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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Decision Points suggests President Bush has not read key fact findings on Iraq carefully

I finally read the Iraq-related sections of President Bush's memoir, Decision Points (2010). That's not an oversight. While Bush's post-presidency reflections are interesting and worth reviewing for their corroborative and background value, they're not essential for a fact pattern-type analysis of the Iraq issue which refers to primary source material from his presidency.

Most of what President Bush wrote about Iraq in Decision Points aligned as expected with my research.

However, I was surprised by several statements that suggest President Bush has not read key fact findings on Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) - namely, the UNMOVIC, Iraq Survey Group (ISG), and Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) reports - carefully. I guess he's read summaries of the WMD-related fact findings rather than the reports directly. Based on Bush's characterization of Saddam's terrorism, I believe he hasn't read the IPP report at all.

I block-quote President Bush's suspect statements and respond to them. I may have overlooked suspect statements on the Iraq issue, but these should provide a representative sample.

Bush:
Later, many of the assertions in Colin's speech would prove inaccurate.
President Bush is incorrect. In fact, nearly all the main points of Secretary of State Powell's 05FEB03 case presentation to the UN Security Council are substantiated.

Many of Powell's points on Iraq's WMD weren't "assertions" (Bush) at all but rather reiteration of the operative enforcement procedure and the fact record established by UNSCOM/UNMOVIC and IAEA in the decade-plus course of the UNSCR 687 disarmament process.

When I say "substantiated", I don't necessarily mean the intelligence-estimated details Powell presented were proven to be predictively precise, but rather that the substantive element in Powell's point was validated.

For example, the Iraq Survey Group did not find “mobile production facilities used to make biological agents” (Powell). However, ISG confirmed "secret biological work in the small IIS [Iraqi intelligence service] laboratories discovered by ISG" and “The UN deemed Iraq’s accounting of its production and use of BW [biological weapon] agent simulants—specifically Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus lichenformis, Bacillus megaterium and Bacillus thuringiensis to be inadequate … the equipment used for their manufacture can also be quickly converted to make BW agent.”

Moreover, ISG did not conclusively determine the extent of Saddam's BW program. Rather, ISG was unable to account for the fate of much of Iraq’s BW agents, stocks, and equipment due to Iraq’s “denial and deception operations” and “concealment and destruction efforts” in breach of UNSCRs 687 and 1441.

The only part of Powell’s speech that falls down in hindsight, knowing what we know now, is the extent to which the Saddam regime sought fissile material for the ISG-confirmed Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) modernization program.

Bush:
Kay conducted a thorough search of Iraq and found irrefutable evidence that Saddam had lied to the world and violated Resolution 1441.
The second part of Bush's statement is correct. By procedure, Iraq's violation of UNSCRs 687 and 1441 established casus belli.

However, the first part of the statement was the first thing in Decision Points that made me suspect President Bush has not read the ISG report firsthand.

In fact, the Iraq Survey Group was not able to conduct a "thorough search of Iraq" (Bush). ISG was able to corroborate UNMOVIC's confirmation of Iraq's WMD-related "material breach" (UNSCR 1441). But as a "thorough" account of Saddam's WMD, the ISG report falls short. The Iraq Survey Group's findings are heavily qualified with caveats about significant limitations to their scope, including that the Saddam regime was expert at hiding proscribed items and activities, much evidence was lost prior to, during, and after the war, key regime officials were not forthcoming, statements conflicted, suspect areas were found "sanitized", and other practical factors, such as the terrorist insurgency, limited the ISG's post hoc investigation.

Even if ISG had been able to conduct a thorough search of Iraq, it still would not have been a reliable account because the UNSCR 687 disarmament process was not like a crime-scene forensic investigation that searched for evidence while guarding carefully against the contamination or loss of physical evidence in a controlled area. Carrying the burden of proof, Saddam was in effect allowed by the UN weapons inspections to hide, alter, or destroy evidence of proscribed armament since Iraq's known denial and deception only hindered Iraq from proving it disarmed according to the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441).

Bush:
But there was one thing Kay did not find: the WMD stockpiles everyone expected.
...
I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it.
That expectation, however widespread, was incongruous with the operative enforcement procedure. Again, the UNSCR 687 disarmament process was designed upon Iraq's burden of proof to provide a total verified account of its proscribed armament with no obligation on the US and UN to demonstrate it. Therefore, the UN weapons inspections that preceded the ISG investigation were not designed to guard carefully against the contamination or loss of physical evidence.

