Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Saddam Hussein Unsuccessfully Tried To Stave Off A U.S. Invasion

The Bush administration had little faith in Saddam Hussein. Starting in 2002, the White House began placing demands upon Baghdad such as complying with United Nations weapons inspectors. Washington felt that Iraq was never fully cooperating, and that was part of its justification for going to war. Unbeknownst to the U.S., Saddam Hussein was trying to appease America. His government didn’t believe that President Bush wanted a war, but that a military strike was definitely possible, given the animosity between the two countries. In response, Saddam was trying to be non-confrontational, and not give the U.S. any excuse to launch a new offensive. As it turned out, this was a case of two countries completing misreading each other.

 U.N. weapons inspectors in Baghdad, Nov. 2002, Saddam was willing to allow them to return in an attempt to avoid a military strike by the Bush Admin. (AP)

In late 2002, Saddam Hussein allowed United Nations weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in an attempt to compromise with the United States. There was some talk within the Bush administration to go through the U.N. to justify a war with Baghdad, but it was British Prime Minister Tony Blair that finally convinced the president to go that route. In March 2002, Sir David Manning, the premier’s foreign policy adviser had dinner with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. He told Rice that America had to go to the U.N. and get a new round of weapons inspectors into Iraq to win over British, European, and international support for any military action. He said that if Saddam refused, that would be a great argument for war. Blair pushed this point himself during a visit with the president in Crawford, Texas the next month. There were some within the administration that argued against going to the international body, fearing that it would just derail the invasion plans, and perhaps allow the Iraqi dictator to stay in power. By September, Bush seemed to be won over by Blair and others within his own administration, and gave a speech to the U.N. calling for a new resolution against Iraq. Saddam responded in a letter to the Security Council stating that he would allow inspectors back in. The next several weeks saw a back and forth between the two countries and the United Nations until November when a resolution was worked creating a new inspection regime. Saddam was willing to go along with this, because in October, he received a letter from Iraq’s ambassador to Russia saying that Moscow would oppose any authorization for war against Iraq in the United Nations. The Iraqi government had used illegal oil deals, bribes, and contracts to keep Moscow an ally, and believed that it would step in, and stop any new conflict between Iraq and the United States. That convinced Saddam to compromise with the Security Council, and allow inspectors back in. Working with them was rough at first, but eventually Iraq began giving in to their demands for more and more access. Saddam believed this would deny Bush any excuse he was looking for to justify a new attack.

By 2003, Saddam was still trying not to provoke the United States. When it became apparent that America was going to attack, Saddam’s son Qusay and others pushed to mine the Persian Gulf, blow up oil infrastructure in southern Iraq, and even launch an attack upon Kuwait to pre-empt the U.S. Saddam refused to go along with any of these suggestions. He thought that they were just the types of actions President Bush was looking for. Right until the end, the Iraqi leader did not believe that a war was going to happen between the two countries. He thought that the United States did not want to invade, because it would cost too many lives, and Washington was afraid of taking casualties. He also believed that France and Russia would stop any authorization by the United Nations for a new conflict. Baghdad had focused upon forging closer ties with those two countries in the 1990s in order to break international sanctions. While that had not been successful, both Moscow and Paris were opposed to Washington’s plans for Iraq. Finally, Saddam felt that if anything did happen it would only be for a limited time, and that his government would be left in tact afterward. He would need the oil fields therefore to raise revenue, so he was unwilling to damage them.

Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq and the United States completely misconstrued each other’s intentions. In Washington, the feeling was that Saddam was intransigent, and would never disarm or go along with any United Nations resolution. In Baghdad, Saddam was thinking the exact opposite, as he was intent on denying the Bush administration any excuse it might need for a renewed conflict. He didn’t believe that a war would happen, but a cruise missile attack, bombing raids, and perhaps even a temporary seizure of southern Iraq were very likely due to the heated rhetoric coming out of the White House. He didn’t want to give President Bush the justification to carry out military action, so he went along with new U.N. weapons inspections, and resisted pressure from his son and advisers to pre-empt the Americans. This was completely missed by the U.S. just as Iraq didn’t understand that Bush was serious about going to war. In the end, the invasion of Iraq was probably unavoidable given the mindset in the White House. It provides a striking example of how the worldviews of two countries drove their foreign policies, and obscured their ability to understand what the other was doing.


El Baradei, Mohamed, “The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq,” IAEA, 2/14/03

BBC, “Timeline: Iraq weapons inspections,” 11/18/02

Blix, Hans, “Briefing Of The Security Council,” UNMOVIC, 2/14/03

British Cabinet, “Personal Secret UK Eyes Only,” 7/21/02

Eisenberg, Daniel, “’We’re Taking Him Out,’” Time, 5/5/02

Karon, Tony, “Can Bush Accept Saddam’s Offer?” Time, 9/16/02

Manning, David, “Your Trip To The US,” 3/14/02

PBS Frontline, “Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” War Behind Closed Doors, 2/20/03

Woods, Kevin, Palkki, David, and Stout, Mark, The Saddam Tapes, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi, Tokyo, Mexico City: Cambridge University Press, 2011

Woods, Kevin with Pease, Michael, Stout, Mark, Murray, Williamson, and Lacey, James, “A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddam’s Senior Leadership,” Iraqi Perspectives Project, 3/24/06

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