Saddam Hussein saw his life as an unfolding epic narrative, with retreats and advances, but always the same ending. He would go down in history as the glorious Arab leader, as the Saladin of his day. One thousand years from now, schoolchildren would look back and marvel at the life of The Struggler, the great leader whose life was one of incessant strife, but who restored the greatness of the Arab nation.
They would look back and see the man who lived by his saying: "We will never lower our heads as long as we live, even if we have to destroy everybody." Charles Duelfer opened his report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with those words. For a humiliated people, Saddam would restore pride by any means.
Saddam knew the tools he would need to reshape history and establish his glory: weapons of mass destruction. These weapons had what Duelfer and his team called a "totemic" importance to him. With these weapons, Saddam had defeated the evil Persians. With these weapons he had crushed his internal opponents. With these weapons he would deter what he called the "Zionist octopus" in both Israel and America.
But in the 1990's, the world was arrayed against him to deprive him of these weapons. So Saddam, the clever one, The Struggler, undertook a tactical retreat. He would destroy the weapons while preserving his capacities to make them later. He would foil the inspectors and divide the international community. He would induce it to end the sanctions it had imposed to pen him in. Then, when the sanctions were lifted, he would reconstitute his weapons and emerge greater and mightier than before.
The world lacked what Saddam had: the long perspective. Saddam understood that what others see as a defeat or a setback can really be a glorious victory if it is seen in the context of the longer epic.
Saddam worked patiently to undermine the sanctions. He stored the corpses of babies in great piles, and then unveiled them all at once in great processions to illustrate the great humanitarian horrors of the sanctions.
Saddam personally made up a list of officials at the U.N., in France, in Russia and elsewhere who would be bribed. He sent out his oil ministers to curry favor with China, France, Turkey and Russia. He established illicit trading relations with Ukraine, Syria, North Korea and other nations to rebuild his arsenal.
It was all working. He acquired about $11 billion through illicit trading. He used the oil-for-food billions to build palaces. His oil minister was treated as a "rock star," as the report put it, at international events, so thick was the lust to trade with Iraq.
France, Russia, China and other nations lobbied to lift sanctions. Saddam was, as the Duelfer report noted, "palpably close" to ending sanctions.
With sanctions weakening and money flowing, he rebuilt his strength. He contacted W.M.D. scientists in Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria and elsewhere to enhance his technical knowledge base. He increased the funds for his nuclear scientists. He increased his military-industrial-complex's budget 40-fold between 1996 and 2002. He increased the number of technical research projects to 3,200 from 40. As Duelfer reports, "Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem."
And that is where Duelfer's story ends. Duelfer makes clear on the very first page of his report that it is a story. It is a mistake and a distortion, he writes, to pick out a single frame of the movie and isolate it from the rest of the tale.
But that is exactly what has happened. I have never in my life seen a government report so distorted by partisan passions. The fact that Saddam had no W.M.D. in 2001 has been amply reported, but it's been isolated from the more important and complicated fact of Saddam's nature and intent.
But we know where things were headed. Sanctions would have been lifted. Saddam, rich, triumphant and unbalanced, would have reconstituted his W.M.D. Perhaps he would have joined a nuclear arms race with Iran. Perhaps he would have left it all to his pathological heir Qusay.
We can argue about what would have been the best way to depose Saddam, but this report makes it crystal clear that this insatiable tyrant needed to be deposed. He was the menace, and, as the world dithered, he was winning his struggle. He was on the verge of greatness. We would all now be living in his nightmare.