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Friday, March 19, 2004

Nuking Gregory Cochran

Gregory Cochran had this to say on Jerry Pournelle's blog recently:
[snip]
Well, I have some trouble with this, because _I_ certainly knew that there was no threat. I knew for sure that they had no nuclear program, when 'nuclear program' is defined as actually _doing_ anything - breeding plutonium, separating isotopes, or building the required facilities.
[snip]
I knew that Iraq had been stony broke for years, had a total governmental budget of maybe one billion, largely stolen from the oil-for-food program, which barely sufficed to pay for a ragged-ass conventional army and secret police - certainly not a Los Alamos or Livermore. I knew that Iraq was small, dirt poor, 60% illiterate - it was _not_ Nazi Germany, it was _not_ crammed with high-quality inventors and scientists and tool-and-die makers. It was and is an incompetent country, full of incompetent people. They are ragheads: let me say this again - RAGHEADS. The idea that Iraq had a burgeoning weapons development program (all totally invisible, of course, done by ragheads paid with sand) ) could only be held by someone who really believed that there are no differences between peoples, and that money does not matter. And who was generally an ignoramus.

[snip]

(See the whole thing here:)

link
Well, this exercise in prescience should not pass unnoticed. If only Bush, Cheney, Blair, Powell, Wolfewitz, Rice and dozens of others had heard the Delphic clarity of the esteemed Mr. Cochran's Tiresian call, rather than the Cassandran obscurity to which he has so shamefully been relegated. Or something...

OK, sarcasm off

Cochran has been pounding on this hobby horse for months. He hasn't presented anything like credible evidence or a compelling argument that Saddam didn't have WMDs, just asserting his opinion.

Claiming that the Iraqis are ragheads, I repeat RAGHEADS, doesn't count for jack squat. Firstly, the Pakistanis are RAGHEADS, and they successfully developed a bomb. Is there some reason to suspect that Pakis are less ragheady than Iraqis? I don't think so. GDP per capita, which might do as a stand in for ragheadedness, is $2,000 for Pakistan and $2,400 for Iraq. This is pre-war data. In other words, with sanctions in place, under one of the world's worst dictatorships the Iraqis manged to make more money than the Paks. So, raghead Pakis can and did develop a nuke. So far, no good reason the think the Iraqis couldn't.

Next point: Nuclear bombs are 1940's technology. I mean we're talking vacuum tubes, AM radio and B&W television here. The actual technology to produce a Uranium bomb is pretty simple, 85 kg of 90% enriched U235 and some sort of cannon type device to assemble the critical mass. It's so simple and predictable that the Los Alamos group didn't have to explode a prototype, they just built it and dropped it on Hiroshima. A Plutonium bomb is a bit more difficult, but still, it's not all that difficult. It's been done by the US, the English, the French, the Russians, the Pakistanis, the Indians, the Israelis, and possible by a few others. (for more detail see The Making of the Atom Bomb by Richard Rhodes)

What presents ome difficulty is not the actual technology of the bomb, but aquiring the fissionables to make one. Uranium enrichment or plutonium breeding requires a very large faciity. This is not an easy thing to hide, but it has been done. See North Korea for one example, and the Israeli program for another.
There is no good reason to think that Saddam couln't have hidden his program as well.

Another problem, or at least, a problem faced by civilized nations is manufacturing a bomb without killing the personel doing the grunt work of bomb assembly. And in this case, a ruthless dictator such as Sadam would be able to use slave labor and bury the results. Freeman Dyson made this point in a speech I saw back around 1981.

So, nukes aren't very difficult technology, ragheads can make them, and disguising a nuclear weapons program can be done. And Cochran is a jerk.


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