October 10, 2003


[Saddam's] WMD Lies (Daniel Pipes, 10/10/2003)

Suppose for an instant that no weapons of mass destruction ever turn up in Iraq. Of course, they might well still appear, but let's imagine that Saddam Hussein did not have an advanced program for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to carry them.

[....]Why would a leader who reached the top of a slippery pole through supreme guile, persist in so counterproductive a policy? His biographers, Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi, describe Saddam Hussein's characteristics as "obsessive caution, endless patience, tenacious perseverance, impressive manipulative skills and utter ruthlessness." How could he not have cut his losses, acknowledged the nonexistence of his WMD program, and thereby have saved his dictatorship?

This mistake can best be explained as the result of Saddam inhabiting the uniquely self-indulgent circumstance of the totalitarian autocrat, with its two key qualities:

Hubris: The absolute ruler can do anything he wants, so he thinks himself unbounded in his power.

Ignorance: The all-wise ruler brooks no contradiction, so his aides, fearing for their lives, tell him only what he wants to hear. Both these incapacities worsen with time and the tyrant becomes increasingly removed from reality. His whims, eccentricities and fantasies dominate state policy. The result is a pattern of monumental mistakes.

Two historical examples make this point. Hitler was winning World War II until he insisted, against the muted advice of his generals, to begin a two-front war by attacking the Soviet Union. Stalin responded to the buildup of Nazi forces along his border by pretending the whole thing was not taking place.

Hitler's mistake is seen as one of the turning points of World War II and a key reason for Germany's defeat. Stalin's error caused the deaths of many millions of his subjects. The Nazi-Soviet war was the largest, most brutal, and most deadly in human history, and it resulted primarily from the hubris and ignorance of two dictators.

Saddam Hussein already has a comparable record of mistakes (recall his disastrous invasions of Iran and Kuwait), so clinging to a nonexistent WMD program even as it led to his own perdition should come as no surprise. We on the outside can only imagine the ambitions and distortions that prompted his faulty decisions.

The propensity of totalitarian demigods to self-inflicted wounds has direct implications for dealing with North Korea, Libya, and other rogue states. Their rulers' vanity and isolation can lead toward a catastrophe that makes no sense to the outside world, but which has a vast capacity to do harm.

Despite the major media's effort to the contrary and despite the as-yet-unlocated WMD, the good news slowly seeping out of Iraq appears to be just a trickle of what will surely be a flowing river in due time. In fact, it may be enough to drown the cries from the "yeah, but there's still no WMD" crowd.

If WMD are located, what will be really laughable is the audacity of the Kerrys, Deans, Clintons, Kennedys, et al re-repositioning themselves to take credit somehow.

Posted by John Resnick at October 10, 2003 12:41 PM

All the nay-sayers will merely claim that they were doing their constitutional duty as the 'opposition party'. But it won't wash, no matter how many editorials the NYT issues on the subject. The real point will be to watch what other Democrats (younger ones, mainly, looking ahead to 2008 and beyond) will say. Ari Fleischer's warning about watching what one says is just as true for them.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 10, 2003 2:19 PM

By next spring, calling Bush a "shrub" and a "moron" is going to sound an awful lot like whistling past the graveyard.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 10, 2003 8:04 PM