We went to war over THIS? (redux)

Reply Wed 28 Jan, 2004 01:16 pm
Anti-Bush partisans aren't listening to what David Kay is saying.

Iraq weapons inspector David Kay speaks to the Senate today, and our (probably forlorn) hope is that his remarks will get wide and detailed coverage. What we've been hearing from him in snippets so far explains the mystery of whatever happened to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

His answers, we should make clear, are a long way from the "Bush and Blair lied" paradigm currently animating the Democratic primaries and newspapers. John Kerry of all people now claims that, because Mr. Kay's Iraq Study Group has not found stockpiles of WMD or a mature nuclear program, President Bush somehow "misled" the country. "I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception," he said on "Fox News Sunday." This is the same Senator who voted for the war after having access to the intelligence and has himself said previously that he believed Saddam had such weapons.

The reason Mr. Kerry believed this is because everybody else did too. That Saddam had WMD was the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community for years, going back well into the Clinton Administration. The CIA's Near East and counterterrorism bureaus disagreed on the links between al Qaeda and Saddam--which is one reason the Bush Administration failed to push that theme. But the CIA and its intelligence brethren were united in their belief that Saddam had WMD, as the agency made clear in numerous briefings to Congress.

And not just the CIA. Believers included the U.N., whose inspectors were tossed out of Iraq after they had recorded huge stockpiles after the Gulf War. No less than French President Jacques Chirac warned as late as last February about "the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq" and declared that the "international community is right . . . in having decided Iraq should be disarmed."

All of this was enshrined in U.N. Resolution 1441, which ordered Saddam to come completely clean about his weapons. If he really had already destroyed all of his WMD, Saddam had every incentive to give U.N. inspectors free rein, put everything on the table and live to deceive another day. That he didn't may go down as Saddam's last and greatest miscalculation.

But Mr. Kay's Study Group has also discovered plenty to suggest that Saddam couldn't come clean because he knew he wasn't. In his interim report last year, Mr. Kay disclosed a previously unknown Iraq program for long-range missiles; this was a direct violation of U.N. resolutions.

Mr. Kay has also speculated that Saddam may have thought he had WMD because his own generals and scientists lied to him. "The scientists were able to fake programs," the chief inspector says. This is entirely plausible, because aides who didn't tell Saddam what he wanted to hear were often tortured and killed. We know from post-invasion interrogations that Saddam's own generals believed that Iraq had WMD. If they thought so, it's hard to fault the CIA for believing it too.

Mr. Kay has also made clear that, stockpiles or no, Saddam's regime retained active programs that could have been reconstituted at any time. Saddam tried to restart his nuclear program as recently as 2001. There is also evidence, Mr. Kay has told the London Telegraph, that some components of Saddam's WMD program "went to Syria before the war." Precisely what and how much "is a major issue that needs to be resolved." The most logical conclusion is that Saddam hoped to do just enough to satisfy U.N. inspectors and then restart his WMD production once sanctions were lifted and the international heat was off.

By all means let Congress explore why the CIA overestimated Saddam's WMD stockpiles this time around. But let's do so while recalling that the CIA had underestimated the progress of his nuclear, chemical and biological programs before the first Gulf War. We are also now learning that the CIA has long underestimated the extent and progress of nuclear programs in both Libya and Iran. Why aren't Democrats and liberals just as alarmed about those intelligence failures?

Intelligence is as much art and judgment as it is science, and it is inherently uncertain. We elect Presidents and legislators to consider the evidence and then make difficult policy judgments that the voters can later hold them responsible for. Mr. Kay told National Public Radio that, based on the evidence he has seen from Iraq, "I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat." He added that "I must say I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially, than in fact we thought it was even before the war."

As intelligence failures go, we'd prefer one that worried too much about a threat than one that worried too little. The latter got us September 11.
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Reply Wed 28 Jan, 2004 02:49 pm
There were many of us, including myself, who believed that suspicion was not a just reason to wage war over. We laughed at the drawings that Powell presented to the UN. We knew about the forged documents about Saddam aquiring nuclear material (for some reason this news was swept under the rug until it surfaced on Meet the Press many months later. Proof of a pro-war media?). Most of us in the anti-war camp didn't know if Saddam had WMDs or not but we knew that there was no evidence to prove that he did.

There were many peices written on the lack of evidence of WMDs before the war. Saddam did provide alibis for the missing WMDs (that news wasn't widely publicized either). Whether or not you believed him was another story. Some of the WMDs were undoubtly destroyed and that was confirmed by UN inspectors before the war. Others, Saddam claims, were destroyed in a fashion that leaves no reliable way to check if they were destroyed. Even I was suspicious of that explanation. But we still had NO evidence that Saddam had WMDs. Only a lack of evidence that he didn't.

What we know now for sure is that the Bush administration had no evidence of Saddam's WMDs. UN inspections were doing their job. And Saddam was not an immediate threat. So either Bush was fooled himself or he lied. Either way he's not fit to be president and either way he needs to offer an apology.
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Reply Wed 28 Jan, 2004 03:40 pm
David Kay's surprising exit interview confirms that the old conventional wisdom -- that Iraq had an advanced and growing WMD program -- has given way to a new conventional wisdom: that the Iraqi program was to a remarkable extent smoke and mirrors. It is increasingly unlikely that new discoveries will change this assessment, so it makes sense to take stock of what the new conventional wisdom tells us about the old, and vice versa.

