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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 11:36 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 11:36 | SYDNEY

Iraq: The real intelligence failure...

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This post is part of the The Iraq war ten years on debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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18 March 2013 16:29


This post is part of the The Iraq war ten years on debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

...was not the failure to uncover certain facts, but a failure to consider alternative hypotheses. Here's Bush Administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (my emphasis):

I speak from my particular vantage point of the White House, and I recognize that everything I say can be discounted because it's so self-serving. One of the things Dr. Sepp, I think, said, which I think is exactly right in terms of failure of intelligence, it's really a failure of imagination. It never occurred to me or anyone else I was working with, and no one from the intelligence community or anyplace else ever came in and said, what if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn't want the Iranians to know? Now, somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did. It turns out that was the most important question in terms of the intelligence failure that never got asked.

 Hadley might have been thinking of this section of the Iraq Survey Group's final report:

WMD Possession—Real or Imagined—Acts as a Deterrent

The Iran-Iraq war and the ongoing suppression of internal unrest taught Saddam the importance of WMD to the dominance and survival of the Regime. Following the destruction of much of the Iraqi WMD infrastructure during Desert Storm, however, the threats to the Regime remained; especially his perception of the overarching danger from Iran. In order to counter these threats, Saddam continued with his public posture of retaining the WMD capability. This led to a difficult balancing act between the need to disarm to achieve sanctions relief while at the same time retaining a strategic deterrent. The Regime never resolved the contradiction inherent in this approach. Ultimately, foreign perceptions of these tensions contributed to the destruction of the Regime.

  • Saddam never discussed using deception as a policy, but he used to say privately that the “better part of war was deceiving,” according to ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid. He stated that Saddam wanted to avoid appearing weak and did not reveal he was deceiving the world about the presence of WMD.
  • The UN’s inconclusive assessment of Iraq’s possession of WMD, in Saddam’s view, gave pause to Iran. Saddam was concerned that the UN inspection process would expose Iraq’s vulnerability, thereby magnifying the effect of Iran’s own capability. Saddam compared the analogy of a warrior striking the wrist of another, with the potential effect of the UN inspection process. He clarified by saying that, despite the strength of the arm, striking the wrist or elbow can be a more decisive blow to incapacitate the entire arm; knowledge of your opponents’ weaknesses is a weapon in itself.

Photo by Flickr user The US Army.

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