Media reports clearly create the impression that the main conclusion of the CIA report is that Iraq had no WMD. The media seem intent on hammering home that point, but casting the report in so narrow a fashion is entirely misleading. Indeed, while the report notes the absence of WMD, it does so in the context of examining Saddam’s overarching strategy and goals. That's the real focus of the report, and it's not being reported that way.
As I said yesterday, the media is predictably irresponsible on such matters. I strongly encourage everyone to read at least the “Key Findings” section of the report, which begins with these observations:
Saddam Husayn… wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted…Saddam’s basic strategy was this:
He initiated most of the strategic thinking upon which decisions were made…maintaining WMD as a national strategic goal…
He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections… with his intention to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD…
By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime, both in terms of oil exports and the trade embargo, by the end of 1999.
Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.
- He hoped to ride out the sanctions, which he expected to be short term and ineffective.
- When the sanctions proved more robust than he hoped, he put his WMD plans on hold and concentrated on ending the sanctions. He maintained his infrastructure so that production of WMD could resume on demand.
- Through bribes and other corrupt dealings, he greatly undermined the sanctions and persuaded several members of the U.N. Security Council to support ending sanctions.
- With the sanctions melting away, he was prepared to resume production of WMD.
Update: Kudos to The Washington Times for getting the story right:
Saddam Hussein's goal through the 1990s and until the 2003 U.S. invasion was to end U.N. sanctions on Iraq, while working covertly to restore the country's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, a report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector says.[via Betsy]
"Saddam wanted to re-create Iraq's WMD capability — which was essentially destroyed in 1991 — after sanctions were removed and Iraq's economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities," the report said.
Update 2: More at I Love Jet Noise.