and technicians as well as sufficient dual-use manufacturing capability to support a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. Iraqi defectors who once worked for Iraq’s nuclear weapons establishment have reportedly told American officials that acquiring nuclear weapons is a top priority for Saddam Hussein’s regime. “(14)

While an active nuclear program was not found in post-war Iraq, the ISG’s September 2004 report confirmed what the Bush Administration’s inside source had told them two years earlier:

  1. Saddam wanted a bomb
  2. Saddam still had some nuclear program infrastructure, and was acquiring some more (though they couldn’t reveal it at the time, many knew about the AQ Khan network which was selling nuclear program components to anyone and everyone in 2002).
  3. Saddam had already built a bomb back in 1992. It didn’t have a warhead because he didn’t have the special weapons grade material, but if he could somehow get that material from outside Iraq, then he could rebuild his bomb in no time.

Saddam may not have had nuclear weapons in his arsenal in 2003, but if the United States would have bowed to international pressure and backed down from Saddam rather than invading, then the intelligence is overwhelming that he would have become a nuclear power in 2007; today. This isn’t supposition or reading tea leaves either. It’s where this week’s news stories come to the forefront.

Earlier this week NBC News reported on a new book, The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack (15) by Ronald Kessler. The book includes commentary from Saddam’s interrogator. His words prove the 2002 assessment was true:

  1. Saddam wanted a bomb
  2. Saddam still had some nuclear program infrastructure, and was acquiring some more.
  3. And since Saddam had already built a bomb back in 1992 sans a nuclear core (that special metal ball of enriched uranium or plutonium), it remains perfectly logical that if he could somehow get that material from outside Iraq, then he could have rebuilt his bomb in no time.

The last part of this horrifying equation is the third news story, “Iran hands IAEA nuclear blueprints”AP (16). There’s plenty of people in the world who are still ignorant enough to actually believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is working on peaceful nuclear power and has no desire to acquire nuclear bombs. This week, the government of Iran decided to acquiesce to the IAEA’s demands and hand over the plans they had bought illegally from the AQ Khan nuclear component network. These plans detailed the process of taking enriched, weapons-grade uranium and molding it into a special metal ball for use only in a nuclear warhead. Iran claims that it doesn’t want nuclear warheads, but until this week had refused to hand over the plans to make something that can only be used in a nuclear bomb(s). Even in the face of stories like this one, there are still be people who believe that having actual plans to build a bomb, and refusing to hand over those plans are both benign actions that in no way indict Iran’s claims of pursuing peaceful nuclear power.

“VIENNA, Austria – Iran has met a key demand of the U.N. nuclear agency, handing over long-sought blueprints showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, diplomats said Tuesday.

snip.jpg

“Iran maintains it was given the papers without asking for them during its black market purchases of nuclear equipment decades ago that now serve as the backbone of its program to enrich uranium — a process that can generate both power or create the fissile core of nuclear warheads.” (16)

If US hadn’t invaded Iraq in 03, the world would be facing the usual bi-annual Pakistan/India nuclear brinkmanship issues, a nuclear-armed Saddam, a nuclear-armed Ahmadinejad, a nuclear-armed Israel, and Al Queda leaders meeting with intelligence services in all three of those nuclear Muslim powers all at the same time.  Such a scenario doesn’t have a diplomatic solution. No degree of arm twisting, no amount of carrots and incentives, and no sanctions regime could counter that hair-trigger to Armageddon setting. There’s also no military option either. Even nuclear deterrence doesn’t work when terrorists like Al Queda can be used to covertly deliver a bomb in such a way as to allow the bomb’s creating state to escape retaliation for lack of evidence (nuclear explosions are notoriously effective at destroying everything).

