JAMES F. HOGE: Welcome. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting. For those of you with cell phones, BlackBerries, et cetera, this is the time to turn them off.
This meeting is on the record, and it’s also webcast today. When we get to the Q&A part, you know the rigor. A mike will be coming around. Tell us who you are and try to ask a question succinctly and one at a time. We don’t take multiple questions. And if you’re in the mood to give a sermon or something, Sunday’s coming up. (Laughter.)
Most of you, I hope, have seen the current issue of Foreign Affairs. It has a lead piece called “Saddam’s Delusions.” And with me today are two of the three people who produced this piece: Kevin Lacey—Kevin Woods—excuse me—and Jim Lacey. Kevin is an analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses, and Jim is an analyst also, with the U.S. Joint Forces Command. There are bigger biographies at your table, so we’ll leave it at that.
The third author, who’s not with us today, is Williamson Murray, visiting history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Now, what I think makes this intriguing, the essay, is that it is based on a two-year study of massive documents from within the Saddam Hussein regime and from interrogations of some of his top officers and civilian officials after they were captured. And it gives us, I think, a portrait that is really quite rare. You usually don’t know the kind of things we now know about the thinking and the behavior of this administration as they were moving into—little beknownst to them, but moving into war with the United States or invasion by the United States.
What we printed is a small part of a much larger project, which is called the Iraqi Perspectives Project. There is a full book, which you can get off of Amazon and later, in another week or two, from Barnes & Noble, which covers what’s in our article and a lot more. But it’s an ongoing project.
Beyond that, Kevin is very much involved in a series of case studies that will be coming forth over the next 18 months or so. Is that about right?
What I thought we’d do today is start first with setting the context and then go to some of the sort of key junctures or decisions that come out of the material that we’ve got. But to set the context, I think, you’ve got to start with who was it that we were really dealing with; what is it about Saddam maybe we knew in general, but in this piece you will learn about in particular; and what effect did it have—his behavior, his attitudes—what effect did it have on his regime and on the country; and how, in turn, did that affect how they were able to either fight the war or not fight it particularly well.
A couple of words come to mind immediately when—after reading your piece about Saddam. One is delusions. He believed a great deal of what he was told as propaganda. He took it as truth.
Brutality. He had some very vicious ways of making sure that his officers told him what he wanted to hear and only what he wanted to hear, which is usually good news.
And another was his confidence, his sense, based on very little factual matter, that the United States was indeed a paper tiger and would never invade, and if it did invade, it would leave soon, once some others shook their fingers at us, and that the Iraqis, because of their special spirit, could not be defeated.
Now, what did this lead to, this kind of behavior? What—when you look into the records, what was the state of his military? How did his commanders behave?
KEVIN WOODS: Well, I mean, the state of the military is interesting. The way that question is usually phrased is in the context of how the West, the United States specifically, views military readiness.
Military readiness from Saddam’s point of view had a lot more to do with loyalty, and a proper spirit, and the ability to be a team player in such a way that—to gain strength from, you know, everybody being on the same team, touting the same Ba’athist doctrine, or being loyal in their very unique brand of loyalty, which is, you know, tied to personal relationships, family relationships and the like.
Most measures of military effectiveness that we take for granted, I think, in the West didn’t really apply in Saddam’s regime, certainly during the last half of Saddam’s leadership.
JAMES LACEY: Well, the most fascinating story in there is that we went up to Baghdad thinking that the last and final defense was going to be the Special Republican Guard, and that’s where Saddam was going to have his best troops and his best commander. And it turns out the Special Republican Guard commander was considered pretty much a buffoon, alcoholic—correct on the alcohol?—an idiot by just about every other general there.
And you asked them—Kevin asked many of them, how could he put that guy in such a critical role? Because there’s only one spot you could lead a palace overthrow, and that was with the Special Republican Guard. He wanted to make sure that whoever was in charge of it was not only too cowardly to plan a revolt on his own, but he was too stupid to get involved in somebody’s else’s too, that nobody could trust him. (Laughter.)
To greater and lesser degrees, this permeated throughout his entire military structure. Competence in command, competence in battle, competence in tactics was virtually—if it was an afterthought, we might be giving it too much credit. That was not even a consideration for his senior commanders. And if you’re like in the West, where your units and your capabilities reflect the commander all the way down, it’s easy to see why his army collapsed under the stress of the 3 rd ID and the Marines pounding them for a couple of weeks.
HOGE: You know, another thing that I think is interesting at this juncture on this part of the topic, is that all of these officers and his sons learn that the best way to survive was to deceive the old man, so to speak. And there are some fascinating examples. One that comes to my mind is when Qusay, his son, is sent out to make sure that 70 trucks which were inoperable are working again. And he gets out there and has them all painted up, and then he puts the drivers in and says, “All right, take them across the field to show that they work.” Not a single one did. And then he tells the drivers, “Don’t tell anybody. I’ve already told Saddam that they’re working.”
Then you have all these research projects on new weapons, which—
WOODS: That was a very common effect, was the expectation of Saddam was that if he decided he wanted a new weapon system, or somebody had a good idea—they were very big in the Military Industrial Commission on ideas, whether it was, you know, attaching torpedoes to civilian ships, to small UAVs, to electronic warfare items that they’d either read about in Western press or thought of their own or had help on, they were going to develop, it was enough for Saddam to say, “Go off and develop these.” Whether they worked or not really didn’t matter. What they had to get back to Saddam was that we’re making progress, making progress. In which in return, the favors of cars and money and things like that would flow back downhill.
A lot of them are very derisive. I interviewed the former commander of the Iraqi navy who spent most of the late ‘90s trying to restore a few patrol craft. And there was always a big contract, always a new thing, always something coming, something coming, something coming from the Military Industrial Commission. It never did. So he took his sailors, who had no ships, and they started building them on their own.
But basically, it came down to that if was coming out of their military development system that so much of it was not true, though it was being reported that way and being funded that way, it really cut out those who were trying to do something, maintain systems or repair systems or bring systems online; it left them with nothing to work with.
