THE WMD HUNT….A REAL EXPLANATION AT LAST?….Now that he’s back home David Kay is turning into a veritable font of useful information. Today, he advances the first new theory I’ve heard in a while about why Saddam acted the way he did if there were no weapons to hide in the first place:

David A. Kay, who led the government’s efforts to find evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs until he resigned on Friday, said the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Mr. Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes.

….After [about 1998], 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.

You know what? This is a winner. I think is the real explanation for what happened.

Partly I believe this because Kay is obviously basing this on things he’s learned via interviews with high-level Iraqi officials, but partly I believe it because it just makes sense. Everything falls into place.

An increasingly out-of-touch Saddam makes sense. High-level scientists faking programs in order to get money for their own pet causes makes sense. Saddam’s attitude toward the inspections makes sense because he thought there really were active WMD programs in place that would take time to dismantle. And it may be that even some of the exiles were telling the truth when they reported that Iraq still had active large-scale WMD programs. They might have been scammed the same way Saddam was.

This is the first theory I’ve heard that holds together on all levels. It explains how the CIA got fooled, it explains why Saddam acted the way he did, and it explains why we haven’t found much of anything. And it does it all without making any weird and heroic assumptions about human nature.

I think this is the real deal.

UPDATE: Just to clear up a possible misconception, I don’t think this absolves the Bush administration of anything. The CIA was indeed fooled, they issued guarded reports saying that Iraq had WMD, and the Bushies then cherry picked the reports and removed the qualifiers when they made public statements. This is pretty much what we knew happened anyway. There’s plenty of blame for everyone in this fiasco.

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