The recent capitualtions by Iraq (allowing U2 flyovers, granting limited access to some scientists, etc) of course are a tactic aimed at stalling the US longer, since they have the possibility of giving more rhetorical ammo to the inspection-hawks on the UNSC. Some might take this as bad news, but I don’t really see it as very useful information about when a war could start. Rather, i think it tells more simply about Saddam’s own perception of the situation.
Firs off, everyone knows that Iraq would do everything possible to make sure that whatever concessions they make are as much for show as possible, such as telling their scientists to be interviewed by the UN: “Look of course we want you to cooperate with the inspectors, but if you divulge any information to them that is vital to Iraqi national security we’re gonna have to torture you and your family to death. And, by the way, anything relating to any WMDs is all considered vital to our national security. But by all means, cooperate with the inspectors, k?”
So really, there isn’t a huge probability that Blix and co. would garner anything truly important from the agreements recently made with Iraq. Yet, Iraq is still taking more of a risk in allowing the inspectors the kind of new access (hedged and dishonest as it may be) than they ever have before. Saddam’s capital in this escapade of his has always been the degree to which he was able to hold back any information from leaking out of Iraq about his weapons programs. These recent moves amount to more spending of that capital than he has done since even before he agreed to 1441.
I think that’s significant, because it seems to reveal something about what the current mindset is for Saddam and for his small band of Tikrit thugs. Basically, I think that they are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, meaning that in some way, this current inspections game isn’t going last much longer. Some possibilities as to just what I think that light could be (from most to least likely):
1) Saddam sees the window for a US military campaign closing: Den Beste has said that “if there are no American soldiers patrolling the streets of Baghdad on May 1, we are all royally fucked.” That might be a little too stringent of an assessment, if not only because even if the attack started tomorrow there’s no guarantee it would be basically over by the 1st. But i think his statement is essentially correct if you replace “May 1st” with the “Ides of March.” That leaves us some time, but really only a couple weeks for the war to start before some of the seasonal issues start coming into play, as well as just the operational level of readiness would presumably begin to wear down, assuming it was past the point of top military readiness for our troops in the region (more on that below).
I think Saddam sees, in much the same way that Bill Quick does, that even now we’re coming close to (if we have not already reached and passed it) the point where the momentum for war slows down so much that it can’t be started up again. I personally have no idea if this is actually the case, but I think it is the perception that Saddam is working off of right now: Stall them just a little more. Give them something that would really cause the inspectors to drool, even if it means putting the programs at risk. They’re almost on the verge of collapse. After they reach that point, it almost won’t even matter what the inspectors can find.
2) The US has reached, or will soon reach, ideal military preparedness for an invasion. I find this slightly less likely than the above because it first assumes that a) Saddam has any means of knowing (or at least thinking he knows) when the US would be at peak readiness and b) that he would think that making more concessions to the UN, and thus giving the French more of a (shallow) reason to carp about the viability of inspections, would actually forestall Bush from unilaterally giving the go-ahead.
Neither of these are really that unlikely as assumptions, but they’re by no means assured either.
With regards to a), the idea that he would have reliable information concerning the our forces’ preparedness that would be detailed enough to give him some hint as to when they would be most ready to attack seems pretty doubtful. However, there is a distinct possiblity, being surrounded by the kind of cowering yes-men that his personal eccentricities have engendered in his advisors, an environment where the messenger is very often shot, after the messenger’s family and friends have also been killed, he might very well think he knows a lot more than he does.
Saddam isn’t stupid, but he’s been living in what is eesentially a fantasy world for 20 years. It was that very environment that led to his disastrous missteps during the Gulf War, so it’s very possible that he’s been fooled into think he knows a lot more than he actually does.
As for assumption b), I predict that, at most, Bush and Blair will try to time their presenting of a new UNSC resolution authorizing military force to coincide with us getting everything ideally in place to launch an invasion. There would, at most, be a couple days of discussion, at which either they would either vote yes, and we would go, or they would vote no, and we would go.
But, as mentioned above, stalling the US after it’s reached prime readiness is a thousand times more important than trying to do so while we’re not even capable of attacking yet, and if this can be done for even 6 weeks, the liklihood of the invasion happening drops considerably. It’s concievable that Saddam (rightly or wrongly) thinks we’re nearing that point, at which point he would be more readily agreeable to taking risks so as to make concessions (or seem to) and thus maybe stall the invasion. And in the same way as before, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that his warped sense of the world would lead him to believe that such concessions could actually generate enough opposition in the UNSC to actually stay Bush’s hand.
And, even if he has a better grasp on reality than that and doubts the probability of his new stall tactics working in this scenario, the amount of risk involved in a US attack far outweighs the risk he’s taking in possibly exposing a few more secrets of his WMD programs.
3) Saddam is imminently close to getting a nuke: Easily the scariest possibility. It would mean the game would undergo a complete overhaul. Not that it would completely shift to a North Korea-like scenario, where we have to suddenly be content with treating Saddam with some degree of legitimacy and dealing with him as more of an equal, but certainly the situation would move in that direction. Suddenly attacking would be a much more perilous proposition, meaning we might not do it at all, or if we did, it could very well mean some sort of catastrophe: either a spiteful, top-o-the-world-ma type of nuclear strike against Israel or Turkey, or one that could possibly kill thousands of advancing US troops. Even as spread out as the formations would necessarily be, with all the measures that CENTCOM would of course take to minimize the damage from such an act, I still think there’s a chance this could generate thousands of deaths among our troops. Luckily though, I find this to be somewhat farfetched. At least, I’m hoping it is.
So, for what it’s worth, I think these recent moves reveal at least something about what is going on in the Iraqi side of this game. The only problem is that Saddam has virtually no agency when it comes to deciding when the war will start, or even if there will be one at all. That’s Bush’s jurisdiction. You might be able to take his maneuverings as reactionary indications as to what we’re doing or going to do, but as I said before, the information he’s working off of might be much worse than the simple amount of un-knowledge that we all have to work with.
As for myself, I’m sticking to the tentative hope that we’re going to attack within a few days after we reach the moment of being in the best state of readiness to do so, with or without UN approval.
When wil that happen?
Geez, I dunno. I’m just a stupid kid. Go ask Den Beste. He seems to know what he’s talking about.
last update : 25-3-2017