Oh Crap, My Intelligence Sucks!
I have not written about Iraq because I wanted to see how things turned out. Now that Iraqi elections are just around the corner, I feel that the time may be right to examine the war.
There have been several editorial cartoons lately that have made the point that the Bush administration keeps changing their rational for going to war. Let me say a few things right up front so as to not confuse you. I believe that the Iraq war was the right thing to do for the following reasons: the perceived threat of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's), Saddam's willingness to work/fund terrorism, the oppression of the Iraqi people, the hope that a democratic Iraq would help change the region and the eroding support for continuing sanctions. I also believe that the world is a better place and that the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam out of power and in prison. My purpose is not to undermine the current effort, but to look at what went wrong during the run up to war.
Most Conservative websites (National Review and The Weekly Standard to name a few) have been howling for about a year now that the decision to go to war was not solely based on the WMD's. They say that the President articulated several different supporting reasons such as saving the oppressed Iraqi people, promoting democracy in the Middle East and Iraq's connection to terrorism. They have a good point but the problem with that line of thought is that the public by and large felt the main reason was the WMD issue. This is probably due in large part to the length of time that the public was exposed to the "fact" that Iraq had WMD's. Ten years of sanctions after the first Gulf War is the main reason for this. For ten years (during three different administrations) the American people saw that Saddam was doing every thing he could to keep from complying with the UN resolutions concerning his WMD's. That is a long time for one issue to be before the American people, thus, that is the main impression that stuck in their heads. But to the credit of the American people, they have mostly been able to adjust to the lack of WMD's and focus on the other positive of a free Iraq.
I well remember the day that Secretary of State Collin Powel went to the UN with evidence that Saddam was actively engaged in WMD production. He had satellite pictures showing mobile factories and large facilities suspected of being clandestine laboratories. The CIA said it was a "slam dunk" when asked about WMD's. The President spoke of not letting Saddam become an imminent threat. To his credit he did not say that Saddam was an imminent threat, only that if we waited, he would become one. Being a political and news junky, I was also very familiar with all that Saddam had been up to for the past ten years. As the war unfolded, I was one of the people telling my friends that it would be just a matter of time until we found the "Mother Load". Then all the nay-sayers would have to eat crow.
Where did they go? Did they get whisked off to Syria or Iran? Russia is another possible location. Looking at the evidence, I agree with one other line of thought that is gaining some momentum: He has not had WMD's since the 1991 Gulf War.
How could this be? In a dictatorship no less? Basically what you have is a modern day version of the Emperors New Clothes. It seems his scientists and weapons manufacturers feared telling Saddam that they no longer had the capability to produce WMD's. After all, if you spill the beans that you can no longer do your job, well then, your position is no longer needed. In Saddam's Iraq that meant that you and your family were "no longer needed". Another aspect of this is that if you could use a small portion of your funding to build things that look like WMD's, then the rest could be spent on personal things to better you and your family.
A similar phenomenon can be seen in Nazi Germany during WWII. Hitler wanted certain things, new super cool weapons that would win the war. In many cases, Germany could no longer produce the precision tools and equipment required to build these new weapons, but you could not tell Hitler that. Also, Hitler would look at a map of the Eastern Front and order divisions around to fill in gaps and take positions. His generals did not have the courage to tell him that those divisions no longer existed.
Total power can blind a leader and fear can motivate people to do strange things to justify their jobs, and their lives.
Ok. So let's stop to re-cap: The administration gave many reasons for the war, but the press and most of the American people picked up mostly on the WMD issue. Now that it is obvious there are no WMD's to be found they either a) did not exist or b) they were shipped off to other countries in the region. What went wrong?
After watching the sad display of "courage" by Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA) during Dr. Rice's confirmation hearings for Secretary of State, I feel I have to remind the press and Democrats of a few facts. This may come as a shock to some of you, but the Bush presidency did not start time; they were just next in line. So here we go:
Every intelligence agency of the world's major countries knew that Saddam had WMD. That is a fact. This is the number one way to deflect the Michael Moore like accusations that President Bush lied about the WMD issue to get us in a war. If that were the case, then President Bush would have had to trick EVERY major intelligence agency in the world into believing Saddam had WMD's. But I thought Bush was an idiot. Which is it? Is he an idiot? Or he is a super evil genius? He can not be both. Anyway, I digress. The point is that as far as the community of nations was concerned Saddam was up to no good. Now, some countries felt Saddam had paid enough of a price for his actions and that he would be good if we just lifted the sanctions, but overall the world was sure of one thing. Saddam had WMD's. I wish the press would mention that from time to time.
In 1998, then President Clinton, went to Congress to get authorization to use force to make Iraq comply with UN sanctions and to stop Saddam from trying to shoot down our planes. The press reported that Saddam was in violation of numerous UN resolutions concerning WMD's. The Congress agreed as well, including many of these same Democratic Senators. Did President Clinton intentionally mislead the United States Congress and the American public? Not at all. Given the evidence that we and the world had in hand, it was a no brainer, a "slam dunk" to borrow a phrase. A case could be made that he was trying to deflect attention from his impeachment and sexual harassment case, but no one contested the WMD issue.