Case in point. Although the ISG account of Iraq's WMD stocks is usually represented as unequivocal, it is in fact heavily qualified in the ISG report:
With the degradation of the Iraqi infrastructure and dispersal of personnel, it is increasingly unlikely that these questions will be resolved. Of those that remain, the following are of particular concern, as they relate to the possibility of a retained BW capability or the ability to initiate a new one.
ISG cannot determine the fate of Iraq’s stocks of bulk BW agents remaining after Desert Storm and subsequent unilateral destruction. There is a very limited chance that continuing investigation may provide evidence to resolve this issue.
• The fate of the missing bulk agent storage tanks.
• The fate of a portion of Iraq’s BW agent seed-stocks.
• The nature, purpose and who was involved in the secret biological work in the small IIS laboratories discovered by ISG.
...
ISG’s investigation of Iraq’s ammunition supply points—ammunition depots, field ammunition supply points (FASPs), tactical FASPs, and other dispersed weapons caches—has not uncovered any CW [chemical weapon] munitions. ISG investigation, however, was hampered by several factors beyond our control. The scale and complexity of Iraqi munitions handling, storage, and weapons markings, and extensive looting and destruction at military facilities during OIF significantly limited the number of munitions that ISG was able to thoroughly inspect.
• ISG technical experts fully evaluated less than one quarter of one percent of the over 10,000 weapons caches throughout Iraq, and visited fewer than ten ammunition depots identified prior to OIF as suspect CW sites.
• The enormous number of munitions dispersed throughout the country may include some older, CW-filled munitions, and ISG cannot discount the possibility that a few large caches of munitions remain to be discovered within Iraq.
I appreciate that Bush "had a sickening feeling" over the Iraq Survey Group not finding battlefield-ready WMD stockpiles. And I could understand if he made a strategic choice to deemphasize the shortcomings of the ISG investigation while President. But not acknowledging the qualified nature of the ISG account in his memoir, despite the potential political impact, strikes me as an oversight rather than a purposeful choice.

Bush:
While the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone, the reality was that I had sent American troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false.
I agree with the first part of Bush's statement. On the second part, yes and no.

I address this issue in the OIF FAQ answer to "Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq". Note especially parts 5 to 7 of the answer.

President Bush is correct that the pre-war intelligence estimates were predictively imprecise. The intelligence community is fairly criticized in that regard.

At the same time, Bush is not correct to say the "intelligence ... proved false". The pre-war intelligence correctly indicated Saddam was illicitly reconstituting Iraq's conventional armament and WMD capabilities in violation of UNSCR 687. Much of the underlying data of Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) was sound: the fact record established by UNSCOM and IAEA, the ISG-confirmed data of Iraq's illicit procurement and activities, and the UNSCR 1441 inspections.

Bush:
That was a massive blow to our credibility - my credibility - that would shake the confidence of the American people. No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons.
In fact, the UNMOVIC and ISG findings are rife with UNSCR 687 violations. With the burden of proof on Iraq to cure the "continued violations of its obligations" (UNSCR 1441), the pre-war intelligence estimates should not have been positioned politically to overshadow Saddam's evidential categorical breach of the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" - including the UNSCR 687 WMD mandates - in Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441).

Bush blames the "intelligence failure on Iraq's WMD" for the political controversy, but President Bush should blame himself for enabling the political controversy by deviating from the standing precedent of President Clinton's presentation of the case against Saddam. In accordance with the operative enforcement procedure, Clinton cited to Iraq's noncompliance as "clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program". Clinton didn't cite to the intelligence at all when justifying his Gulf War ceasefire enforcement. Yet inapposite of the compliance-based enforcement that Bush faithfully carried forward from Clinton, Bush officials improperly characterized speculative estimates as "evidence" of Saddam's secret holdings. The intelligence, if cited at all, should have been properly characterized as indicators of Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441). In some cases, such as records of Iraq's illicit procurement, the intelligence did qualify as evidence in hand of the Saddam regime violating UNSCR 687.

In Decision Points, President Bush compounds the "massive blow to our credibility" enabled by his presentation error by fixating on "Kay did not find: the WMD stockpiles everyone expected" at variance with the actual case against Saddam, overlooking the qualified nature of the ISG account, and barely crediting the raft of UNSCR 687 violations reported by UNMOVIC and ISG that confirmed Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) of the Gulf War ceasefire.

Bush:
If Saddam didn't have WMD, why wouldn't he just prove it to the inspectors?
...
Saddam still had the infrastructure and know-how to make WMD.
Bush answers his question by referring to Saddam's policy of bluffing Iran and Saddam wrongly evaluating the US-led threat of regime change. Which is correct, but incomplete.

