SADDAM HUSSEIN believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.
Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war. . . .
Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions - which stopped him acquiring weapons - were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focusing on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" and spokesman for his re-election campaign.
Focusing his attention in particular on France and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, Saddam awarded oil exploration contracts and financial inducements to individuals.
The bribes were at first funded by the Iraqi government, but later derived from Saddam's illegal misuse of the oil-for-food programme, which was supposed to provide food for the poor and medicine for the sick.
Some US estimates have suggested that the Iraqis siphoned off $10 billion (£5.6 billion) from the scheme.
"He [Saddam] targeted friendly companies and foreign political parties that possessed either extensive business ties to Iraq, or held pro-Iraq policies," said the report.
Of course, the story that's getting big play is the WMD angle:
But the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which returned its full report last night, said Saddam was telling the truth when he denied on the eve of war that he had any weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He had not built any since 1992.
The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.
Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."
So this is perhaps something less than a complete vindication for Saddam. Me, I'll just quote something that a prominent Kerry supporter said back in the day:
[W]e don't know for certain whether the reports of defectors are completely true and our satellites cannot determine with complete accuracy whether new buildings and construction are designed to build weapons of mass destruction. So the question becomes: who gets the benefit of the doubt? A dictator who has used such weapons and declared the United States as an enemy or a democratic country that has already experienced terrorist catastrophe?
[LATER: A couple of people wonder if it's fair for me to call Andrew Sullivan, who's the one quoted here, a "Kerry supporter," rather than "Bush opponent." Hmm. I've certainly thought of him that way recently, but I take the point. LATER STILL: Lo and behold, I just opened the latest issue of Reason and it says that Andrew isn't supporting anyone this election, so I guess he's anti-Bush, not pro-Kerry. I regret the error.] Personally, I find it hard to fault the Bush Administration for thinking this way. And had they failed to engage Saddam, we'd be hearing -- from many of the same critics of the war -- that their failure to do so was evidence of ineptitude ("How could you leave such a vicious dictator free to cause us trouble, smack in the middle of the mideast?") along, probably, with claims that it was somehow a way of enriching Halliburton.
UPDATE: Reader Terry Gain emails: "So how do you pass the Global Test when those marking the test have been bribed to give you a failing mark?"
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Nathan Lanier emails:
It's truly remarkable. The Duelfer Report seems to make the most compelling case yet that war was the necessary and last option at the time of invasion last March. But somehow the mainstream media feels it's necessary to put the fact that no WMD's were found as the headline for the 487th time. Hopefully the general public gets the full picture this time. Hopefully.