We should begin by discarding the self-serving rush to judgment of partisans. Democrats have gleefully claimed that since the Iraqi WMD program was (apparently) not as advanced as the Bush administration claimed it to be, the neoconservatives in the Bush administration must have deliberately lied. Despite its popularity on the campaign primary trail, this conspiracy theory is so nutty that Bush defenders have just as gleefully avoided tougher questions and contented themselves with knocking it down: How could even the all-powerful neocons have manipulated the intelligence estimates of the Clinton administration, French intelligence, British intelligence, German intelligence and all the other "co-conspirators" who concurred on the fundamentals of the Bush assessment?

But focusing on that extreme charge distracts us from recognizing some less obvious lessons that are clearer now with hindsight. Here are four:

• The alternatives confronting the Security Council in March 2003 were not viable. If eight months of largely unfettered investigations could not provide a smoking gun to prove the existence or nonexistence of a stockpile, certainly Hans Blix would fail as well. The alternatives some advocated -- I thought six more weeks of Blix inspections would have been a good compromise in March 2003 -- would have left us just as uncertain. Even giving Blix another year would have left us groping in the dark. Remember that the new conventional wisdom is built on the absence of discovery (something that Blix could have provided easily) and on the corroborating testimony of people who no longer have reason to fear Saddam Hussein (something that Blix could never have provided).

• Intelligence failure was inevitable given the nature of the Iraqi regime. The new conventional wisdom is that Hussein wanted us to think he had a more advanced WMD program than he thought he had, and that Hussein himself thought he had a more advanced WMD program than he really had. If Hussein could be deceived in a country where he had absolute power, where he regularly punished betrayers by slipping them through human shredders or having their wives raped in front of them, then any external intelligence service was going to be deceived as well. The intelligence community accurately reported that Hussein was hiding things, that he was pursuing WMD programs, that senior members of the Iraqi military-industrial complex were convinced Iraq was pursuing WMD. Given Iraq's record, it would have been heroic to connect those dots into the picture we now think we see, namely, that it was mostly Iraqi actors deceiving each other and everyone else.

• Intelligence failures beget intelligence failures. The intelligence community has a sorry record of assessing just how advanced an incipient WMD program really is. In fact, there is a striking pattern. In each of these cases, new evidence turned out to rebut the established consensus of the intelligence community: the Soviet Union in 1949, China in 1964, India in 1974, Iraq in 1991, North Korea in 1994, Iraq in 1995, India in 1998, Pakistan in 1998, North Korea in 2002, Iran in 2003 and Libya in 2003. In each of these cases, the WMD program turned out to be more advanced than the intelligence community thought. Iraq in 2003 may be the only exception (though there is reason to believe that North Korea is, like Iraq, exaggerating its nuclear progress).

• Intelligence cannot substitute for political judgment. Coercive diplomacy, the alternative to war, requires political judgment under conditions of uncertainty, a fact lost in the increasingly rancorous partisan debate. The critics who are bashing President Bush for pushing a hard line on Iraq are also bashing President Bush for not pushing a hard enough line on North Korea. Ironically, the president is doing everything in North Korea that he was accused of not doing in Iraq: building an international coalition to support pressure on North Korea; not taking North Korean claims at face value; weighing carefully the costs of military action; and so on. The bottom line is that the hard cases -- North Korea, Iran and, yes, Iraq -- are hard cases precisely because the easy options have been tried and proved wanting.

If the current Kay exit interview had been available in March 2003, it's unlikely that the administration would have pressed for war. But since the war case rested on multiple pillars -- dealing with a problem now before it became an unmanageable problem later, recognizing that Hussein could not be trusted in the long run, recognizing that the war on terrorists involved getting tough on the causes of terrorism (stunted political development in the Middle East), recognizing that the status quo policy on Iraq was responsible for creating the conditions that gave rise to al Qaeda in the first place -- it is possible that reasonable people would have still advocated war.

So by all means, let us have a full investigation into the intelligence failure (though let us not expect one during a presidential campaign). But let us not think that much better intelligence would have been achievable or conclusive in helping us decide how to deal with Hussein.

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Reply Wed 28 Jan, 2004 04:57 pm
Half truths and lies
That is the MO of the Neo Fascists. If the lie or half truth is unearthed then go to another lie or half truth. Spin, spin, and spin.

"UN inspections were doing their job. And Saddam was not an immediate threat. So either Bush was fooled himself or he lied.

The real deal is the rush to invasion and kicking out Blix and his team. The Neo Fascists were Hell bent to invade Iraq and nothing was going to stop them from doing so. Next is Pakistan and Syria. As long as the Neo Fascists have a stranglehold on America and the Congress they will do as they please to serve their masters, the Multi-Corps. It's all about business and feeding the Capitalists tied in with the Military Industrial Complex and the Multi-Corps Global Domination. PNAC has the blueprint and the Neo Fascists will follow it no matter what the cost in dollars or human lives. Americans who are not the Upper Class are expendible as toilet waste.
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