HOGE: Another big problem, as I said at the beginning, he had this confidence that the Iraqi spirit would prevail and America was a paper tiger. And so his real threat he did not see as being external. He saw two different kinds of internal threats, and ultimately organized his military forces for that purpose. What were they?
WOODS: Well, when we went and did interviews with senior Iraqi generals, one of the basic questions that we asked was to describe the threats to Iraq—just a straightforward military question. And we assumed the description would include a Western coalition is probably the most serious threat, and then a regional threat, and then an internal threat, because he’d obviously proven his ability to control the internal situation, we figured that would be three on the list.
The answer always came back the opposite. The most important threats were close. The second-most important threats were the next series, which would be neighbors, then it would the outside coalition. Which really didn’t make a lot of sense. We spent time talking to the minister of defense, General al-Tai, to understand why would what seemingly is obvious not be obvious.
And he said, “Look, the closest knife to the belly is the real threat.” If you tell a man when somebody’s standing there with a knife to his belly that they guy over the hill has a rifle, that’s very interesting and it’s important, but the guy standing next to me still has a knife. And so you get into this series of where is the threat? And it was a very visceral, kind of close-in problem.
WOODS: And you have to combine that—and we say it in the article and go into more detail in the book—the most significant event in Saddam’s political/military leadership time was the uprising in 1991. He put all the events, going back to the ‘68 revolution and all the events that occurred during his time with senior members of the leadership—everything pales in comparison to that very short, very intense two and a half-month period of time, March through May. And in Saddam’s own documents and in some cases words, he lost control of it all but one province right after the first Gulf War. I mean, physically lost control, the Ba’athists weren’t in charge, the security situation was breaking down.
And we in the West, on the outside, we knew about the uprisings in the North. We knew about the uprisings of the Shi’a. But I don’t think we realized the degree to which the regime felt things were out of control.
WOODS: In one document, they talk about they had no control in all but Al Anbar, where we were focused in the uprisings south and north, the—
HOGE: And where they still have control.
WOODS: Well, to some extent. That’s—(inaudible). So—but he ended up focusing—that was the serious threat. So in Saddam’s world, to fix that problem, he spent most of the ‘90s internal to Iraq dealing with that issue.
HOGE: Yeah. Let me take it from there.
So it we’re in his head in the concentric circles, his first concern is coups, so he puts family members and stupid people in charge of armed forces. (Laughter.)
His second concern is insurrection.
HOGE: And so he founds several political militias that he can personally control out of the president’s office.
The third concentric circle are his neighbors. Israel—he thinks Israel might take advantage of him if he looks weak. Iran is another.
WOODS: He’s—(inaudible)—along with—
HOGE: And that leads to one of the really big issues in all of this, and that is the double game he was playing on weapons of mass destruction, trying to persuade his neighbors that he had them, but at the same time maybe letting the inspectors know enough so that we wouldn’t get too exercised. And it didn’t work, did it?
WOODS: No. I think—and the article talks about the—and it’s also, by the way, discussed pretty well on the Iraqi survey group report the CIA put out in the fall of 2004—this deterrence by doubt, which was a requirement in a regional sense, but it was a real detriment in an international arena. And he played that double-edged game obviously way too long, I mean, in the sense that the international game at least before 9/11 the tone that comes out of the conversations in the recordings and in the documents is, as painful as the sanctions regime is, Saddam—they were making progress toward being out from underneath the international equation.
But there is still this nagging requirement to maintain some level of doubt regionally. Now, this wasn’t generally accepted, but you go to the interviews, and you notice that no Iraqi that I ever spoke to—and I think the Iraqi Survey Group would back that up; Jim went through it very carefully recently—no Iraqi senior officer said we personally know of WMDs. A significant number of them would say, when you ask the follow-on question, “Well, but is it possible that it exists and you not know about it?” would offer, “Of course,” based on a couple of simple things, is that we’ve had it in the past and we’d used in the past. It was a significant measure of success against the Iranians. At least in some of their minds, it was a significant matter of deterrence against the U.S. in ‘91 going all the way to Baghdad. And so the compartmentalized nature of the regime says it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we would actually give all of it up in just a security sense.
And the third reason, which—
HOGE: And Donald Rumsfeld still doesn’t think they may have given it all up.
WOODS: Well, you know, there is no definitive answer, and I don’t pretend to offer one in this study. But the third one is the most ironic, and that is that the West, certainly the United States, the CIA and other very serious organizations were so confident that it was true. So there’s a simple logic that—how could they say it’s true, they’re going to come get it, if they know it’s not true, and they found that—
HOGE: And then we get to a point where there’s a lot more evidence that maybe we’re really quite serious, there might indeed bean invasion, and so he changes the balance from deceiving the neighbors to trying to get more information to the inspectors. But this is after a decade of various deceptions. And it’s very hard to believe him. And in fact, some of the information that meant one thing gets interpreted another, particularly in Secretary Powell’s speech at the U.N. Jim, you want to talk to that?
LACEY: Well, I think there was—what Saddam did maintain and what could have caused a lot of confusion is he maintained a giant infrastructure and a program to reconstitute his WMD program as soon as possible. But he didn’t realize that the 2001 world had changed, and that there’s certain things he had to do if he was going to appease the powers at be. He wasn’t particularly worried about a coalition invasion. He was focused on getting from under the sanctions regime. And as he got closer to that, he realized he needed to come clean.
He didn’t really make that plain to the Western powers. He still continued to play a shell game and things along that line. And if I get any of this wrong, Kevin will fix it.
WOODS: Thank you.
LACEY: But the—what he had told his people was, “I’m not—we’re going to come clean. We don’t want any WMDs. Make sure they don’t find any because they’re not there now.” You know, someone would say, “Hey, the inspectors are here,” and they’d get on the radio, and they’d said, “Well, you better make sure they don’t find any WMDs there.”
Now, based on 10 years of prior deception, you’ve now run into a problem. We pick up that radio transmission that says, “Make sure they don’t find the WMDs.” We immediately assume that they’re rushing them out the back door.
