Ah, but Bush lied! Lied, I tell you!
Appearing in the upcoming May/June 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs will be this article, entitled "Saddam's Delusions: The View from the Inside."
It presents excerpts from the recently declassified book-length report of the USJFCOM Iraqi Perspectives Project. Author Kevin Woods is a defense analyst in Washington, D.C., author James Lacey a military analyst for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and author Williamson Murray a Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy. Along with Mark Stout and Michael Pease, they were the principal participants in the USJFCOM Iraqi Perspectives Project.
The article is quite a read. Here is one of many tidbits if offers:
When it came to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them. Coming clean about WMD and using full compliance with inspections to escape from sanctions would have been his best course of action for the long run. Saddam, however, found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having WMD, especially since it played so well in the Arab world.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians in 1987, was convinced Iraq no longer possessed WMD but claims that many within Iraq's ruling circle never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelons of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth. According to Chemical Ali, Saddam was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have WMD but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration might encourage the Israelis to attack.
Saddam believed he would win the war and stay in power, almost to the end (narcissists and megalomaniacs are like that). In his regime, there was no way of detecting the truth, even for insiders --and, in some cases, even for Saddam:
Ironically, it now appears that some of the actions resulting from Saddam's new policy of cooperation actually helped solidify the coalition's case for war. Over the years, Western intelligence services had obtained many internal Iraqi communications, among them a 1996 memorandum from the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service directing all subordinates to "insure that there is no equipment, materials, research, studies, or books related to manufacturing of the prohibited weapons (chemical, biological, nuclear, and missiles) in your site." And when UN inspectors went to these research and storage locations, they inevitably discovered lingering evidence of WMD-related programs.
In 2002, therefore, when the United States intercepted a message between two Iraqi Republican Guard Corps commanders discussing the removal of the words "nerve agents" from "the wireless instructions," or learned of instructions to "search the area surrounding the headquarters camp and [the unit] for any chemical agents, make sure the area is free of chemical containers, and write a report on it," U.S. analysts viewed this information through the prism of a decade of prior deceit. They had no way of knowing that this time the information reflected the regime's attempt to ensure it was in compliance with UN resolutions.
This constant stream of false reporting undoubtedly accounts for why many of Saddam's calculations on operational, strategic, and political issues made perfect sense to him. According to Aziz, "The people in the Military Industrial Commission were liars. They lied to you, and they lied to Saddam. They were always saying that they were producing or procuring special weapons so that they could get favors out of Saddam -- money, cars, everything -- but they were liars. If they did all of this business and brought in all of these secret weapons, why didn't [the weapons] work?"
Members of the Military Industrial Commission were not the only liars. Bending the truth was particularly common among the most trusted members of Saddam's inner circle -- especially when negative news might reflect poorly on the teller's abilities or reputation. According to one former high-ranking Baath Party official, "Saddam had an idea about Iraq's conventional and potential unconventional capabilities, but never an accurate one because of the extensive lying occurring in that area. Many reports were falsified. The ministers attempted to convey a positive perspective with reports, which were forwarded to Saddam's secretary, who in turn passed them up to Saddam." In the years before Operation Iraqi Freedom, everyone around Saddam understood that his need to hear only good news was constantly growing and that it was in their best interest to feed that hunger.
For many months after the fall of Baghdad, a number of senior Iraqi officials in coalition custody continued to believe it possible that Iraq still possessed a WMD capability hidden away somewhere (although they adamantly insisted that they had no direct knowledge of WMD programs). Coalition interviewers discovered that this belief was based on the fact that Iraq had possessed and used WMD in the past and might need them again; on the plausibility of secret, compartmentalized WMD programs existing given how the Iraqi regime worked; and on the fact that so many Western governments believed such programs existed.
I've written about WMDs before, and discussed why their actual existence or non-existence was not--in my opinion and that of many others--the make-or-break justification for the war. I don't want to beat this particular horse again, as it seems to lead nowhere and convince no one (although that may not stop the arguments from going on ad nauseum).
But I thought the material from this particular article fascinating in and of itself, presenting a chilling picture--almost a caricature--of what happens in a tyrannical dictatorship in which every person is afraid that, if he gives the Leader bad news, the answer will be "Off with his head!" (and, in the interests of gender neutrality, I suppose it could sometimes be "Off with her head!")
Dictators such as Saddam may start out relatively sane, or they may not. But there tends to be a trajectory towards greater and greater lack of connection to reality. It certainly happened to Hitler in his last years, although some of his problems may have stemmed from various diseases he is speculated to have had.
This increasing paranoia/irrationality and its effects--the fact that no one can tell the tyrant the truth--has its good points and its bad. The good is that it tends to lower the leader's effectiveness in the decision-making process, and may cause major lapses of judgment that can be fatal to his cause. The bad news is that no one can count on that, and in the meantime the tyrant spirals more and more out of control and can do even more damage, both domestically and internationally.
[ADDENDUM: Prediction: someone in the comments section will say this article actually describes Bushhitler.]