It was during the waning days of the Cold War that I first discovered Jim Dunnigan. You probably know him from his StrategyPage website, which is one of my daily reads (and should be one of yours, too). The book I found in the school library was called A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.. The budding military history geek in me just had to read it. I mean, did that title sound manly, or what?
Turns out, you can’t judge a book by its title. What it turned out to be was a very sober look at conflicts and potentional conflicts around the world, and at the countries and militaries and cultures involved in them.
One thing I remember clearly, was Dunnigan arguing that the CIA (among others, but we’ll get to that) couldn’t really know the size of the Soviet economy. The Politburo told GOSPLAN what needed to be done. GOSPLAN told the regional authorities, who told the local factory managers, mines, etc., how much of everything to make, who then issued quotas to their workers.
The workers lied to the managers, who lied bigger to the regional authorities, who lied even bigger to GOSPLAN, who told great big whoppers of lies to the Politburo, who then told the world that they were the richest country in the world, or at least soon would be.
Meantime, nobody could even get decent toilet paper.
The sad truth about the Soviet economy was, not only did the CIA not know what shape it was in, but neither did the leadership of the Soviet Union..
Think of that when you read Charles Krauthammer on David Kay and Iraq’s WMD program:
It was a combination of Iraqi bluff, deceit and corruption far more bizarre than heretofore suspected. Kay discovered that an increasingly erratic Saddam Hussein had taken over personal direction of WMD programs. But because there was no real oversight, the scientists would go to Hussein, exaggerate or invent their activities, then pocket the funds.
Scientists were bluffing Hussein. Hussein was bluffing the world. The Iraqis were all bluffing each other. Special Republican Guard commanders had no WMDs, but they told investigators that they were sure other guard units did. It was this internal disinformation that the whole outside world missed.
Am I annoyed that the CIA blew the call? A little, but not nearly as Andrew Sullivan has been of late. Am I bugged that we were duped into a pointless war? Hardly — I believed then and I believe now that Iraq needed to be dealt with because of issues far larger than WMDs. Does it worry me knowing that we might similarly be misjudging North Korea? Not much, although it is a concern.
What bugs me is, I’m a pretty serious amateur history student, and I fell for Saddam’s bluff and bluster in the exact same way Jim Dunnigan once helped me see through the bluff and bluster of the old USSR.
I shoulda known better.