As the other side sees it


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

Late last week the CIA released its report analyzing the failures of our intelligence in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. CIA Investigator Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s chief weapons investigator, did the report. The one overwhelming finding is that there were no weapons of mass destruction and, in fact, there hadn’t been any since just after the Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s regime destroyed everything. The CIA investigator had available to him thousand of documents and tapes, both from us and some captured from the Iraqis. He also had something else you rarely get in this kind of an investigation, the taped testimony of the leader of the other side, in this case, Hussein and a number of his closest cronies. Apparently, the same FBI agent interrogated Hussein since his capture in December. Rather than being hesitant or shy, Hussein has been almost garrulous in wanting to explain himself and his regime. So this is one of those rare opportunities where you get to see history, from the opposing side, as it’s being made.

On Tuesday, Bob Drogin, a Los Angeles Times reporter, did a front-page story called “Through Hussein’s Looking Glass,” which I would recommend to all of you. (

To me, the thing that was most striking was how similar the weaknesses in the analyses were from both sides, both the U.S. and Iraq, and how bad the decisions were that flowed from those weaknesses. Both sides operated on very faulty information and misinterpretations of what the other side intended.

Hussein assumed that the CIA was competent and had contacts inside his regime, and that we knew he had destroyed all the weapons of mass destruction. He thought the sanctions were nothing more than a public relations campaign to try and discredit him in the world’s eyes. The truth is, the CIA hadn’t had any inside information for five years, and what they got from the defectors was baloney, hand-tailored to satisfy CIA prejudices and a White House agenda.

We assumed that because the inspectors found no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons-despite 731 inspections in the four months before the war-it must mean Hussein was moving them around and hiding them, which turned out not to be the case. The simpler explanation was that there weren’t any WMDs.

In Hussein’s mind, the primary focus was always Iran. Iraq had fought a war in Iran. He didn’t-almost up to the point we invaded him-believe we would ever invade him. It made no sense to him. He always felt he could negotiate with us, even believing he could ally with us against Iran. He saw us as wanting to prevent the Iran style of fundamentalism spreading over the Middle East, for fear that Iran would get control of the oil resources and control the world economy. He believed that Iraq was a counterbalance to Iran and we wouldn’t want Iraq destroyed because Iran would then become preeminent. I heard the same evaluations made by us after the first Gulf War as the rationale for not bringing down Hussein’s regime. Hussein had a straight Henry Kissinger view of international power politics. Apparently no one ever challenged or even questioned Hussein’s views. The questioners asked Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, how Hussein reacted to anyone bringing him bad news. Chemical Ali said he never knew of anyone bringing bad news to Saddam Hussein.

Now, turning to our White House and its view of the situation. They thought of Hussein as a buffoon, which he clearly was not. Nor was he as crazy as some like to think. That he was a despicable human being, prepared to murder his own countrymen wholesale, was unquestionable, but our basic policy was a total misread of him and his intentions. One could conjecture whether, in the current White House, a similar situation still exists related to our read of the Iraqi people, or whether any dissention within the White House ranks is tolerated. Clearly, the consequences of not getting on board with the team doesn’t lead to death, but perhaps career death. How do any opposing views or alternative plans get through the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice ring that surrounds President Bush when Bush doesn’t seem inclined to open up the ring?

Lately, our friends here in Malibu have all been arguing about Iraq, and the basic questions keep coming up. What does it mean for us to stay the course? Is it really worth us spending $200 billion? How can we assume that the Iraqis want what we want? Is democracy really good for them? Many of the Iraqis think we’re nuts and that democracy means social disorder, runaway crime and a breakdown of society. It’s not that far fetched. Russia played with democracy and was overwhelmed with crime and corruption. The Russians now appear to be moving back to autocracy. Maybe the Iraqis see representative government, free speech, everyone voting and women participating as a complete collapse of their society, and maybe in their world they’re right.

If we could have made such colossal misjudgments getting into this war, what makes us believe our judgment is right now? If Bush and Hussein could look at the same situation and see it so differently, why would we think that isn’t happening today? We may be very well sinking our soldiers and our money into a pit for which there is no victory and no way to win.

Daily, the unsafe areas in Iraq grow. Maybe what we’re hearing is not rebellion or insurgency as we now define it. Maybe what we’re hearing is the voice of the Iraqi people, in mass numbers, saying thank you for ridding us of Hussein, now please go home.

Maybe we should be listening.