October 25, 2005

Dick Cheney on why we should stay out of Iraq

Good Questions:

If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, April 13, 1991

The truly strange thing is that a decade later, Dick Cheney agitated ceaselessly to topple Saddam Hussein ... yet he never bothered to answer any of those questions he posed in 1991.

In 1996, Cheney, then chairman of Halliburton, again defended, on PBS' Frontline, the first Bush Administration's decision to leave a severely weakened Saddam in power:

... the idea of going into Baghdad, for example, or trying to topple the regime wasn't anything I was enthusiastic about. I felt there was a real danger here that you would get bogged down in a long drawn-out conflict, that this was a dangerous, difficult part of the world; if you recall we were all worried about the possibility of Iraq coming apart, the Iranians restarting the conflict that they'd had in the eight-year bloody war with the Iranians and the Iraqis over eastern Iraq. We had concerns about the Kurds in the north, the Turks get very nervous every time we start to talk about an independent Kurdistan...Now you can say, well, you should have gone to Baghdad and gotten Saddam. I don't think so. I think if we had done that we would have been bogged down there for a very long period of time with the real possibility we might not have succeeded.

[I]f Saddam wasn't there, his successor probably wouldn't be notably friendlier to the United States than he is. I also look at that part of the world as of vital interest to the United States; for the next hundred years it's going to be the world's supply of oil. We've got a lot of friends in the region. We're always going to have to be involved there. Maybe it's part of our national character, you know, we like to have these problems nice and neatly wrapped up, put a ribbon around it. You deploy a force, you win the war, and the problem goes away, and it doesn't work that way in the Middle East; it never has and isn't likely to in my lifetime.

This was the sensible Dick Cheney the nation thought it was electing in 2000. Something went wrong with the man somewhere along the line.

My biggest regret as a journalist is that I didn't adequately publicize Gregory Cochran's analysis in 2002-2003 arguing Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program. For example, in October 2002, Jerry Pournelle published Greg's irate letter arguing:

As far as I can tell, exactly nothing new has happened in Iraq concerning nukes. Most likely they are getting steadily farther away from having a nuclear weapon.

Look, back in 1990, they surprised people with their calutrons. No normal country would have made such an effort, because calutrons - mass spectrometers - are an incredibly inefficient way of making a nuclear weapon. We know just how inefficient they are, because E. O Lawrence conned the government into blowing about a quarter of the Manhattan Project budget on a similar effort. Concentrating enough U-235 for one small fission bomb cost hundreds of millions of 1944 dollars. Probably the Japanese could have constructed new cities for less money than this approach took to blow them up.

By far the cheaper way is to enrich the uranium just enough to run a reactor and then breed plutonium. The Iraqis wanted U-235, probably because it is much easier to make a device with U-235 than with plutonium. You don't have to use implosion and you don't even have to test a gun-type bomb - we didn't test the Hiroshima bomb. . I would guess that they realized their limitations - they're not exactly overflowing with good physicists and engineers - and chose an approach that they could actually have made work. Implosion is not so easy to make work. India only got their implosion bomb to work on the seventh try, back in 1974, and they have a _hell_ of a lot more technical talent than Iraq.

Anyhow, Iraq doesn't have the money to do it anymore. The total money going into his government is what, a fifth of what it used to be? ( Jeez, quite a bit less than that, when you look carefully)

[Almost all the oil sales ( other than truck smuggling) go through the UN. ^8% of that revenue is available for buying _approved_ imports. Mainly food and other hings that we approve of. The Us has a veto on such purchases. The total amount available for those approved purchases was something like 7 billion last year. Saddam is getting under-the-table payments of something like 20 cents a barrel from some or for all I know all of the buyers: but how much cash is that? we're talking something like 1 or 2 %" no more than 100 million a year. Sheesh. Probably the truck smuggling accounts for more. Hmm.. That might be as much as a billion. Not much cash to run a government. . It's a little hard to for me to see how he manages to keep the show on the road at all.]

Big non-private organizations tend to gradually slide towards zero output when the money merely stays the same: cut and they fire the worker bees and keep a few Powerpoint specialists. There is no reason to think that Arabs are immune to that kind of logic of bureaucracy. On the contrary. Not only are they not making any nuclear progress, they're probably making regress.

At best, if we hadn't interrupted them back in the Gulf War, they would have eventually had a couple. I doubt if it they even would have been an effective deterrent. It's hard to make classic deterrence work when you have one or two bombs and the other guy has thousands, when he can hit you and you can't hit him.

[Saddam] would cause himself practical trouble by harboring anti-US terrorists. If they ever made a significant hit on the US, he'd be in deep ****. What would he get out of it? And I am supposed to think that he fears terrorist groups more than he fears a Trident boat?? He should appease _them_, rather than us? Look, if we really got mad, we could turn him and his entire nation into something that was no longer human. Kill them too, of course, but that's too easy.

This particular argument is nonsense, even if he had a little deterrent. as are all the ones that I have seen floated by the Administration or by their hangers on and flacks. It's not as crazy as the idea that we're going to democratize Iraq, or Iraq and then the entire Arab world - that's about as crazy as a human can get - but it makes no sense.

Anyone with a brain knows, for example, that the last thing Israel wants is democratic Arab states, because theyd be _more_ hostile than the existing governments, and possibly stronger. . People like Mubarak understand that they can't beat the Israeli Defense Force, and also understand who makes the deposits in their Swiss accounts: a new popular government might not. And a popular government might have some enthusiasm to draw on - Iran did, at first, after the fall of the Shah - whereas in places like Syria or Iraq > 70% of the population hates the government.

I know why Wolfowitz wants this, and why Bill Kristol wants this. I know that most Americans have decided that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9-11, because what else would explain the Administration's desire to attack? And so they support an attack, which would make every kind of sense if Iraq _had_ been behind 9-11. Except that everyone knows that they didn't have anything to do with it. The problem is, I don't understand, even slightly, why Bush and Cheney want this.

Gregory Cochran

Greg made a lot of sense, but surely Dick Cheney, a man with a proven track record and with access to all that classified intelligence, must have known something Greg didn't.

Or so I thought.

I didn't see how Saddam was a danger even if he had a nuke or two, so I was deeply skeptical of the Iraq Attaq, but I didn't give Cochran's ever evolving debunking the attention it deserved.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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