Did We Miss Out on the Bargain of the Century in Iraq?

Stuart Reid’s Twitter points to this Condi Rice discussion with Katie Couric in which the following exchange takes place over the decision to invade Iraq:

RICE: …I’m also, frankly, just very glad [Saddam Hussein is] out of power. Now, to be frank, we tried to take him out of power without going to war. We tried to take him out of power by – we got a report from an Arab state that shall remain nameless that he would take a billion dollars to lead – to leave. We said, deal. Right? (Laughter.) We tried to (find ?) him –

COURIC: Has that – has that been made public before?

RICE: Yeah, I – it may be in President Bush’s book. I’m not sure. I don’t remember. But we did. We said, if he’ll go, everybody’s happy.

A colleague intrepidly Googled this, and turned up this 2007 article in the Washington Post.  The article reports that for a billion dollars and if allowed to “keep information on weapons of mass destruction,” Saddam Hussein told Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak that he would have been willing to go into exile.  President Bush’s own book, per Secretary Rice’s mention, covers the matter in this way:

…Our last ditch hope was that Saddam would agree to go into exile.  At one point, an offer from a Middle Eastern government to send Saddam to Belarus with $1 to $2 billion looked like it might gain traction.  Instead, in one of his last acts, Saddam ordered the tongue of a dissident slashed out and left the man to bleed to death.  The dictator of Iraq had made his decision.  He chose war.

Lots of people like to make fun of President Bush’s prose style, but even for him (or his ghostwriter) this is pretty peculiar.  First of all, it isn’t clear why “person who cuts off dissidents’ tongues and leaves them to bleed to death” is mutually exclusive with “person willing to take a billion or two dollars and go into exile.”  Saying Saddam cut a dissident’s tongue out doesn’t necessarily bear on his willingness to take a payout and go into exile.

Second, it’s almost certain that this was pursued and didn’t go anywhere, but if there was anything approaching a realistic opportunity to make this happen, we really missed out on the bargain of the century here.  You’re looking at something like 500%-1000% returns, not counting several thousand American and a-hundred-or-so-thousand Iraqi lives saved.

Thirdly: Belarus?