After reviewing the threat intelligence regarding Saddam’s regime in 2002, after confirming-through the ISG and Saddam’s interrogator-that he was capable, and he intended to restart his program and acquire nuclear weapons one can only reach the conclusion that the post-war intelligence suggests in both quantity and now quality that yes, Saddam would “be able to make a weapon [between] 2007 to 2009.” Given the current crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, the likelihood that Iran too is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, it seems that the invasion of Iraq in 2003-costly as it has been in blood and treasure, actually did accomplish something. It has staved off a scenario where nuclear powers from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia were on the brink of nuclear holocaust, and a scenario where there was nothing the world could do to prevent a slide down the slippery slope towards hell on Earth. Whether he meant to or not, President Bush got something right, and the confirmation of the Iraqi nuclear threat helps disprove, The Lie That Bush Lied (17).

  1. “What If Iraq Was Never Invaded?” Scott Malensek
  2. Letter to President Bush, signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D-then head of SSCI) and others, Dec, 5, 2001
  3. Sen. John Edwards (D) 9/12/02
  4. “Few senators read Iraq NIE report”,By Manu Raju, Elana Schor and Ilan Wurman, The Hill. June 19, 2007
  5. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), Oct 10, 2002
  6. Key Judgments (from October 2002 NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction
  7. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), Oct 10, 2002
  8. Sen. John Kerry (D) 10/09/2002
  9. Congressman Richard A. Gephardt (D) 10/10/02
  10. President Bush Outlines the Iraqi Threat at Cincinnati Union Terminal Speech, October 7 2002
  11. Sen. John Kerry 1/23/03
  12. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Phase II pt2 report on “Pre-War Intelligence and Assessments”; “Additional Views” section, pg. 142
  13. Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD (aka The Duelfer Report)
  14. Sen. John Kerry (D) 10/09/2002
  15. “Saddam Was No Threat, Right?” Flopping Aces
  16. “Iran hands IAEA nuclear blueprints”AP
  17. “The Lie That Bush Lied” Scott Malensek

13 Responses to “Intel Reports: Saddam Could Have Had Nukes By 2007”

  1. 1

    wordsmith

    Amazing piece of research and compilation, Scott!

    Highlighted, underscored, and bookmarked for future referencing! Thanks for the “leg”work.

  2. 2

    Scott Malensek

    Thanks! I saw the two articles-the one about Saddam’s interrogator, and the one about Iran handing over the plans for the nuclear bomb that they had as part of their peaceful nuclear power (oxymoron), and I saw them a the same time I happened to be looking at the 2002 declassified NIE for something else. All of a sudden I saw that “2007”, and I wondered….what if?

    I’d just done that big piece for New Media Journal on how the invasion was pretty much inevitable and was in fact a last resort despite bush-haters/anti-war claims.
    http://www.newmediajournal.us/staff/malensek/11132007.htm

    …and I wondered what if:
    -US never invaded and Saddam got a bomb like intel and interrogator claimed?

  3. 3

    John Ryan

    Except for the fissile material. So without the fissile material it is not an atomic bomb, rightb ?
    And what is all of this aboutanyway ? I thought that we had decided that WMDs were really not that important to justify the invasion/occupation. It was enough to bring democracy and stability to Iran so that democracy could spread all over the mid east.

  4. 4

    Scott Malensek

    No john. There’s a multitude of casus belli. Wars are not football games or bar room brawls with one issue at the core. They start because of a pile of issues. WMD, ties to AQ, democracy, battlefield of our preference not AQ’s, and many MANY more.

    as to the fissile material, imagine a bomb sans such material in the hands of Saddam (who had already specifically said he’d use WMD on the US regardless of consequences-nice transcript of a tape in the ISG report of this btw). Do you trust that he’d go against his word, or trust his word, his history, and his nature?

  5. 5

    Mike’s America

    I hesitate to fault the Bush Administration for not highlighting the myriad of other reasons, such as the nuclear conflict you cite above, as part of our justification for the war to remove Saddam and liberate Iraq.

