Romney's Null Set - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Romney’s Null Set
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In a series of posts, Ezra Klein has been taking aim at Mitt Romney for making the argument during Tuesday's debate that, "if Saddam Hussein had opened his country to IAEA inspectors and they'd gone in and found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn't be in this conflict. But he didn't do those things." This statement has caused quite a stir on the liberal blogs, with Ezra and others pointing out that Saddam did let in the IAEA, but they didn't find any weapons.

To be fair to Ezra, he is correct that factually speaking, Romney was wrong in saying Saddam did not open up Iraq to inspectors. But to be fair to Romney, while Saddam did allow inspectors to visit Iraq, he did not allow Iraqi scientists to be interviewed outside of Iraq, free from intimidation, and his declarations to the U.N. left many weapons unaccounted for.

In Cobra II, Michael Gordon offered what I think is the most plausible account of Saddam's mindset at the time. Citing interviews and a classified U.S. military report, he found that while Saddam wanted to get the United Nations off his back, he deliberately took steps to make sure he didn't totally cooperate, because he wanted to preserve a cloud of doubt regarding his WMD as a deterrent against Iran and internal enemies.

 In a NY Times account summarizing his findings, Gordon wrote:

 To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

 Hussein's compliance was not complete, though. Iraq's declarations to the United Nations covering what stocks of illicit weapons it had possessed and how it had disposed of them were old and had gaps. And Hussein would not allow his weapons scientists to leave the country, where United Nations officials could interview them outside the government's control.

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons – a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview "deterrence by doubt."

That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Hussein's efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.

So, while Ezra is right about the specific wording Romney chose, it is true that Saddam was not totally cooperative with inspectors, and if you buy Gordon's account, this was by design. Obviously, a preponderance of evidence now shows that the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam's WMD programs. But given Saddam's history of deceiving weapon's inspectors, it wasn't unreasonable at the time to view with suspicion the gaps in Iraq's declarations to the U.N. and his unwillingness to allow scientists to be interviewed outside of the country.

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