Saddam's Iranian Bluff

It sometimes happens that one small piece of information can help a lot of other things make sense. Thus it is with this revelation:

Ever since American forces invaded, overran and occupied Iraq in 2003, and discovered no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, the great lingering question about the war has been why Saddam Hussein would spend an entire decade acting as though he possessed WMDs when he didn’t. Since the ceasefire agreement he’d signed in 1991, in order to remain in power after the first Gulf War, obligated him to get rid of them, why would Saddam intentionally endure crippling United Nations sanctions as he jerked around, and finally ejected, weapons inspectors? Why wouldn’t he just come clean if he had nothing to hide?

The answer, according Ronald Kessler in his new book, The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack, is that Saddam ultimately feared United Nations actions less than he feared an attack from Iran . . . which, he calculated, would be much more likely if the leaders of Iran knew he had no WMDs. Kessler based his conclusions on information obtained by an Arabic-speaking FBI agent named George Piro who debriefed and befriended Saddam after the dictator’s capture in Iraq, during his months of captivity before his eventual execution.

In retrospect, Saddam’s calculus looks altogether logical. He’d fought a brutal stalemated war against Iran in the 1980s and viciously persecuted Iraq’s Shiite majority out of fear they might align themselves with their Shiite neighbor. More alarming still, from Saddam’s standpoint, was the fact that his own military had been decimated by the 1991 conflict with the American led coalition. If Iran did attack, he had no chance in a conventional war.

His last option was a bluff: Since he once possessed WMDs, and the entire world knew it, he pretended he still did. He knew it would antagonize America, as well as the rest of the U.N. Security Council, but he figured that the threat of an American invasion to enforce the provisions of the 1991 ceasefire was less dire than the threat of an Iranian invasion to crush a bitter enemy and take control of Iraq’s oil resources. According to Kessler, “Saddam said that if America thought that he had WMDs, then of course Iran would, and this would fulfill his goal of making sure that Iran did not want to attack Iraq.”

What Saddam never counted on, of course, was September 11, 2001. Kessler’s book should put to rest, once and for all, the notion that Saddam was somehow involved in Osama bin Laden’s plot. The 9/11 attacks were Saddam’s worst nightmare because they changed the risk equation for the United States. Suddenly, the prospect of Saddam hiding WMDs went from being an ongoing nuisance to a mortal dread. What was to stop him from handing them off to al Qaeda?

President Bush decided the risk was intolerable — and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
So now it all makes sense. All the evidence for Saddam's WMDs was indeed cooked up--by Saddam himself, in a desperate gamble to keep Iran at bay. It must be admitted, he succeeded in that. However, in the long run, his strategy was a dismal failure, since it brought the attention of a nation whose armed forces he could not hope to beat--namely, the USA. In attempting to forestall invasion by one nation, he invited invasion by another. Of course, he's now paid for that mistake with his life.

However, this is good ammunition against the Bush-lied-people-died meme. It would be better if it were reworded to Saddam-lied-Saddam-died.