In a bit of speculative reasoning in October 2003 ("[Saddam's] WMD Lies"), I argued that the absence of WMD in Iraq ultimately meant explaining the mystery of "why Saddam created the false impression that he had them" even after this impression became self-defeating. I explained this strange behavior by referencing "the uniquely self-indulgent circumstance of the totalitarian autocrat," which has two key qualities:
- Hubris: The absolute ruler can do anything he wants, so he thinks himself unbounded in his power.
- Ignorance: The all-wise ruler brooks no contradiction, so his aides, fearing for their lives, tell him only what he wants to hear.
This explanation comes to mind on the heels of David Kay's explanations for the absence of WMD. Here is one account from the former CIA chief weapons inspector:
From interviews with Iraqi scientists and other sources, he said, his team learned that sometime around 1997 and 1998, Iraq plunged into what he called a "vortex of corruption," when government activities began to spin out of control because an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein had insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others.
After the onset of this "dark ages," Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state.
"The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process," Dr. Kay said. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs."
It's hard to think of a more concise definition of hubris and ignorance than "an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein [who] insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others." This sort of mistake by absolute tyrants can almost be counted upon. Watch for something similar in North Korea. (January 26, 2004)
April 7, 2004 update: The Independent reports today on Saddam Hussein's actions while in U.S. captivity: "Several of the FBI interrogators have concluded that Saddam was surrounded by so many sycophants during his dictatorship - who said only what their master wanted to hear - that he had no real idea what was going on in Iraq."