WOODS: Yeah, I won’t take advantage of the—(inaudible)—here to correct one thing Jim said. The context is a little more subtle, which makes it even more complicated. The context being, you know, the WMD program was built in a series of compartmented compartments and constantly overlapped in change. And if you sit on their side of the hill for a minute, and you go post-1991, a lot of it was destroyed, a lot of facilities were destroyed. Then you had the beginning of the inspections regimes right away. Large inspections: ‘91, ‘93, ‘95. All of those had different layers of success. In some cases, they were outright lying, and the next series of inspections would prove it. Go back and we’d change the nature of the regime; go from site inspections to putting monitoring on issues, and that changed overnight. Every time they were trying to get cleaner they never had it right because nobody in the whole system seemed to know all the parts of the system.
By ‘95 when you’re seeing Kamel defected, there was a real panic, and—in the documents, in what Hussein Kamel was giving away, what he was not giving away. Who knew? Because Hussein Kamel was the head of the Military Industrial Commission, close confident of Saddam for a very long period of time on these issues, and it was—it really—you look at the documents post-August ‘95 through the time Hussein Kamel made the terrible mistake—he went back to ask forgiveness—they were in a panic destroying everything they could get their hands on: documents, facilities, equipment. And there was no real clear accounting for all of that.
For the follow-on inspections, it was never clear to any of them that everything was done. So you get to the post-2001, just on the eve of OIF, there was some doubt in their own minds. Was everything really clean the way we said to include the soil and old documents and old manuals, anything that might give them reason to think we didn’t really come clean?
And so again, after a decade of deceit and double games, it became very difficult for them or us on the outside, them on the inside, to have a clear picture of the story.
HOGE: So he trapped himself in his double game?
WOODS: To some extent that’s where it appeared—
HOGE: Because even though there’s quite a bit of evidence, so to speak, that the administration came into office wanting to—(inaudible)—resolving Iraq issue, it would not have been an invasion if there had been documentary evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction, would there?
WOODS: Well, I can’t speak for the U.S. government.
LACEY (?): Oh, try.
WOODS: No, no.
MR. : (Laughs, laughter.)
WOODS: And I really don’t want to speak for the Iraqi—I’ll speak to the evidence that we’ve uncovered on the Iraqi government side. I don’t know how far it would have had to go to change that long routine of deceit.
HOGE (?): Yeah.
WOODS: But then there’s the assumptions that we make when looking at this kind of regime, and the kind of expectations that we go into for the discourse you can have a regime that treats information this way, that compartmentalizes things the way it does, that has this long dubious record in the international community. It’s very difficult to understand when enough is enough or what white looks like, and I could say that for both sides of the hill on this matter.
LACEY: This is—gets ought to—something else, you know, as Kevin alluded. Kevin alluded that I had a—just looked for the Iraqi survey group’s final report. And I asked this question numerous times since then, rhetorically, if we had found out that Saddam Hussein was—could create enough anthrax to take out most of the world within a two-week period, that he had increased nuclear weapons research by a factor of 40 in terms of his monetary expenses, that he could produce nerve gas within six months in massive quantities, in six months being able to do so, would that be justification that he was an imminent threat?
And usually, I get a whole bunch of people nodding their heads, and then I say, well, that’s exactly what the Iraqi Survey Group found. And they’re like: Well, no, they didn’t find any WMDs. I’m like: Everything I just said came out of that report. So that’s what Saddam was still up to, plus a whole bunch more, but nobody knows that.
Now I wrote this up in a separate article, and last Thursday, I got a call from—I won’t mention names—somebody on the NSC: So I’m looking at the report, and I can’t find anything of—any of what you said in there. And I said, well, a lot of it’s in volume 3, and they’re like: There’s more than one volume? (Laughs, laughter.) So even within our government, we often don’t know what we have found. (Laughter.)
HOGE: Jim, Kevin, in the article, you mentioned terrorism, but almost in passing. What do we now know that you can talk about?
WOODS: Well, you know, as far as the documentated—as we document in this article, there was a lot of concern over the ex-pat community outside of Iraq, and (we ?) focused a lot of energy on it.
It’s interesting, the confluence of movements. If you look at Iraq and its history of supporting Arab nationalism and the pan-Arab movements going back to the revolutionary periods in the ‘60s, that was still alive and well in Saddam’s mind. So a lot of energy went to supporting those kind of groups.
Those kind of groups kind of run parallel and are, in some cases, now conflated with a rise of a certain brand of Salafi jihadist, Salafi brand of Islam, or radical Islam, depending on which words you want to use. And those things ran in parallel. So there was a lot of overlap between the groups that he historically supported, predominantly Palestinian, but expanded beyond that. And then there was this extension of the Fedayeen Saddam and the internal security, extending out—you know, again, that the closest knife to the belly, but extending out to where the rifle is and to the next—but the Fedayeen Saddam started taking on larger and larger missions, not just within Iraq, but in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, but then also planning for activities wherever they thought those threats might emanate.
HOGE: One other thing that I’d like to clear up. After the insurgency gets sort of full-flowered, there’s a lot of conversation around the various quarters, well, this was planned in advance. The Ba’athists, knowing that they were going to lose the hot war, were getting ready for a long insurgency. And evidence has been cited: munitions dumps in various places around the country. What did you all find out?
WOODS: On the insurgency question, based on the evidence that we’ve—that we’ve gone through very thoroughly, now, there’s—our view of the insurgency is that it was not pre-planned. Evidently, there’s no Plan B—not because we haven’t found a written plan, but it’s in—in looking at the evidence as it exists. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
The idea that the ammunition was sprinkled around Iraq to support—
HOGE: In various stockpiles.
WOODS:—in various stockpiles in schools and mosques and private homes and the like. And that was done in such a way that, you know, post-fall of the regime, the insurgents could get to it. It really wasn’t. If you go back and look at the post-1991 after-action reviews from Iraq, what they learned in the war and the uprising—they studied the issue. They said, look, we almost lost control of the regime because the local Ba’ath infrastructure isn’t very strong. They didn’t have local militias that were (rural ?) enough and aggressive enough to put down the insurgents when this started happening. We really focused on the south for this part. And say, the Ba’ath militia in Basra was cut off, and Samara was cut off, and Amarah was cut off, and they were cut off and they were, in some ways, massacred themselves, but couldn’t get to the ammunition stockpiles, couldn’t get to the bases, so we’re going to fix that problem by creating a militia that can control both an extended al Quds within Fedayeen Saddam. And a run-up—you know, it looks like it’s going to be problem, start stockpiling ammunition so those groups can quickly get to it, they don’t have to go to a military base.