If it was not misleading in 1998, why was it misleading in 2003? That is a question that every reporter should be asking these Democratic Senators each time they interview them. Their words are part of the public record. It can not be that hard to find footage of Sen. Boxer saying that Saddam was a menace and that he had WMD's. Why hasn't this footage been shown? I guess it is a bout of temporary amnesia.
I have said all the above to get me to the real point of this essay. While the above questions and facts would themselves make a good argument, I want to move on. We can not change what has happened in Iraq, but we can learn from it. And learn from it we shall.
How could our intelligence be so far off? How about the rest of the world? What happened to theirs as well? Some Republicans have stated that the reason 9/11 was not prevented and why the WMD's were not found was because funding for intelligence was slashed during the heady days of the Clinton presidency. That maybe true, but where does that get us? I am sure there is enough blame to go around, but the main point is that our intelligence agencies were set up to handle a Cold War threat that no longer existed. 9/11 was a wake up call that the world had changed. The problem is that it takes a long time for an intelligence agency to change direction. The Iraq War happened long before that direction change could be fully implemented. I will leave the technical and organizational changes that are needed to people more into that sort of thing. But I will ask some tough questions.
Our intelligence failed us. It failed miserable on 9/11, it failed in Afghanistan and it failed us in Iraq. If you were President would you believe anything that the CIA or the FBI brought to you? I would be very skeptical. How can a President make informed decisions? If he acts on the intelligence and later it turns out to be worthless, he will get hammered in the press and at the polls. Don't believe me? Just watch the evening news. What if he has reservations about the validity of the intelligence and decides not to act? Most of the time nothing will happen, but it will only take one incident before the press is demanding his head on a platter. It is a no win situation. You have to pity the poor man sometimes.
But we as a nation and as a world are facing some real thorny issues in the near future, namely a nuclear Iran and North Korea as well as the potential for a China vs. Taiwan war. What are President Bush and future Presidents going to base their decisions on? The recent past has shown that our intelligence agencies do not know their butt from a hole in the ground, but they are all you have.
If John Kerry had won the election, he would be in the same boat. Imagine for a minute that Kerry did win. He would have been inaugurated last week and the Democrats would be dancing in the streets. What if a week into his term the CIA, NSA and FBI came to him saying that Iran would go nuclear in a week? They tell him they know where the reactor is and they present him with a plan of attack similar to what the Israelis did in 1981 to Iraq. What would he do? You can give speeches all you want and talk to as many allies as you want, you can even make sanctions tougher, but Iran is still going to have a bomb in a week. What would he do? If he decided that he could not trust our intelligence agencies, then he would not act. He would press the Iranians and get support from the UN, but no real action would be taken. If he decided that the intelligence was so crystal clear, a "slam dunk", then he probably would launch the attack claiming that our national security and the security of our forces in Iraq were at risk.
Let's say that he did not act because he did not trust his intelligence and the Iranians tested a nuke and then lobbed one at Iraq? Kerry would be crucified by the press, Congress and the American public. Now let's say that he took decisive action against Iran, but it turned out that he bombed an orphanage shaped like a nuclear reactor? Again, he would be crucified by the press, Congress and the American public. Then again, he could have guessed correctly and did the right thing and been hailed as a hero.
I wanted to use Kerry for the little mind exercise because most on the left and in the media find it all too easy to second guess Bush and to assume he is intentionally misleading the country. The fact is that Presidents have to make those kinds of decisions every day. It reminds me of the scene in Men in Black when Will Smith is getting impatient with Tommy Lee Jones about the impending destruction of the world:
KAY: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public.
JAY: Can we drop the cover-up bullsh*t?! There's an Alien Battle Cruiser that's gonna blow-up the world if we don't...
KAY: There's always an Alien Battle Cruiser...or a Korlian Death Ray, or...an intergalactic plague about to wipe out life on this planet, and the only thing that lets people get on with their hopeful little lives is that they don't know about it.
We probably do not want to know all the information that the President knows. It must be hard to sleep at night. You are constantly second guessing your hunches, your intelligence, your advisors and your decisions. If you get it right, then the world loves you and your country is safe. If you get it wrong, you are hauled before hearings to find out why you screwed up and let thousands die.
Real intelligence reform is needed. I doubt what was passed at the end of 2004 will actually change anything, but we need to change and change rapidly. We must restore the credibility of our intelligence agencies so that President Bush and future Presidents can rely on the intelligence that is handed to them. So that they can make the tough choices that we elect them to make.
Yes, I am disappointed that no WMD's were found, but I think you have to be realistic when you look at it. Like I said earlier, what is done is done, but I do not want my President to mess up like that again.
Copyright © 2005 by Mike Talley
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