    I realize that they were saying some of these things, but that the media constantly focused on the Saddam-WMD linkage which turns out to be weaker than expected.

    As we’re realizing now in Iraq there are a host of benefits to a succesful strategy to liberate Iraq and they tie directly into our overall strategy to WIN the war on terror.

    We went into Iraq to remove Hussein. But by so doing, Al Queda made Iraq their line in the sand where the infidel (us) would be defeated.

    If the surge in Iraq continues to succeed it will be abundantly clear throughout the Muslim world that Al Queda was defeated utterly, by the United States, but more importantly BY OTHER MUSLIMS like the Sunnis and non-extremist Shia.

    In fact, Islamic extremism of both Shia and Sunni stripes will be seen to be defeated as extremists in the Mahdi Army are also being arrested or killed.

    It’s no wonder then that polls of Muslims worldwide show a drop in support for the concept of a violent jihad.

    If these trends continue, Iraq will be seen as the “keystone” in the Bush geostrategy which is a justification for invading Iraq that transcends all talk about WMDs.

  6. 6

    wordsmith

    I thought that we had decided that WMDs were really not that important to justify the invasion/occupation. It was enough to bring democracy and stability to Iran [Iraq] so that democracy could spread all over the mid east.

    A good article written in February of 2003, on the reasons why Iraq, which was more than just about w(s)md:

    AFTER IRAQ
    by NICHOLAS LEMANN
    The plan to remake the Middle East.
    Issue of 2003-02-17 and 24
    Posted 2003-02-10

    Has a war ever been as elaborately justified in advance as the coming war with Iraq? Because this war is not being undertaken in direct response to a single shattering event (it’s been nearly a year and a half since the September 11th attacks), and because the possibility of military action against Saddam Hussein has been Washington’s main preoccupation for the better part of a year, the case for war has grown so large and variegated that its very multiplicity has become a part of the case against it. In his State of the Union address, President Bush offered at least four justifications, none of them overlapping: the cruelty of Saddam against his own people; his flouting of treaties and United Nations Security Council resolutions; the military threat that he poses to his neighbors; and his ties to terrorists in general and to Al Qaeda in particular. In addition, Bush hinted at the possibility that Saddam might attack the United States or enable someone else to do so. There are so many reasons for going to war floating around—at least some of which, taken alone, either are nothing new or do not seem to point to Iraq specifically as the obvious place to wage it—that those inclined to suspect the motives of the Administration have plenty of material with which to argue that it is being disingenuous. So, along with all the stated reasons, there is a brisk secondary traffic in “real” reasons, which are similarly numerous and do not overlap: the country is going to war because of a desire to control Iraqi oil, or to help Israel, or to avenge Saddam’s 1993 assassination attempt on President George H. W. Bush.
    Yet another argument for war, which has emerged during the last few months, is that removing Saddam could help bring about a wholesale change for the better in the political, cultural, and economic climate of the Arab Middle East. To give one of many possible examples, Fouad Ajami, an expert on the Arab world who is highly respected inside the Bush Administration, proposes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that the United States might lead “a reformist project that seeks to modernize and transform the Arab landscape. Iraq would be the starting point, and beyond Iraq lies an Arab political and economic tradition and a culture whose agonies have been on cruel display.” The Administration’s main public proponent of this view is Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, who often speaks about the possibility that war in Iraq could help bring democracy to the Arab Middle East. President Bush appeared to be making the same point in the State of the Union address when he remarked that “all people have a right to choose their own government, and determine their own destiny—and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom.”
    Even those suffering from justification fatigue ought to pay special attention to this one, because it goes beyond the category of reasons offered in support of a course of action that has already been decided upon and set in motion. Unlike the other justifications, it is both a reason for war and a plan for the future. It also cries out for elaboration. Democracy is a wonderful idea, but none of the countries in the Middle East, except Israel and Turkey, resemble anything that would look like a democracy to Americans. Some Middle Eastern countries are now and have always been ruled by monarchs. Some are under the control of an ethnic or religious group that represents a minority of the population. Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are the world’s only major nations named after a single family, and in Saudi Arabia the royal family functions as, in effect, the country’s owner. Most Middle Eastern countries don’t even make the pretense of having freely elected parliaments; in Iran, for example, candidates have to be approved by the mullahs. And the very problem that democracy in the Middle East is meant to solve—rising Islamic radicalism, encouraged or tolerated by governments that see it as a way to propitiate their increasingly poorer and younger populations—makes the prospect of elections dangerous, because anti-American Islamists might win.
    People in the Administration are quick to explain that, where the Middle East is concerned, they don’t mean immediate, American-style electoral democracy but, rather, a deliberate building of “civil society” or “democratic institutions,” like a free press, political parties, open markets, and a system of written laws and courts that administer them, with national parliamentary elections as the final, and somewhat distant, step. That seems a worthwhile project, but if it takes place in the aftermath of a war it should be understood as involving the making of choices and the use of power by the United States, rather than merely polite encouragement. In search of a plausible scenario for the postwar future of the Middle East, I recently spoke with two Pentagon officials who have a reputation as leading hawks in the Administration: Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, which is the job that Wolfowitz held in the first Bush Administration; and Stephen Cambone, who entered this Administration as Feith’s deputy, and is now in charge of evaluating weapons systems and other Pentagon programs.

