In the past few years, I have written often about whether the figure of Saddam Hussein is—or was—a model taken from Hitler, from Stalin, or from some combination of the two. It has occurred to me recently that it can all be put more simply. He is—or was—a reincarnation of Jeffrey Dahmer. Look in his kitchen drawer, and you will find instruments of torture. Look in his bathroom cabinet, and you will find poisons. Look under his floorboards, and you will find bones and skulls. Look in his flowerbed, and you will stumble over body parts. Look in the rest of the garden, and you will find a substantial piece of a nuclear centrifuge, employed to make weapons of mass destruction.
All right, the analogy breaks down a bit at that last point. But I think that this discovery, announced June 25, should be getting much more attention than it has received so far. First of all, the trove of parts and blueprints has been there since 1991, which means that its concealment was designed to thwart not just the current inspections, or the inspections before them, but the inspections before that!
Second, it was buried at the express order of Qusai Hussein, charming son of Saddam, so there is no question of its being a “rogue” or “random” concealment. Third, it was brought to the attention of inspectors by a highly credible scientist, Mahdi Obeidi, who was too frightened to go public with his knowledge until very recently. In other words, if you think Hans Blix would ever have found this cache of stuff, you are dreaming. The Baathists didn’t declare the existence of the parts to the U.N. inspectors or allow them to check that it was once in their possession but had been accounted for. They simply buried it in a barrel in a garden for 12 years. How many gardens do you suppose there are in Iraq?
So this is not just a “find” in itself—such gas centrifuges are used for the enrichment of uranium—but evidence of a larger and wider design to fool the international community and to wait for a better day to restart Saddam’s nuclear program. If you find hard physical and documentary evidence, along with a complex plan to keep it under wraps, you are entitled to make a few presumptions, not including the presumption of innocence. Nobody bothers to cover up nothing.
This breakthrough, which comes quite early in the inspection process and which will not be the only one of its kind, might possibly quiet the idiotic and premature wailings of the “anti-war” side, who have been saying for weeks that the whole indictment of Saddam Hussein was a put-up job. Then again, it probably won’t have that effect. The wailers will settle for nothing less than the full-dress conspiracy theory. It’s true that they have been helped in this, in some respects, by elements in both the Blair and Bush regimes that banged the drum a little too loud. But this is not to compare like with like. In 1990-91, during the occupation of Kuwait, U.S. officials circulated a graphic atrocity story to the effect that Iraqi forces had taken Kuwaiti babies out of hospital incubators and dumped them on the cold floor. It was one of the great sob stories of all time, and it undoubtedly affected the Senate vote in favor of war, but it was completely made up by a Kuwaiti public relations firm with links to the Bush administration. People were understandably upset when they were shown to have been emotionally stampeded. But soon after, Kuwait City was recovered by U.N. forces who unearthed atrocities and massacres 50 times as foul. Indeed, the search even now continues for several hundred Kuwaiti POWs who haven’t been seen since. 1991 was obviously a vintage year for the Baathists to start burying some of the evidence of their past crimes—and also of their future intentions.
The report of June 25 was followed by an article of extraordinary importance by Rolf Ekeus (“Iraq’s Real Weapons Threat,” Washington Post, June 29). Ambassador Ekeus was the chairman of the U.N. inspectors in Iraq between 1991 and 1997. He pointed out that Saddam’s chemical and nerve agents had a tendency to decay in storage and that the regime’s nuclear projects “lacked access to fissile material but were advanced with regard to weapon design.” His conclusion, written just before the unearthing of the centrifuge but published just after it, was:
This combination of researchers, engineers, know-how, precursors, batch production techniques and testing is what constituted Iraq’s chemical threat—its chemical weapon. The rather bizarre political focus on the search for rusting drums and pieces of munitions containing low-quality chemicals has tended to distort the important question of WMD in Iraq and exposed the American and British administrations to unjustified criticism.
Ekeus went on to say what nobody now doubts: that further revelations by Iraqi actors continue to be inhibited by the persistence of the “republic of fear,” which exerts a gruesome effect on the whole society even after the deposition of its leader. He has the most experience of any international figure with this dilemma, and his words demand (and should receive) more attention than those of the “smoking gun” school. He concluded by making the elementary point that Iran, the original target and excuse for Saddam’s WMD, now has a serious incentive to cease its own covert programs. I would urge anyone who has read this far to scan Ekeus’ entire article.
There is a difference, in other words, between propaganda and research, and the difference always becomes blurred in wartime. However, to believe that the Saddam regime had nothing to hide is to believe that he threw out the U.N. inspectors in 1998 and then said to himself: “Great. Now I can get on with my dream of unilaterally disarming Iraq!” Who can be such a fool as to believe any such thing? But that’s how Jeffrey Dahmer got away with it for so long: There are enough kind-hearted and soft-headed people around who don’t recognize evil even when it is glaring them brazenly in the face.
I notice that, in covering the continuing violence and sabotage in Iraq, the New York Times has begun to use the descriptive term “the Iraqi resistance” to characterize those responsible. This makes me queasy for two reasons. First, it is too broad. Many of those fighting are either part of the former secret police of the regime or imported from jihad groups outside the country. The term “resistance” suggests, for most people, in addition to its honorable historic associations, the idea of a civilian insurgency. Second, it is too narrow. There have been many Iraqis and Kurds over the past decades who have, at great risk to themselves, fought against Saddam’s dictatorship. Do they not deserve the “resistance” title at least as much? Or do they have to fight against coalition forces in order to earn that distinction? The Times is more precise when it comes to the al-Qaida and Taliban elements in Afghanistan. Now might not be the ideal moment to give credit in advance to Saddamist “irregulars”—the most euphemistic or neutral term that seems permissible.