by Eric Martin
Megan McArdle, to her credit, makes a go at an updated mea culpa for her position on the Iraq war. One of the reasons cited for her, admittedly, flawed decision to support the war seems a bit odd, however:
I erroneously believed that I could interpret the actions of Saddam Hussein. He seemed to be acting like I'd act if I had WMD. Whoops! I wasn't an Iraqi dictator, which left huge gaps in my mental model of Hussein.
First of all, since McArdle is not a lot of things (well, she isn't anything other than what she is, to state a tautology), this is a dubious standard to employ for someone who is in the business of providing analysis from the august pages of The Atlantic. To put it another way, her mental model presumably has huge gaps about most things using the criteria of "actually being like what is being observed," and, thus, this is either a poor excuse or a fair warning about the quality of analysis forthcoming on most issues. Let's assume the former.
That general comment aside, there is also the issue of "interpreting" the actions of Saddam, which was a wholly unnecessary exercise considering the fact that we had actual UN weapons inspectors in Iraq for months preceding the invasion, and those inspectors were following leads from the best intelligence that the US and Britain could provide (the countries whose leaders assured us repeatedly that Saddam had WMD and that "we know where they are").
Thus, interpreting Saddam's actions should have been low on the list of evidence for WMD, or the lack thereof, with "what are the inspectors who are there following our best intel finding" placing much, much higher. To excerpt an article that was recently discussed on this site in a similar context:
Hans Blix told the BBC that his teams followed up US and British leads at suspected sites across Iraq, but found nothing when they got there. [...]
In a BBC interview...Mr Blix said he had been disappointed with the tip-offs provided by British and US intelligence.
"Only in three of those cases did we find anything at all, and in none of these cases were there any weapons of mass destruction, and that shook me a bit, I must say."
He said UN inspectors had been promised the best information available.
"I thought - my God, if this is the best intelligence they have and we find nothing, what about the rest?"
This, of course, leaves aside the fact that WMD is a nebulous term that obscures more than it illuminates, especially when used the way it was in the run-up to the Iraq war. While nuclear weapons are extremely destructive (much, much moreso than chem and bio weapons in almost all contexts), the consensus was that Saddam did not have an active nuclear program, let alone a weapon, let alone a weapon capable of being delivered to the United States, let alone a desire to use such weapon should he develop the delivery system, let alone a willingness to hand such a deliverable weapon off to al-Qaeda - a group whose raison d'etre is toppling insufficiently pious regimes such as Saddam's Baath regime in Iraq.
The chem and bio weapons that Saddam allegedly had were old, decaying and incapable of proving more destructive than conventional weapons in just about any setting outside of a battlefield (and he still had not displayed an inclination to use same against Western targets, or an affinity for his enemies, al-Qaeda). In other words, his "WMD" were really only suitable for use - or likely to be used on - a battlefield had we chosen to invade.
Which makes a terrible casus belli, regardless of whether or not the particular advocate of going to war is herself a 20th century Iraqi dictator.