    Stephen Cambone, who has an E Ring office that is somewhat smaller than Feith’s, is big and athletic-looking, and he speaks more guardedly than Feith does—almost in code, rather than in Feith’s full, elegant sentences. When I asked him how an American victory in Iraq might affect other Middle Eastern countries, he said, “The leadership in the countries in that region is changing. You’ve seen changes in Syria, you’ve seen them in Jordan; there will, over some period of time, be changes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and other places. The Palestinians. The way in which Iraq affects the calculations of those governments and their populations.” How does Iraq affect their calculations? He mentioned the “transshipment of oil, and illicit flows, and trade coming in that you try to avoid sanctions against,” which produce an “undercutting, or undermining, of what would otherwise be the standard and ordinary relationships among states which would otherwise have their relationship based on mutual interest.” He added, “Because Iraq is not a normal state, it is dysfunctional with respect to the politics of the region, and that, in turn, has profound effects on the internal politics of the individual states.” Cambone seemed to be referring specifically to the relationship between Syria and Iraq: the Iraqis provide oil to the Syrians, supposedly well in excess of the quantities permitted under United Nations sanctions, and get Syrian money and support in return. Jordan is also dependent on Iraqi oil, which means that its government has to tolerate Saddam’s political wooing of the country’s Palestinian majority. If Iraqi oil came with different ideological strings attached, these governments might feel freer to resist Islamic radicalism openly.
    Will there be further regime changes in the Middle East? “Things won’t be the same after as they were before,” Cambone said. “Just by virtue of the event occurring, people making commitments. So should a conflict, and I underline should, if, maybe— There is a prospect that things, yeah, I think things could change in many of those places. Now, things could also go badly. One should not discount, for all that one can imagine good things happening, the prospect that things that would not be helpful or positive could occur, too”—especially, he added, if the United States and its allies do not manage the postwar period adeptly. Is the hope of effecting secondary changes part of the motivation for war? Cambone thought for a long moment. “Hmm. I don’t know how to answer that.” He stopped again, and finally, deliberately, said, “There is no lack of reflection on what the consequences either of the regime persisting or of its being gone might be. That is all part and parcel of how one thinks through the problem.”

