Thursday, September 06, 2012

Stupid Inspection Games

The CIA has declassified a retrospective report on what went wrong in its assessment of Saddam Hussein’s WMD capabilities. Even now, a great deal of the released document is classified and blanked out.

It’s worth looking at to see if there is a parallel to today’s back and forth with Iran. Not so much in the details: the question in 2003 was whether Hussein had WMD, including biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, and today’s question is whether Iran intends to build nuclear weapons. The situation in Iraq was much tenser than today’s situation with Iran. Iraq had already been invaded in 1991. The inspectors were from UNSCOM, a special agency mandated by the United Nations Security Council and having more powers than IAEA inspectors.

Getting locked into looking at the evidence too narrowly on both sides and missing opportunities is the danger.
Hussein wanted to present a façade of strength and invincibility internally and to his regional enemies. His motives in dealing with the UN inspectors were mixed, at first involving deception and destruction of materials and records that the inspectors wanted and then becoming more cooperative. However, the destruction, particularly of records, undermined his ability to prove that he had destroyed his WMD. Many of his subordinates were deceived into believing that WMD existed and could not testify to their destruction.

The inspectors found that they were constantly playing a game of cat and mouse, which led them to pursue more inspections more urgently in spite of Iraqi revelations. This aggressiveness was interpreted by Iraqi officials as being politically motivated, so they became more resistant.

Let’s look at Iran.

Iran’s leadership has numerous reasons, historical and practical, to try to appear strong internally and externally: citizen resistance , a complex governmental structure that can breed competition for power, and condemnations and threats from the outside. They have hidden the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, along with other materials like heavy water at Arak, from IAEA inspection until they were exposed by others. They have refused to make documents relating to their nuclear weapons program available. They razed the Lavizan site rather than allowing IAEA inspection and have been demolishing buildings and moving earth at the Parchin site, while finding reasons not to allow the IAEA to inspect the site.
Iran is claiming political motives on the part of the IAEA in its requests for inspection of Parchin and, as a result, is insisting on more conditions for such a visit than the IAEA is willing to grant.

Iran appears to be attempting to move forward in its nuclear program as far as possible without crossing an American red line, while ignoring the Israelis’ danger zones (Laura Rozen, Kate Gould). Or is it goading the Israelis?

Israeli leaders appear to be playing a role something like that of the neocons in the Bush administration, goading the US to bomb Iran. Are they trying to press the P5+1 to tighten the sanctions screws further and more rapidly? Are they simply expressing their anxieties in public?

Whatever their reasons, the very public discussions of the past few weeks may have made it easier for the Iranians to believe that the United States and/or Israel will not attack it in the way Iraq was attacked. The United States has only recently extricated itself from Iraq and plans to leave Afghanistan. The pressure by Israel has brought forth statements from high-level US officials seeming to indicate an unwillingness to attack. Israel’s inability to carry out decisive strikes and its vulnerability to Iranian missiles have been widely discussed, including by retired Israeli officials. So Iran may think it can continue to defy the inspectors with impunity.

That’s a very similar set of circumstances to those preceding the Iraq invasion. There are a number of differences. The CIA and other intelligence analysts have the lessons of this report to consider. Presumably the IAEA leadership and inspectors also are heeding these lessons. Iraq had been weakened by invasion a decade before. Iran is a much larger country, making a strike more difficult.

Does Iran have an internal intelligence report assessing Saddam Hussein’s mistakes in dealing with the inspectors? Is their assessment different? Will the leaders take note of this report?

Saddam Hussein, the UN inspectors, and the CIA analysts all boxed their expectations in and came up with the wrong answers. We can’t afford to have something like that happen again.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

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