On Point: "Walk back the cat" Part II

by Austin Bay
October 1, 2003The following column is the second in a three-partseries.

"Walk back the cat": spy jargon for reassessing evidence andassumptions until the false source or analytic error appears.

This is the second column in a series examining the historicalcontext framing intelligence evidence, assumptions and analysis regardingSaddam's Iraq. Unfortunately, the current debate over intel gives the largerhistorical frame short shrift.

Last week's "walk" examined Saddam's indelible record for usingweapons of mass destruction. Gassing Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War andgassing Kurds at Halabja (1988) demonstrated chemical weapons capability andculpability. From 1981 through 1991, Saddam's pursuit of nuclear arms andlong-range missiles is beyond dispute.

But walk back a cat, track by track, and at some point you'llget clawed. Dr. David Kay understands that. Last week, Kay delivered hisIraqi Survey Group's interim report. Next week's column examines thatreport.

The United Nation's 1991 decision to halt Desert Storm short oftoppling Saddam -- and it was a U.N.-mandated decision -- had two harshresults. One was mass murder: Shia Arabs in southern Iraq and Kurds innorthern Iraq. The second was a long siege. The United Nations, with theUnited States as enforcer, began a "slow war" with Saddam. Sanctions andinspections to ensure compliance with Resolution 687 (which denied Saddamnot only stocks of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, butprograms as well) were vital tools in that slow war. So were the north andsouth No-Fly zones, established to provide Shias and Kurds with some minimalprotection.

Don't doubt this: For 12 years, the USAF and RAF fought Saddam.No-Fly missions were combat missions, a grinding air war waged from Turkeyand Saudi Arabia.

The burden of "slow war" fell on the Clinton administration,which did a fairly good job of prosecuting it. Clinton pursued a"containment" strategy. In fall 1994, Saddam ran armor units toward Kuwait;the United States responded with ground reinforcements.

A major mistake occurred in 1996. Clinton directed CIA to backanti-Saddam dissidents. In August 1996, however, Saddam's forces strucknorthern Iraq and killed Iraqi dissidents. The United States failed to stopthe assault, and the policy of "protecting Kurds" was damaged. Somedissidents called it a "little Budapest," alluding to the U.S. failure tosupport the Hungarian revolt against the USSR in 1956. Many nationsconcluded the United States wasn't serious about toppling Saddam. The 1991coalition, already frayed, unraveled some more.

Yet Clinton's 1998 Desert Fox air campaign, unleashed after U.N.inspectors withdrew, now appears to have severely damaged Saddam's weaponsprograms. But in 1998, the degree of damage was tough to ascertain. WithoutU.N. inspectors, Iraqi defector allegations and electronic intelligencebecame "best" sources. Both indicated Saddam pursued illegal programs.Defectors, however, have their own agendas.

But another war was also underway. In 1993, Al Qaeda bombed theWorld Trade Center. In 1996, U.S. troops died in Khobar Towers -- a signlong-term U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia was untenable. In 1998, afterattacks on U.S. African embassies, Clinton declared war on terrorism. In2000, the USS Cole was bombed.

With the terror war accelerating and the will to contain himfading, Saddam maneuvered to end sanctions. Consider a key cat track -- thecorruption of the U.N.'s Oil for Food program. Oil for Food provided Saddamwith a lifeline to outlast sanctions. The United Nations has yet to accountfor the dramatic abuse of oil funds.

With 9-11, the terror war struck U.S. soil. Cruise missilespopping Afghan caves hadn't fazed Al Qaeda. The United States faced a hugestrategic dilemma. Saddam sat in the center of the politically dysfunctionalMiddle East. His regime elites were prospering (Oil for Food). Fighting along-haul global terror war would spread U.S. assets thin.

Sept. 11 presented Washington with a fast war waged bymillenarian fanatics and a slow war against a dictator who had used weaponsof mass destruction.

Add another consistent strategic intelligence assumption, onebased on an evidence trail from 1981 (see last week's column) and sustainedthrough four U.S. administrations. Rogue states, weapons of mass destructionand fanatic terrorists were a formula for fatal Hell.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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