    A few things should be said about this vision of the near-term future in the Middle East. It is breathtakingly ambitious and optimistic. It might plausibly be described as a spreading of democracy but, perhaps more important, it would also involve, as the “Clean Break” paper said, forcefully altering the regional balance of power. And it differs greatly from the vision of the future of the Middle East that will prevail among liberals, both here and abroad, after the war in Iraq. It treats Pan-Arab nationalism as illegitimate. It does not accept the widespread assumption that no regional good can follow the fall of Saddam unless peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority begin immediately. And it sees the fall of Saddam Hussein less as the end of a great diplomatic and military effort than as a step in an ongoing process.
    The chances that President Bush has read David Wurmser’s book must be pretty close to zero. But in the State of the Union address Bush rhetorically made some room for the United States to pursue an aggressive post-Iraq-war agenda in the Middle East. Washington was, understandably, so focussed on how Bush would “make the case” for war with Iraq that the State of the Union’s foreign-policy doctrinal material, which preceded Bush’s discussion of Saddam Hussein, got almost no attention. The news about that section of the speech is that Bush defined the United States’ mission more broadly than he ever has before. This mission, he said, is not just protecting the country from terrorist attacks, and not just ridding the world of “every terrorist group of global reach” (the previous formulation, which he unveiled in his speech on September 20, 2001), but “confronting and defeating the man-made evil of international terrorism.” By dropping the qualifying clause “of global reach,” he gave the United States enough doctrinal space to declare war, if it wishes, on purely regional overseas terrorist organizations, like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs. Bush made it clear that he considers killing terrorists to be well within the United States’ charter, and that the support of allies is not a necessary precondition of American military action overseas. States “that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons”—a category that clearly includes Iran and (if you take out nuclear weapons) Syria—have sacrificed their right to sovereignty. It is the United States’ duty and its responsibility not just to protect itself but also to spread liberty, which is “God’s gift to humanity,” to every nation, to bring about “the end of terrible threats to the civilized world,” and to be the guarantor of “the hopes of all mankind.”
    What these phrases will mean for the Middle East, precisely, is hard to say, because war leads to so many unpredictable consequences. But what they will mean in Washington couldn’t be clearer. After the war in Iraq has ended, the war between the hawks and the doves will continue.

  7. 7

    Scott Malensek

    Ya know, if only I’d have included a para or two about the effects of a Ron Paul foreign policy=a nuclear Saddam…maybe they’d have come out of the woodwork. Oh well

    ;p

  8. 8

    bbartlog

    After all, he had managed to secretly build a bomb […] all he needed […] was […] a special metal ball of highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

    This is sort of like saying that I made an ice cream sundae, except without the ice cream. Purifying the fissile material is economically the hardest part of making a nuclear weapon (typically, thousands of centrifuges or other devices depending on the method chosen). I should also point out that U-235 and Pu-238 are different enough that you can’t just make a bomb that will accommodate a sphere of either material, so your statement can’t literally be true. But given that making the non-fissile parts of the bomb isn’t really the hardest part (though it is also quite difficult), this is a minor point.

  9. 9

    Scott Malensek

    You’re proving my point. He could have made a bomb, and he wanted a bomb, and-as the intel before the war claimed-he’d have to get the special weapons grade matl from outside. DPRK comes to mind right off the bat.

  10. 10

    jugger

    well,too bad, with a nuclear Pakistan sliding in to the hands of the islamofacists it all of sudden would have been good to have a nuclear buffer (Saddam) in the region, after-all he was at extreme odds with islam and disliked the extremists and warred with Iran for decades…so really if Bush doesnt stabilize Pakistan this could be another negative for his legacy.

  11. 11

    wordsmith

    after-all he was at extreme odds with islam and disliked the extremists

    “extreme odds”? That is not at all entirely accurate; and the notion that a secular Saddam would not seek operational relationships with Islamic extremists is a myth.

  12. 12

    ChrisG

    Yeah Jugger, Let’s have not only have multiple islamofascists with nukes, but also add a national socialist with islamofascists allies and AQ training camps in his country “counter” the threat…..

    Kind of like having a NS Germany “counter” a Communist USSSR. Poland did not fair too well there.

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