HOGE: So once again, they were particularly concerned about internal insurrection—
WOODS: Absolutely. Internal insurrection. You get into the issue of—another piece of their logic is the bridges. One of the expectations on the coalition was the infrastructure would go down very quickly as a defensive measure. Use defensive training, they want to keep people away from the capital, you have to take advantage of the water and the bridges. They didn’t do that. In fact, there’s document evidence that Saddam was denying permission to drop bridges in the south as late as the 2 nd of April. For those who don’t know, we started the war on the 19 th; the 2 nd of April we’re closing in on Baghdad, he’s still denying permission to drop bridges. Not only did he have an inflated idea how successful they were being up to that point in the war, but he was speaking about 1991. If we dropped the—the Americans didn’t bomb the bridges in 2003; they did in ‘91. If we dropped the bridges, we just solved their problem for them, we can’t get down and put down the uprising. So he held permission from that.
Another example, and it goes to the insurgency issue, is that on the 4 th of April several senior tribe members in the south asked for—asked Saddam to give them access to heavy weapons. They said, you know, Mr. President, we can support you more, we can support the fight if you’ll give us heavy weapons—specifically anti-tank weapons. Saddam denied permission to give anti-tank weapons to a force that was saying “We want to defend you” because they were tribal leaders. And he didn’t have full confidence that he could control the tribes in a post-‘91 scenario again, and giving them heavy weapons would make his problem twice as difficult as it was in ‘91.
So you can see very late in the war that there was a different concept of what the problem was compared to what we may have thought. And a lot of that gets into, again, the Ba’ath emergency plans and the structure he put in place to put down insurgency. It is the structure that in some ways enabled, the summer of 2003, at least the beginnings of the insurgencies—much different now than it was in 2003. But it’s—certainly at the beginning a lot of the infrastructure for an insurgency was put there not for that purpose, but to actually put one down.
HOGE: We’re about to go to the audience, so I want to ask you one last question. What did you learn from this, a lesson or two? There’s one we discussed, that deterrence is a very fine doctrine under some circumstances, but it may not hold in the kind of things we’re having to deal with today.
WOODS: Well, a couple things. I mean, I’m—I’m certainly no expert on international relations. But as I look at it, I say we’re trying to judge Saddam on some generally understood manner of behavior, we don’t give enough credence to seeing the world from where he sits. And one thing I noticed in reading this is there isn’t a lot of—there wasn’t a lot of sunshine between what Saddam said publicly in a lot of ways—public speeches, even private speeches that weren’t for international consumption—but there wasn’t a lot of difference between what he said publicly and what he said privately. So as radical and outrageous as some of the things he said publicly, he was saying equal things privately. So the focus on certain issues that he would say publicly were driving policy privately.
HOGE: What does that remind you of today?
WOODS: Without using names, there’s others in the region who use very flowered, very loud language now. But again, different cultures, different issues. I’m just saying within this closed regime, there wasn’t a lot of sunshine between what Baghdad Bob was saying on the eve of the collapse of the regime in April and—
HOGE: Which they apparently believed themselves, didn’t they?
LACEY: All believed.
WOODS: To a significant extent, they very much believed. I mean you have the minister of Defense saying on the 6 th of April, don’t overstate the American success; it’s going well, guys.
HOGE: Right. And at that point we’re at the airport, aren’t we?
WOODS: Absolutely. We’re actually at the Republican palace. (Laughter.)
HOGE: Okay. To the floor. Yes, ma’am? Judy.
QUESTIONER: First of all, I just want to—
HOGE: Judy, take the mike, tell them who you are, and then ask your question.
QUESTIONER: Judy Miller, a journalist. I just want to congratulate you on a superb report, and I look forward to reading more, as I’m sure we all do. But I wanted to ask you something about, given what you’ve been able to research and the documents you’ve been able to look at and the interviews you’ve been able to do, what kind of confidence does this give you in the intelligence community’s ability to penetrate what’s going on inside the regimes of Iran and other countries? And was there a way, even with respect to Iraq, in which you think the intelligence community could have performed better, given the level of compartmentalization and deception that you saw?
WOODS: I’ll take it. On the first question—
LACEY: Could I start? The last time I saw Judy Miller—she’s forgotten—it was outside of Najaf, and she didn’t look near as good as she does today. (Laughter.)
WOODS: Thank you, Jim.
LACEY: Go ahead.
WOODS: On the first question, you know, it’s not my job to rate the confidence—or my confidence in the U.S. intelligence community. This project’s been going on for two years. The biggest support we get comes through the U.S. intelligence community. They have been really wide open into looking at what we’re learning, and engaging in this kind of an open dialogue we’re having right now on the evidence; what does this mean for us?
As to the second question, it’s an interesting problem. A very senior individual in one of the briefings, he asked kind of the same question about what does this mean for, say, things like human intelligence? And there is no easy answer, because what does it mean if you have a human intelligence source, or any kind of special source, let’s call it, inside of a closed regime, where the nature of information is so twisted that, you know, what truth is takes on a different meaning? So even if you had really great sources inside Saddam’s personal secretary’s office and he could provide you some of the documents that I now have in my possession, that were never intended for public consumption, that talk about capabilities that never existed.
So it’s a real conundrum, in that you can’t expect somebody who’s stealing real high-value, important internal information to feed the intelligence community to make hard decisions if the stuff that you’re taking, even if the eyes of those who are consuming it, is wrong.
