Weighing the Costs

Sorry to those who are sick and tired of Iraq-related threads, but I have a question for those who are still against taking action. The question is this: How do you weigh the costs of taking action versus the costs of not taking action? Aside from the Iraqi lives lost due to Saddam’s own oppressive behavior, and the corrolary lives lost due to sanctions imposed against Iraq due to Saddam’s behavior, how to you weigh the costs that could be incurred should we wait too long, i.e. until Saddam has obtained nuclear weapons or decides to use those WMD he already possesses? At what level of probability for Saddam’s taking those actions would you consider taking action to be a good idea? Just curious.

I didn’t want to take up too much room on the main forum board, but consider this, which I got from Randall Parker’s website, Parapundit.com (The March 11 entry).

As the beginning of the war in Iraq draws ever closer it is time to consider what will be found in terms of weapons of mass destruction once Iraq is conquered and Saddam’s regime is history.

Kenneth Pollack thinks Saddam is developing nukes.

Mr. KENNETH POLLACK (Former CIA Analyst; Author, "The Threatening Storm"): Thanks very much, Steve. It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: Maybe the question that's on a lot of people's minds is that although Iraq is clearly a dangerous country, why now? Why attack now?

Mr. POLLACK: I believe that we are going to have to go war with Iraq sooner rather than later. The reason that it has to be sooner rather than later is because of Iraq's development of nuclear weapons. What we've heard from all of the intelligence communities in the West--there seems to be a consensus among our own, the British, the French, the Germans, the Israelis--they all believe that Saddam Hussein has effectively everything that he needs to build nuclear weapons.

INSKEEP: Except uranium, highly enriched uranium.

Mr. POLLACK: Well, he's got the uranium. He hasn't enriched it yet. But what that says is that we do have a window. We don't want Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons. If he were to acquire them, it would be tremendously dangerous, possibly tragic for the entire world.

In an interview with Josh Marshall Pollack says a slew of defectors have reported an active nuclear weapons development program in Iraq.

I will say flat out [that] I was under the same impression: that we had a very good grip on their nuclear program and there really wasn't much of a nuclear program well into the 1990s. I was constantly being assured that by the IAEA and by the intelligence community. And then all of a sudden we had a slew of defectors come out in the mid- and late 1990s and what they told us was that everything that we had thought was wrong. You know Khidhir Hamza is the only one who's gone public. So he's the only one I can really talk about. But in 1994 we really thought the IAEA had eradicated their nuclear program. And the IAEA really thought that they'd eradicated their nuclear program. And they were telling us they'd eradicated their nuclear program. And Khidhir Hamza comes out and says 'No, the nuclear program in 1994 was bigger than it had ever been before.'

Former UNSCOM inspector Charles Duelfer says the Iraqi nuclear weapons development program is active.

A recent defector who worked as a design engineer (evidently in the Al Majd Center) stated that an explicit order to reconstitute the nuclear teams was promulgated in August 1998, at the time Iraq ceased cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA.

The key hurdle for Iraq to surmount to obtain a nuclear weapon is the acquisition of fissile material. Iraq had a viable weapon design and the capacity to produce all the elements of a weapon. Predictions on when Iraq will achieve a weapon depend on whether Iraq can obtain fissile material by smuggling or they have to produce it themselves which will take much longer. Predictions are particularly uncertain. The German intelligence authorities made an oft-quoted estimate last year in which it was stated that Iraq could, in the worst case, have a nuclear weapon in 3-6 years. German intelligence noted the growth in Iraqi procurement efforts in particular for weapons-related items. However, how this projection was made is not public and it may include significant unceraity.(sic)

While precise estimates of the Iraqi nuclear program are impossible, what is certain is that Baghdad has the desire, the talent, and the resources to build a nuclear weapon given the time to do so.

Former UNSCOM and IAEA inspector David Kay thinks Saddam has a very active nuclear weapons development program.

The capability to produce weapons of mass destruction arising from a national program on the scale of that of Iraq's cannot be eliminated by simply destroying "weapons" facilities. And while we should credit the UN inspection process with destroying a substantial nuclear weapons establishment in Iraq that was largely unidentified at the time of the Gulf War and that had survived largely unscathed the coalition bombing campaign. The nuclear weapons secrets are now Iraqi secrets well understood by Iraq's technical elite, and the production capabilities necessary to turn these "secrets" into weapons are part and parcel of the domestic infrastructure of Iraq which will survive even the most draconian of sanctions regimes. Simply put, Iraq is not Libya, but very much like post-Versailles Germany in terms of its ability to maintain a weapons capability in the teeth of international inspections. As long as a government remains in Baghdad committed to acquiring WMD, that capability can be expected to become - and without much warning - a reality.


It is very unlikely that national intelligence efforts can add much clarity to the exact status of Saddam’s nuclear program. The same deception and concealment capabilities that were directed at the inspectors will have hindered national intelligence services. WMD programs have long been the hardest targets for intelligence service to unravel, even when they are very large. One should remember that the very large Soviet-era biological program, which included putting smallpox on long-range ballistic missiles aimed at the West, went undiscovered until after the end of the Cold War. The size of the Soviet uranium enrichment program was seriously underestimated and major nuclear production facilities unidentified until after the fall of the Soviets.


What is clear is that unless we take immediate steps to address the issue of removing the Saddam’s regime from power in Iraq, we will soon face a nuclear armed and embolden Saddam. With time, and we can never be sure of how long that will be, Saddam will be able to intimidate his neighbors with nuclear weapons and find the means to use them against the United States. Saddam’s own actions to obstruct the efforts of the international community to carry out the removal of his WMD capacity as mandated by the UN Security Council at the end of the Gulf War accounts for the uncertainty as to the exact status of that program today. These same actions of obstruction, however, remove all doubt about his aim to acquire and enlarge his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons stockpiles. Absence the forceful removal of Saddam, unambiguous certainty as to the status of his WMD programs is likely to come only after the first use of these weapons against the United States and its friends. This is a very high price to pay - potentially many times over the human toll one year ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania - for clarity as to the exact status of any nuclear program.

Will these folks turn out to be right? What is revealed by the invasion of Iraq will be a crucial factor in determining how many come to view the wisdom of the war. If these gentlemen turn out to be right then the argument for the use of force to disarm Saddam and eliminate his regime will be very strong. If they are wrong then a lot of people will claim that the danger from the Iraqi regime was exaggerated.

Some major intelligence discoveries about terrorist networks and about the activities of other regimes will also play a significant role in determining the value of this war. But it is not clear that the most valuable intelligence discoveries will be made public. Still, some of the revelations will be made public for the simple reason that many people, free from the fear of Saddam's regime, will tell reporters what they know.

I’ve mentioned this phrase before, but think it’s very appropriate for this article: Action is always faster than reaction.