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Iraq and a Lack of Intelligence

2003-03-10

On the 22nd of June, a door opened before us, and we didn’t know what was behind it. We could look out for gas warfare, bacteriological warfare. The heavy uncertainty took me by the throat. Here we were faced by beings who are complete strangers to us. – Adolf Hitler, 17 October 1941
 
Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge…. What is called ‘foreknowledge’ cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation. – Sun Tzu

The United States wishes to invade Iraq. The stated goal is to remove an imminent threat of strategic nuclear, biological and/or chemical weapons that pose, together or separately, a clear and present danger to the United States, her allies and the world in general. As of today, it remains unclear whether Iraq possesses such weapons and, if so, to what extent such a threat is credible. Information acquired by United Nations agencies operating in Iraq has so far been inconclusive. Public intelligence briefings by the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries have also been inconclusive. After considerable effort and with considerable motivation to garner international political and popular support for an invasion through persuasive intelligence, the results are, again, inconclusive. In spite of this and facing significant international opposition, the United States is resolute in its desire to invade Iraq.

Something is amiss. Even an undergraduate student of international politics knows that one does not launch military adventures without clear goals supported by conclusive intelligence. Therefore, in the case of Iraq, are there alternative goals, unstated publicly, for which N/B/C weapons is but a secondary consideration? Here is a list of candidates:

  1. revenge for the 11 September attack on the World Trade Center in New York
  2. to reduce the power and influence of Al-Qaeda
  3. to increase the geopolitical stability of the Middle East
  4. to gain international prestige for the purpose of projecting power and influence
  5. to acquire economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and/or military assets
  6. to test military technologies, personnel and systems under live-fire conditions

The first four are invalid because:

  1. there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in the 11 September attack
  2. Saddam Hussein’s regime is secular; it represses Al-Qaeda
  3. Iraq is an independent, secure and politically stable buffer against Iran
  4. ‘USUK’ is currently suffering a loss of prestige within the international community

That leaves only two viable reasons for invading Iraq:

  • to acquire economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and/or military assets
  • to test military technologies, personnel and systems under live-fire conditions

Since the primary function of the United Nations is to prevent countries from invading each other to acquire economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and/or military assets, such an invasion must take place under the guise of defense. From all appearances, the United States and the United Kingdom are using N/B/C weapons to construct a defensive story to mask an offensive strategy. Yet the clumsiness of the defensive story suggests arrogance and incompetence.

In my opinion, George Bush and Tony Blair are pursuing their own, personal, moral agendas. Both men are deeply religious. Neither man is particularly intelligent. They often state that an invasion is “the right thing to do,” as though they had a direct line of communication with God. Regardless of my opinion, an invasion must be evaluated in terms of the costs and benefits of achieving desired goals under adverse conditions. Presume the primary goal is to acquire economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and/or military assets. What are those assets?

  • favorable trade agreements with a new regime
  • access to large reserves of oil
  • reconstruction and infrastructure contracts for American companies
  • US military bases and regional intelligence gathering facilities
  • a pro-American buffer state adjacent to Iran and Kuwait

What are the costs of achieving desired goals under ideal conditions?

  • approximately US$200 billion
  • low/limited military and civilian casualties
  • short-term regional instability (2 years)

What are the costs of achieving desired goals under adverse conditions?

  • approximately US$400 billion
  • high/limited military and civilian casualties
  • medium-term regional instability (5 years)

What are the potential costs of failing to achieve desired goals?

  • approximately US$800 billion
  • high/unlimited military and civilian casualties
  • long-term regional instability (10 years)
  • ethnic and religious strife, possible civil war
  • the rise of an Islamic, anti-Western government
  • significant loss of international and regional prestige and influence
  • significant loss of effectiveness against potential military threats (Iran, Syria, Libya)
  • increased global, anti-Western terrorist activity

What is the actual situation on the ground? Iraq, like the former Yugoslavia, is ethnically and religiously heterogeneous. Saddam Hussein, like Tito, is a strong-man who holds the country together. We know what happened to Yugoslavia after Tito’s death. A similar fate awaits Iraq. Culture matters. The United States and United Kingdom developed their democratic institutions over a period of centuries. The legal, economic and social foundations on which those democratic institutions were built go back a thousand years. Democracy will not take root in Iraq in the space of a few months. At best, it will take 50 years.

Without a comprehensive, long-term plan for the administration and reconstruction of Iraq, the cost of acquiring economic, commercial, political, diplomatic and/or military assets will be high. There is also a risk those assets will be seized by the new regime or otherwise rendered valueless. Moreover, the potential negative externalities of increased, global, terrorist activity, while difficult to quantify, will be borne in part by people with no interest in the conflict.

Based on this calculus, an invasion now, particularly without international support, would be a major strategic error. In brief, the United States would be committing itself to an expensive course of action for which there is only one possible justification: the discovery and destruction of strategic N/B/C weapons. To undertake such a mission, therefore, without conclusive intelligence amounts to a high-stakes roll the dice.

Postscript:

On 17 March 2003, a week after this article was written, Robin Cook delivered one of the finest speeches in modern British history, receiving an unprecedented standing ovation in the House of Commons. Yet in spite of his formidable reputation, his crystal-clear logic and powerful rhetoric, he was unable to prevent the House of Commons from making one of the greatest blunders in modern British history. He placed a lifetime’s faith in the wisdom of the House and witnessed its failure. For many people, 18 March 2003 (the Commons vote) marked the end of the legitimacy of British parliamentary democracy. It certainly destroyed the career and reputation of Tony Blair.

References:

Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944: His Private Conversations, 3rd edition, translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens. Enigma Books, New York, 2000

Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1971