A more complete answer is Saddam wouldn't prove he didn't have WMD to the UNSCR 1441 inspections because he couldn't - Iraq was in fact heavily violating the UNSCR 687 WMD mandates.

The notion, "Saddam didn't have WMD", assumes a narrow definition of WMD proscription inapposite to the US-enforced "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) that Saddam violated to trigger Operations Desert Fox and Iraqi Freedom. Yet on September 12, 2002, President Bush reiterated the (paraphrased) UNSCR 687 standard to the UN General Assembly, "If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material."

UNMOVIC verified Iraq's "continued violations of its obligations" (UNSCR 1441) to establish casus belli, and then the Iraq Survey Group, notwithstanding its practical limitations, was able to confirm Saddam was guilty of many UNSCR 687 violations, including "Saddam still had the infrastructure and know-how to make WMD" (Bush).

Bush's phrasing, "still had", connotes a holdover quality. But ISG found more than retained Gulf War-vintage infrastructure and know-how, although that would have been sufficient by itself to violate UNSCR 687 and corroborate Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441). ISG confirmed Saddam was applying the funds from the Oil for Food scandal to illicitly reconstitute a broad array of conventional arms, military infrastructure, and nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile research, development, and production capabilities with a "large covert procurement program" under cover of "denial and deception operations".

Saddam was bluffing, which by itself violated UNSCRs 687 and 1441 for casus belli. But Saddam wasn't only bluffing, and it's not clear how much he was bluffing. Iraq was hiding many UNSCR 687-proscribed items and activities, including IIS and production capabilities. When viewed with the operative lens of the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441), the facts show Saddam was rearming. Due to the ISG investigation's practical limitations and evidentiary gaps that Bush doesn't acknowledge in Decision Points, the Iraq Survey Group can offer a guess, but ISG can't be sure about the fate of all Saddam's secret holdings and the extent Iraq's WMD program was reconstituted following Operation Desert Fox. Regarding the casus belli for OIF, the Iraq Survey Group is sure that "the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions" and "ISG judges that Iraq failed to comply with UNSCRs".

Bush:
Saddam could have turned to Sunni terrorist groups like al Qaeda - a marriage of convenience, not ideology - as surrogates in an attempt to match Iran's use of Shia terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
President Bush appears not to have read the IPP report. His statements on Saddam's terrorism in Decision Points seem to be grounded in the pre-war assessment of Saddam's terrorism, which to be fair, was already sufficient to satisfy the counter-terrorism element of OIF's casus belli.

However, the post-war analyses by the Iraqi Perspectives Project and UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) show pre-war assessments underestimated Saddam's "regional and global terrorism" (IPP) in breach of UNSCR 687 and "widespread terror" (UNCHR) ruling Iraq in breach of UNSCR 688.

Bush is correct to say that "Saddam could have turned to Sunni terrorist groups like al Qaeda" because there is ample evidence that Saddam was already deeply engaged with Sunni terrorist groups including al Qaeda. Jim Lacey, who authored the IPP report, concluded based on the IPP and ISG findings, "Given the evidence, it appears that we removed Saddam’s regime not a moment too soon."



President Bush's suspect statements in Decision Points look like the popular yet misleading summaries that conceal that the UNMOVIC and ISG reports are rife with disarmament violations, and the often-cited ISG conclusion, "it appears that Iraq, by the mid-1990s, was essentially free of militarily significant WMD stocks", is more equivocal than it's usually portrayed.

It's possible that Bush was simply trying to be unsparing in his memoir. But his harsh self-recrimination can only misinform the public by obscuring that the burden of proof was on Saddam, which Bush does reiterate in Decision Points, the UNSCR 1441 inspections verified Iraq did not disarm as mandated, and while the Iraq Survey Group found many UNSCR 687 and 1441 violations, the UNSCR 660 series' enforcers were not obligated to find anything to justify enforcement: by procedure, casus belli was established with UNMOVIC's confirmation of Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) of the Gulf War ceasefire.

The political fallout enabled by his presentation error with the pre-war intelligence estimates doesn't negate that President Bush's decision on Iraq was substantively correct on the facts, procedurally correct on law and precedent, and justified on the policy. As Saddam was in violation of the spectrum of essential international norms that defined the Gulf War ceasefire, President Bush's decision on Iraq was also essentially correct for the sake of liberal international order.



Also see Critical responses to pundits.

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