LACEY: Let me add one other thing to that. We have a Western mentality. We cannot get rid of it. It’s impossible. No more than anybody reading “Mein Kampf” in 1938 could have actually understood what Hitler was up to. You can look at everything Saddam has said, Saddam is doing, but we put a rational actor model on everything because we’ve been brought u and raised that way. Most of you are very committed to international relations, and all you’ve heard is the rational-actor model since your first days of getting your bachelor’s degrees. That doesn’t exist with Saddam. We could have every single piece, as Kevin said, of evidence that we now have and said, “This doesn’t make sense to us.” To have any beating up on the intelligence services at all—I think they did, given these circumstances, as good a job as could have been done by anybody.
HOGE: Yes, sir?
QUESTIONER: Thanks. David Greenberg, Rutgers University.
I want to push on this issue of rationality. Jim’s question about deterrence suggests rationality is at the heart of a lot of our policy considerations. And on the one hand, you suggest Saddam isn’t understandable through that kind of model. The piece is called “Saddam’s Delusions.” And yet you’re also suggesting, well, there is actually an internal logic that is quite rational. And how much do our notions of rationality in human thought help us understand, or in cases like Saddam or other cultures, are they impediments?
I didn’t get a clear sense from your article if you’re arguing for a psychological model or way of thinking about policy that is different, and I’d like to hear you both elaborate on that.
WOODS: Well, on the larger question, I’m not—you know, the intent of the article was not to address the larger theoretical issues in international relations. But it just seems to me that taking at face value what these individuals say, and putting it in the context of the kind of regime that exists here—I mean, there’s a lot we know now about Saddam Hussein’s regime that we can look back at. The way they kept records. You can look at the Stasi files and see a lot of parallels. The way they manipulated inner-circle leaders and advisers, the way Hitler did. The way they manipulated or used security services, and the implications that that had all the way through a society, the way in, say, Stalin’s regime.
But I just don’t think we often enough bring to the fore, as we’re making judgments about what the range of options are for this actor, which we tend to apparently use more of our own assumptions and we’re not spending enough time on the other side of the hill thinking what does it look like from where he’s sitting.
HOGE: Yes, way in the back. The gentlemen right there.
QUESTIONER: My names is Charles Ganell (sp). As you know, the Bush administration made a big issue of the fact that Saddam was gassing his own people. There are people in the intelligence community who say that’s highly misleading. The gassing they’re referring to was during the war with Iran; it was up in the north where some of the Kurds had taken sides with Iran, and there’s even a question of who started it, whether the Iranians started gassing first or the Iraqis started gassing first. And in any event, they bought the gas from Americans. I wondered if you looked into that issue?
WOODS: It’s not in the current piece. The Iran-Iraq issue and elements of—you know, specific elements of the Iran-Iraq war are part of the ongoing research. So I don’t have any conclusions for you on that particular ‘87 gassing in the north.
LACEY: But there are some historical things that aren’t part of the piece. For instance, the gassing of the Kurds was post the Iranian war, and they killed something close to 10,000 of them, by lowest estimates. And there’s no records that I am aware of that he bought any of the gas in America. He was self-producing.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. My name is Roland Paul. You know David Kay, the poster boy for the anti-war movement, told me exactly the same thing you just said about his mustard gas in six months.
But my question is, in the lunch we talked about the programs he had just before the war of bombings and martyrdom operations in the west. Could either of you say a little more about the likelihood of who might get killed other than expatriate Iraqis from either of those programs?
And also, you mentioned the anthrax. I don’t think you meant to say he had a stockpile of anthrax that could wipe out—
LACEY: No, I didn’t say that. What I did say was that they found that he had all of the infrastructure needed to produce a stockpile that size within one week of doing so. You know, it’s on page 814, Volume III of the Iraqi Survey Report. (Laughter.)
WOODS: He’s answered that question a lot lately!
The other question is the piece about the Blessed July operation. Well, the planning document that came as a result, according to the document, came as a result of two planning meetings with Uday, who was the head of the Fedayeen Saddam, the senior leader of the Fedayeen Saddam. And it indicates a level of planning and a level of willingness to do out-of-area operations, which is why it’s in there.
As far as whether or not they—you know, how far those operations would have gone, who else may have been injured, the implication in the documents, the words used imply that it was aimed at “traitors”—the word used often for Kurdish groups that were against the regime, or other groups that were against the regime, whether it was Shi’a groups in or out of Iraq or others. But the document indicates, again, that willingness and the planning and the planning infrastructure, which was fairly extensive as far as the Fedayeen Saddam goes as far as creating the kind of weapons that you would need for this, you know, disguising explosives, IEDs, and the like. Those programs go well before 2003. The manufacture of IEDs, the design, the technologies for remote detonation, all those things was a very, very active program through the late ‘90s.
QUESTIONER: Thanks, Jim. Steve Solarz. There appears to have been a fairly sharp distinction between the amount of resistance put up by the regular Iraqi army and even the Republican Guard on the one hand, and the degree of resistance put up by the Fedayeen Saddam on the other. How does one explain that fact? What was it about the Fedayeen Saddam that induced them to resist in ways the regular formations didn’t, and to what extent were the Fedayeen Saddam composed primarily, or perhaps even overwhelmingly, of Sunnis?
HOGE: And what happened to them in the war when the war actually came?
WOODS: My understanding, looking at the documents, most of them were Sunnis. They were recruited that way. But not all, but most were.
There’s two explanations I can come up with in the research on why they fought like they did compared to others. One is, is naivete. These people were recruited into this group. It’s kind of a, you know, very hyped up group, empowered young men, and they were kind of the tribe of Saddam, if you will. They were placed all over the country. They were empowered. They had Fedayeen ID cards that kind of gave them carte blanche in local areas, and some of them abused the privilege and became criminal gangs on their own. So there was that, there was a very naive kind of street gang mentality to it, and they didn’t know much about military art and science, they hadn’t gone through the kind of training and see what goes on in that kind of combat.
The other was, it’s interesting, if you look at their documents, they had a foundational document and a series of their own kind of Uniform Code of Military Justice that we use in the United States, but basically, if you’re a Fedayeen battalion commander and you lose the better part of a company, you’re executed. If you’re a Fedayeen company commander and you lose the better part of a platoon, you’re executed. If you’re a platoon commander and you lose a squad, you’re executed. So the motivation on the battlefield for the leadership was pretty straightforward. I mean, it was not—there was no misunderstanding about what was going to happen and when the medal was going to be pinned on. It was very clear what was required. But again, that was at that end.
