Friday, November 18, 2005

Gaming the System

There's currently a call for blog postings that want people to blog about what the deal was with pre-war military intelligence. No analysis of the pre-war miltiary intelligence picture can be complete without a look at the way Iraq gamed the United Nations and the oil for food program (OFF) to its diplomatic and political benefit.

In a nutshell, we are continuing to learn that some of our supposed allies and other prominent members of the United Nations were bought off by the Iraqis, via the oil for food program. Yesterday, I noted that when one looks at the variety of issues in the media and blogosphere, there are commonalities. Well, the UNSCAM (oil for food scandal) is one such commonality. For those on the Left who looked to the French or Russians or Germans as a source of principled opposition to the Bush Administration's efforts to make Iraq comply with the 17 UN Security Council resolutions, including the 1991 cease fire agreement, they couldn't be more hopelessly wrong.

As we learn today, a senior French diplomat has confessed that he took bribes from the Iraqis in the runup to the war in 2003:
Jean-Bernard Mérimée is thought to be the first senior figure to admit his role in the oil-for-food scandal, a United Nations humanitarian aid scheme hijacked by Saddam to buy influence.

The Frenchman, who holds the title "ambassador for life", told authorities that he regretted taking payments amounting to $156,000 (then worth about £108,000) in 2002.

The money was used to renovate a holiday home he owned in southern Morocco. At the time, Mr Mérimée was a special adviser to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general.
Mérimée had close ties to Kofi Annan, who continues to deny that he did anything wrong relating to the operation of OFF. That claim becomes more laughable every single day, as the investigations progress.
In 1999, he flew to Baghdad to discuss repayment and met Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, who offered to use oil-for-food money.

But that idea was swiftly rejected by BCME's president, who said any such deal would provoke American wrath.

Instead, the Frenchman said he decided to go into business "on his own behalf".

He added: "Tariq Aziz recognised the interest I had taken in Iraq, and the advice I had given him."

The ambassador said the French authorities had known of his every move.

France has been gravely embarrassed by oil-for-food allegations against senior figures, including Charles Pasqua, the former interior minister. He has denied receiving any benefit from the oil allocations issued in his name.
What people need to realize is that Saddam gamed the entire system, and it was a clear part of the Iraqi 'diplomacy' in the late 1990s to try and buy off diplomats who could help Iraq shed the sanctions imposed and that would permit Saddam to restart his weapons programs. To put it another way, you have the Foreign Minister of Iraq trying to buy off various ambassadors and other people in influential positions so that Iraq can rid itself of the sanctions. It was the official policy of Iraq to eliminate the sanctions so that the country could resume its weapons programs. That was the whole point of the sanction regime - to prohibit the development of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the dual use materials were highly regulated such that it was supposed to make it impossible to use the materials for weapons programs.

Captain Ed makes a related point:
This provides one of the most direct links between the corruption in the Oil-For-Food program and the Secretary himself. His own aide -- someone outside the OFF structure -- took bribes and kickbacks during a period when M. Mérimée held a unique position that could assist Iraq in pushing the UN delicately on any number of issues. It shows that Saddam Hussein not only had corrupted the UN to the point where he could use the humanitarian aid program as his own personal ATM (low-end estimates show at least $1.5 billion going into his pockets), but with Mérimée on the payroll, influencing the direction of the UN itself.
So, how does all this affect our intelligence picture before the war? For starters, if countries are adjusting their foreign policy based on the views of individuals who have been corrupted by the OFF program, it changes the diplomatic picture considerably. It means that the Iraqis had far more time to prepare for any possible military action against it. It means that the Iraqis faced a different military picture than if nations like Russia and France were alligned with the US. Saddam might have had no choice but to give up had those two countries not decided to oppose the US and British efforts to force compliance.

With the diplomatic picture muddied by the pervasive corruption of the UN through the OFF program, the military posture of the US and coalition partners was affected in numerous ways. Turkey, for instance, refused to allow the US use of its country for launching attacks into Iraq from the North. That decision was born of domestic considerations - the large Kurdish population may have seen that as a sign to assert their freedom from Turkey - and foreign considerations - how other countries were lining up against Iraq. Had Russia and France gone along with the US position, it is conceivable that Turkey would have permitted the US to base the 4th Infantry Division to swoop in from the North.

Further, the complications diplomatically meant that it gave Iraq more time to hide whatever weapons programs it had developed. Whether it was disposing of the technologies, actual weapons, or transferring them to third parties (Syria or even al Qaeda), the more time that Iraq had, the more likely those transfers and dispositions were made. The fact is that when you telegraph your punch for nearly a year, that's more than sufficient time to prepare for the coming attack.

Also noting the stories referenced above: Ace of Spade, The Jawa Report

To top things off, was there strong evidence that the Iraqis had WMD and shipped them off to third parties before the US invasion that was disregarded? You bet.

Multilinked to the following (and updated regularly): The Tar Pit, The Committee of Correspondence, The Florida Masochist, Basil's Blog, Adam's Blog, Common Folk Using Common Sense, IRIS Blog, GOP and the City, and Bryan Preston. Updated with The Llama Butchers and Gateway Pundit, who notes the myriad successes that the US had wrought in Iraq.

Not unexpected, al Jazeera has picked up Rep. Murtha's comments. Don't doubt for a moment that Murtha's comments wont be used in the next terrorist communiques. While al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups keep losing on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the four corners of the planet, they keep scoring easy points in the court of public opinion because of factually baseless comments made by the likes of Murtha and others who seek domestic political gains.

UPDATE 11/21/2005:
Welcome OSM readers. This posting is part of the Carnival on Pre-war Intelligence. Feel free to travel about the blog.

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