This is the most reasonable account I’ve seen of why Saddam might wished to convey the impression that he had WMDs when he did not really have them. I have always felt that all politics is local, and so I like the fact that Threatening Storm author, Kenneth Pollack is able to explain Saddam’s actions in terms of his desire to maintain domestic control, rather than impress other Arab nations or (even more improbably) that he really did have WMDs (see here for new evidence of their destruction):

Saddam’s behavior may have been driven by completely different considerations. Saddam has always evinced much greater concern for his internal position than for his external status. He has made any number of highly foolish foreign-policy decisions—for example, invading Kuwait and then deciding to stick around and fight the U.S.-led coalition—in response to domestic problems that he feared threatened his grip on power. The same forces may have been at work here; after all, ever since the Iran-Iraq war WMD had been an important element of Saddam’s strength within Iraq. He used them against the Kurds in the late 1980s, and during the revolts that broke out after the Gulf War, he sent signals that he might use them against both the Kurds and the Shiites. He may have feared that if his internal adversaries realized that he no longer had the capability to use these weapons, they would try to move against him. In a similar vein, Saddam’s standing among the Sunni elites who constituted his power base was linked to a great extent to his having made Iraq a regional power—which the elites saw as a product of Iraq’s unconventional arsenal. Thus openly giving up his WMD could also have jeopardized his position with crucial supporters.

Furthermore, Saddam may have felt trapped by his initial reckoning that he could fool the UN inspectors and that the sanctions would be short-lived. Because of this mistaken calculation he had subjected Iraq to terrible hardships. Suddenly cooperating with the inspectors would have meant admitting to both his opponents and his supporters that his course of action had been a mistake and that, having now given up most of his WMD programs, he had devastated Iraqi society for no reason.

Of course, this is not the end of the story, Pollack adds other elements, such as scientists who deliberately deceived Saddam, a belief that sanctions would be lifted, and a fear that inspections were a cover for a CIA planned coup. However, I don’t think any of these would have mattered if Saddam didn’t need the myth of WMDs to legitimate his position within Iraq. Even dictators need a certain degree of legitimacy.

The most disturbing part of the article is the fact that the administration was demanding that the intelligence community dig up data that would support the contentions of conservative newspaper commentators!!!

Requests were constantly made for detailed analyses of newspaper articles that conformed to the views of Administration officials—pieces by conservative newspaper columnists such as Jim Hoagland, William Safire, and George F. Will.