And then you go into the planning before the war. There’s a piece in the book about really ramping up the training for the Fedayeen at the last minute; I mean, like 30 days before the war kicked off, large training operations to get more and more Fedayeen ready to do battle. And I think we say in the book almost in an off-handed way that their graduation exercise would have been facing the 3 rd ID on the highway into Baghdad. A lot of them just went down in small groups, threw themselves at armored formations. And you can read in both the discussions from Marine commanders and U.S. Army commanders about the numbers of Fedayeen that just seemed to come at them in small vehicles and in small groups with no apparent concept of fire maneuver or anything else that you would do.
LACEY: The Fedayeen were not combat effective. They were fanatical. During the war, most of the officers who fought them, they’d come running at them and they would be slaughtered, literally slaughtered. And I think one brigade commander just said was slaughtering them. And it caught us by surprise on the battlefield because no one expected that kind of fanaticism down in the south.
But they were also—to the military, they were a distraction. They’re coming out of the towns and they’re attacking the supply lines. The 3 rd ID was heading for Baghdad, and the Marines were heading for al Kut and then to Baghdad. They left smaller elements and called up light forces, the 101 st and the 82 nd, to contain them in the cities for the most part until they could take care of them. The regular army guys weren’t much in the fight from the beginning, but the Republican Guard was. But the main power of the United States is coming at the Republican Guard. We weren’t sending the Apaches, the (deep attacks ?), the ATACM missiles and—you know, a mass formation of M-1 tanks and Bradleys shooting as they come at 60 miles an hour at the Fedayeen. That’s why the Republican Guard collapsed, it was hit by a force it could not even imagine, even though they had fought it in ‘91. The Fedayeen got a lot of attention back in the United States because they were fanatical, not because they were effective.
HOGE: While you’re on this point, but there are two other things that I think explain why it worked so badly for them. The Fedayeen got a lot of the armaments that were supposed to go to the regular army, and they were under the president’s control, not the army’s control. And then the people who control the Revolutionary Guard and the Special Revolutionary Guard were not allowed to move any major units unless the president said okay. It’s, you know, flexibility.
WOODS: Well, it’s an issue that grew over time, and maybe it’s in the nature of these kinds of regime. The number of security organizations proliferated, and the numbers—
LACEY: Yeah. It came to what, five or six.
WOODS: Yeah. And so you had five different security organizations, you had three different armies, you had three different militias. All of them had independent chains of command. The only single point of contact for all of them would have been Saddam.
WOODS: And so there really was a lot of confusion. The head of the regular army talked about he couldn’t recruit soldiers into the regular army units because they were all volunteering at the local Ba’ath Party headquarters, joining the Al Kuds or the Fedayeen. So you had regular army units that were at 60-percent strength or less, but you had young men, 18-year-old men in these formations that added no real combat power in a conventional warfighting sense, and that became a real—most of the uniformed services were very frustrated by that.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Laurenti at the Century Foundation. First, your piece is a wonderful supplement to what has already been the kind of preoccupation on our side about Bush’s delusions about this war. (Laughter.) And it’s good to see, you know, what was going on inside Baghdad.
HOGE: Jeff, we don’t do supplements. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Yeah, right. (Not quite ?). (Laughter.)
Let me ask whether on the military side the emphasis on strictly loyalty, no matter how hack a general was put in place, is something that developed after the ‘91 war? Because in the ‘80 to ‘88 war with Iran, Iraqi forces fought with reasonable tenacity. Was the quality of the military leadership degraded over time after the ‘91 war, or had he, in fact, been doing that from the start? And did his Mukhabarat, the secret service—secret police, rather, funnel up reports about people’s grumbling in the streets, the way we found after World War II the Italian Fascist police had been sending up accounts of people grumbling about the alliance with Germany even before the war, or did they not have any vehicle for funneling up some sense of public discontent?
WOODS: Well, the last question, they had a very well developed ability to monitor. And one thing the Iraqis were good at—and this is in their conception—was internal. If it was internal security related—you want to know who was stealing money from whom, who was saying bad things about the president, who was sleeping with who, they had it, and it’s documented. The degree to which and the specificity to which they track internal things—as an example, they had a Department of Rumor which had an office—(laughter)—they actually did. The Department of Rumor’s job was to collect the rumors on the street. And they had a formal analysis program for what is this rumor, what does it mean, where might it go, where might it have come from. Then they actually had the counterpart, which is the counter-rumor office, who after the Rumor Office decided what was being said on the street, they had to put together the SIOP plan to go back into the street to counteract. So it was very well developed, very high (word inaudible).
But again, it gets back to the nature of these regimes. Over time, this got worse. If you talk to senior generals, like the minister of defense, some of the corps commanders, this wasn’t the way it was in the ‘80s. We’re just now doing the studies of the ‘80s right now. But their description of Saddam was engaged in the ‘80s by having dialogues with commanders, he wanted to know what happened on the battlefield: Describe it to me. How did that happen? How did you take the bridge? By ‘91, that had started to change. After ‘91 it changed dramatically. Some of them talked about how he was very disconnected. He would only meet in these big senior audiences with senior ministers. He wouldn’t go visit units like he used to. He didn’t spend time talking to them like he used to.
But over the same period of time, he became much more specific in his guidance. He would give very specific guidance. The example I use in the book is on the 28 th or 29 th of March, 10 days into the war, Saddam, the senior leader of a nation under attack by this coalition, wrote a nine-page tactics, techniques, procedures memo to conduct squad-level ambushes. And he ordered it delivered to all the division commanders. So here’s a man who never served in the military, who’s at the strategic leadership level, is writing essentially what would be sergeant’s business in any Western military, and he’s having it delivered to the battlefield as an essential document. So he was more disconnected, but much more brilliant, in his own mind.
HOGE: Let’s take it to the very end when he decided he is the only military genius and he makes the last plan for the defense of Baghdad with, I think, a red, a green and a yellow pen.
LACEY: Oh, I don’t think we’re going to talk about the—
HOGE: It’s in your book.
WOODS: Well, I think that there’s a design—
LACEY: Oh, the design. Okay, we can talk about the—
WOODS: From the 18 th of December 2002, this is three months to the day before the war starts, General Allawi, the chief of staff of the Republican Guard, brings all the corps commanders and senior commanders in, and he delivers to him what they call the “Ring Plan”—to ring circles around Baghdad. And there was an equivalent plan, by the way, for the other major cities in Iraq. And he said this is the new plan for Iraq.
The corps commanders, who had been working on a defense concept that goes back to 1991, the first post-‘91 war concept was June of ‘91, War Plan for Defense of Baghdad. Essentially they’ve been working off that plan for the intervening 13 years. Then right on the eve of a new war that’s all thrown out the window. Now, this is a very bureaucratic military. They had operations orders, they had annexes for medical and transport and ammunitions. And now it’s a new plan. It’s very simplistic. The corps commanders were stunned, in their own words. They didn’t understand how they were supposed to adapt to it. They didn’t understand where the supporting material was. Their concerns are blown off by: Look, Saddam has signed it, it’s your turn to execute it. Now’s the time to go out and do your duty.
And as we account in the book, there are a couple of reactions to this. Some of the commanders went out and said, “Well, that’s what the boss wants; we’ll try our best.” And they went out and tried to execute the plan as they understood it. Other commanders went out and they adapted the plan to their own local circumstance, which is not really within keeping of the plan, if you look at the way it was laid out. The third group, probably larger than most would admit, even in an interview after the war, said, “I’m not playing this game,” and they dug survivability positions. So instead of building fighting positions, they went out and dug holes to hid from air power. In one case it was four survivability positions for every fighting vehicle, which is not a—you know, not the kind of ratio if you’re anticipating ground combat that you would normally set up.
HOGE: Yes? Right there.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. Jane Arask (ph), Council on Foreign Relations. This is fascinating stuff. Thank you.
One of Saddam’s delusions was thought to have been that in 2001 and 2002, when there were all sorts of threats against Iraq, that he spent extraordinary amounts of time working on his novels, the sequel to a romantic novel in which he was the thinly disguised main character.
Did you see any evidence of that from the people, from the sources you saw?
WOODS: Not in the book. But there was a lot—he did spend a lot of time writing. He writes a lot poetry and wrote a lot of fiction. Given all the things I’m working on, haven’t taken the time to have it all translated.
LACEY: But what we have read has been really, really good! (Laughter.)
HOGE: Yeah, I’ll bet.
Right in the back.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Deroy Murdock at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. I’m wondering what you have learned about Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism, ranging from the Palestinian homicide bombers to al Qaeda, other groups. And could you talk a little bit about something called Blessed July?
WOODS: I think we addressed some of it. In the current piece we talk about Blessed July as an extension of the Fedayeen Saddam and an extension, if you will, of that internal security issue.
Extensive support for Palestinian groups, and that goes back—it’s fairly well-documented, but it may be much more extensive than what was publicly known as far as paying for families of suicide or homicide bombers and the like.
But Saddam was engaged—if you go back and look at this regime, going back to the July revolution of ‘68 and kind of the pan-Arabist vision, he supported those groups. He supported all the groups that shared a like vision.
What I account for and what we’re still doing research on is that vision aligns much closer to a new vision that arose, you could say, out of the Afghan experience in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s that we’re probably dealing with today on a global scale. There’s a lot more commonality there than at first meets the eye.
And so in that way there was a tremendous overlap between some of the activities that Saddam supported and some of the activities that others may support more globally.
But as far as direct evidence, we don’t put any of it in here, and I haven’t seen a significant amount of direct evidence other than, again, his view of the world. He has this pan-Arabist view of the world, of his role in it. He used to describe—as opposed to being a historian, Saddam’s job was to document the pages of history, and he wasn’t writing this as an actor in—you know, writing his memoirs. But he talked about the page of history that was the Iran-Iraq War, and it was the page of history that was his stance against the 33-nation coalition that he defeated in 1991. He defeated it, in his own mind.
He calls the uprisings the “Page of Treason and Treachery.” Again, it’s this grand view of himself across history, across time, and he viewed it as his moral responsibility to get the documents right. And that’s what he was doing.
And so as far as, you know, seeing through the pan-Arab vision and—he did all that he could to support those movements.
QUESTIONER: Oh, thanks. Thank you. Thanks. I’m Ted Sorensen of Paul, Weiss. I’m very glad you’re in Washington and giving the perspective of our enemies. I’m not sure of any administrations who have had that kind of information, and that’s very valuable, and it’s valuable to hear today.
Let me make one comment before my question. My comment is that I’m shocked, shocked to know that there’s a national leader so immersed in his own delusions, so surrounded by cronies and incompetence—(laughter)—that he even believes that a tough military battle is going to be easy, and even though he’s never served in the military himself—(laughter)—and makes these decisions. (Laughter.)
So my question is, surely no one who had received information that you have provided would think that American forces launching a preemptive unilateral strike were going to be greeted with flowers. What do you do to get people at the policy level to read your stuff? (Laughter.)
WOODS: Do you prefer I—well, not to address your comment specifically—(laughter)—but to address the question at the end—(laughter)—I’ve got to tell you, you know, I’ve not done this kind of work before. And the doors have been wide open. We have been briefing this extensively at the highest level.
The first sponsor of this project was Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, the current vice chairman. He sponsored the project, he got it off the ground, he put a lot of personal energy into it to get it started and to keep it going, two and a half years ago.
And from that, from its inception, almost from the day I got back from Baghdad, after doing the first round of interviews, we’ve been briefing this at the highest level of governments and having an ongoing dialogue with what we’re learning and what can be learned from this case study, this historical experience, which—and by any estimation, this fairly rare opportunity to look at our adversary.
So I am heartened by the fact that what can be learned is being learned, because they at least are open to hear it, and we have very open dialogue.
HOGE: Jim, anything to add?
LACEY: I’ve been incredibly impressed throughout the entire thing on how open people have been to receiving this, and especially the people that, in circles or in the context of this question, you would think would be the most reflexive—“Take that away from me; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The intel community has wrapped its arms around this in a big way to find out what they got right, what they got wrong, why, and how they can do it better. I mean, no—there has been nobody I have known that has closed a door to this.
LACEY: Everybody is absolutely fascinated.
There is a classified version of this that pulls no punches. And the DIA, the CIA and every “IA” out there has come looking and asking. We’re not going out peddling this. Kevin doesn’t call up and say, “Wow, we got a great briefing, you should hear it.” They’re coming knocking on the door on a regular basis and saying, “Get that over here. We need to know what you know.”
HOGE: From the back of the room? Yes, sir? Abe? Coming your way, a mike.
QUESTIONER: Abe Katz, U.S. Council for International Business. You looked at a lot of documents. Could you tell us what was the flurry of news about the Intelligence Committee in the House trying to get a whole bunch of documents in Arabic, and then encountering resistance by the administration, finally getting it, saying that they’re going to spend big effort on analyzing them? What has happened to all this? It sort of sank beneath the waves.
WOODS: Well, it’s still out there. The issue with the documents is there’s a huge—it’s very difficult to describe the scale. In captured documents sense, this is off the charts by any historical comparison. You know, a sophisticated government, all the computers and typewriters that we—you know, so just think about capturing Washington, D.C., how much paper would you have? (Laughter.)
The problem is just they’re all in Arabic. That’s one problem. You know, most people don’t read Arabic in the United States.
The second problem is there are things that are worth protecting in the document collection. And I’ll describe it this way. The DNI established a release criteria. Now, I’m not in the policy business, so I’m not speaking for the DNI, but I’ll just—their release criteria is pretty liberal. It’s to default to release as much possible as quickly as possible. That’s what they said on Capitol Hill, that’s what they’ve told me, that’s what they’ve done to all the agencies.
But as an example, we’re still fighting in the Middle East, we’re still fighting in Iraq. There are documents here that implicate, for right or wrong, innocent Iraqis, low-level operatives and the like. Saddam did things to his society over 30 years that are very well documented, and the people in that society have to live there on into the future. So releasing some of these documents would not do well, much like the problem they had with the Stasi records after East Germany collapsed. There are documents that have implications for current ongoing military intelligence activities. This was a recent collapse; some of the people in this government, some of the things they set up are still there, and so releasing them now may make it very difficult to continue to prosecute the war on the ground. So there’s a reason to be careful about what’s released and when.
Some would like to imply that means there’s something to be hidden. You know, I’ve been on the ground floor of looking at documents. I’ve not seen anything that is worth keeping from people. There are things worth protecting in the context of an ongoing war, and I think that’s what they’re doing. And I think the issue was the resources it takes to put them in public—there was a debate over how much resources you should put toward that while you’re prosecuting a war. And that’s been resolved. And they’re now publishing them. You can go on the Internet—you have to read Arabic, but you can go on the Internet and read quite a few of the documents. Most of the documents in my study are now on the Internet—Foreign Military Studies Office—that you can look at.
HOGE: The amount we have is staggering. What’s the estimate?
WOODS: It’s hard to measure it in pages, which is the way normally people look at it. These are folders. A folder, a document folder, a document number, is everything from one page, a phone message, to, say, a 600- or 700-page military study of enemy courses of action—of course us being the enemy. So it’s everything in between. So it’s tens of millions of pages of documentation. It’s hundreds—it’s actually thousands of hours of audio tape and video tape.
LACEY: Now, remember, we’re not—
HOGE: Outdid Richard Nixon.
LACEY: We’re not complete—the people doing this are—when you read in the newspaper oh, they’ve only translated 5 percent of it, that’s like we don’t—you know, if they captured all the records for the Department of Agriculture, as Kevin said, if they captured Washington, D.C., we start at the CIA and the military records for the most part. A lot of those captured records are their department of agriculture, their department of transportation. The analysts will get to them when they can.
WOODS: I got to tell you, it’s a brilliant program that was put together to manage captured documents. There’s been nothing like it—for getting them off the battlefield, getting them used immediately, where they can be used, getting them to what essentially is a virtual archive so that analysts throughout the government can get to them quickly. Almost all the documents—a very, very high percent of the documents have been what they triaged—that means somebody who speaks Arabic has gone through them quickly to define, as Jim said, this is, you know, defining the price of wheat, or this one is a military plan. So they’ve been triaged in that way.
It is true that a relatively low percent have been fully translated, but I don’t necessarily need to translate New York Times articles, which the Iraqis did quite a bit. So you don’t need to retranslate some things if some things just aren’t of interest for the current research.
HOGE: Okay, we’re just about out of time. So I’m going to take the last two questions together and you can see which parts you feel you can answer.
Yes and yes.
QUESTIONER: Do you both—
HOGE: Tell us who you are, and stand up.
QUESTIONER: Oh. Bettye Musham. Do you both read Arabic? And how did you get the documents? I mean, did—who edited them?
HOGE: Okay, Ralph.
QUESTIONER: Ralph—(last name inaudible)—at New York University. So much of your study is focused on the personality of Saddam Hussein. I want to follow that up. You mention that about half way through his regime he began to get—government—(inaudible)—began to increase. Was there any particular incident that contributed to this, or was this a growing process of paranoia and aggrandization of being in office?
WOODS: Sir, on your question, I don’t know—I haven’t defined any particular event. I’m not writing his biography. But it seems to me that the events of the uprising of 1991 were such a seminal event, were the break point in his relationship to his senior ministers, his military, in some ways his own people. And there’s a significant change in the way he approached problems after, say, May of 1991, that’s reflected in both interviews and in documents.
And, ma’am, neither of us speak Arabic. We have on the team, and through contract, Arabic linguists and Middle East experts. And we have access to the documents because we are doing a government-funded research project, so we have access to the government database.
HOGE: Well, this is an ongoing project, as you heard. And what we’ve got so far has certainly been fascinating. And we thank both of you—Jim and Kevin—for today’s session. (Applause.)
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