Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wrangling Over The War Intelligence

The Bush Administration has launched a full-frontal assault these past several weeks attempting to staunch the bleed-out of its credibility concerning the Iraq war. As accusations of misused intelligence information continue to surface, Bush Administration officials like Condoleeza Rice have begun to push back against their critics by once again asserting that "everyone" believed Hussein was an imminent threat and had WMD's. "Everyone" being defined as the Bush Administration, Congress and foreign leaders.

What's interesting about this approach is it essentially admits at the outset that the war was a mistake. Else, why argue that that the war was justifiable because many Democrats in Congress and foreign officials, who opposed the war, also believed Hussein was a threat? This is a tacit admission that the causes stated for war were phony and attempts to mitigate the damage by citing others for making the same mistake. Unfortunately for Bush, it wasn't foreign leaders or the Democrats in Congress that pulled the trigger on the Iraq invasion. As Commander in Chief, the buck Bush is attempting to pass rests squarely on his shoulders, no matter how many others he attempts to blame. No surprises here from the highest official in "The Party of Personal Responsibility".

Let's take a look at a couple of the quotes supposedly justifying the invasion, as cited by the White House's website.

French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin: "Right Now, Our Attention Has To Be Focused As A Priority On The Biological And Chemical Domains. It Is There That Our Presumptions About Iraq Are The Most Significant. Regarding The Chemical Domain, We Have Evidence Of Its Capacity To Produce VX And Yperite. In The Biological Domain, The Evidence Suggests The Possible Possession Of Significant Stocks Of Anthrax And Botulism Toxin, And Possibly A Production Capability." (United Nations Security Council, 4701st Meeting, New York, 2/5/03)

This quote is given under the justification that other foreign leaders believed Iraq had "stockpiles" of WMD's, as stated by Bush in his fateful State of the Union address. But notice what de Villepin is actually saying: that Iraq had the capacity to produce nerve agents (which turned out to be incorrect) and that it's possible that Iraq had biological weapons and the capacity to produce them (also false). This in no way justifies the invasion, as de Villepin himself said in March 2003 when saying "War is an acknowledgement of failure." France and Germany maintained that further U.N. weapons inspections would debunk Bush's assertion about Iraq's weapons production capability and such inspections would have done exactly that without costing thousands of lives.

Next, in response to allegations that Congress did not get the same intelligence that the White House did, this quote is offered:

"It was not that the intelligence was markedly different. Rather, it was that the PDBs and SEIBs, with their attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat of repetition, left an impression of many corroborating reports where in fact there were very few sources. And in other instances, intelligence suggesting the existence of weapons programs was conveyed to senior policymakers, but later information casting doubt upon the validity of that intelligence was not." (Charles S. Robb And Laurence H. Silberman, The Commission On The Intelligence Capabilities Of The United States Regarding Weapons Of Mass Destruction, 3/31/05, p. 14)

This is such a baffling display responsibility parsing that it actually makes the accusations against Bush appear more damning. While this may technically assert that Bush personally received the same intelligence as Congress, it also demonstrates that other White House officials certainly had a greater pool of information. Else, how could they have summarized (and propagandized, apparently) the PDB's and SEIB's given to Bush and shared with Congress? Further, this quote actually serves to bolster the opinion that Congress was getting a skewed picture on Iraq by admitting that the information was biased towards Bush's war aims and failed to disclose later intelligence that debunked Bush Administration assertions on Iraq's threat level. How can Bush argue that Congress shares complicity in the mistaken cause for war when intelligence reports indicating sources like "Curveball" and Ahmad Chalabi were unreliable, were never issued to Congress?

As for Congress having it's own sources, The Stakeholder sheds some light on the deceptiveness of this claim:

Intelligence is made available to members of the House and Senate by providing it to the Intelligence Committees of the two chambers. A total of 21 (out of 435) House members serve on the House Intelligence Committee, and a total of 15 (out of 100) senators serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Intelligence provided to those two committees is kept under lock and key in small rooms in the Capitol. Any congressman or senator can go to the committee rooms and inspect the intelligence. Most members do not. They rely on summaries of the intelligence provided to them by the administration, normally done orally in briefings at the White House or in the Capitol.Congressmen and senators assume that the briefings being given to them by the executive branch are factual and not loaded with hype or spin. The national security of the country is too important for typical political spin.

That, of course, is not what happened this time.

Essentially, the Bush Administration is using the Animal House defense: "You fucked up. You trusted us."

So what did happen this time?

First, the intelligence provided to the congressional committees was incomplete. It did not reflect that much of the information on chemical and biological weapons was provided by a single ultimately discredited Iraqi dissident source (dubbed "Curveball"); that there was dissent inside the administration over the accuracy of this data, and that none of the data had been verified by any of our own operatives on the ground in Iraq.

Additionally, the administration only belatedly acknowledged that there also was dissent inside the intelligence community about Saddam's progress on developing nuclear weapons. This information was provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a National Intelligence Estimate just days before the vote in Congress and was never acknowledged publicly by the administration when making its case to the American people.

Secondly, saddling Congress with a caveat emptor obligation means that future Congresses may never accept information and evaluation of that type of information provided by a future President in times of national emergency.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that Congress should be held blameless in this matter. Far from it. Regardless of whether an in-depth review of weapons intelligence is standard operating procedure or not, the members of Congress had a responsibility to be certain before voting an authorization for war. Any Democrat, particularly in the Senate, claiming that they didn't believe a vote authorizing the use of force was a green light for war needs to stop smoking their breakfast. There is not one liberal in the country that doubted what Bush intended to do in Iraq, and I find it impossible to believe that the likes of John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton didn't realize it also. Giving Bush a loaded gun but not expecting him to fire it strains credulity to its breaking point. The Democrats were attempting to avoid the fate of George McGovern (who was later completely justified in his stance against Vietnam) and attempting to appear strong on defense. History has shown that Democrats are strong on defense and they really needed no political calculus to support that fact. Apologies are a good strategy, as John Edwards has recently shown.

Now, many Republicans have begun to change tack on this issue by stating that a focus on the beginning of the war should really wait until after the war is "won". By "the war", they generally now mean our attempts to build a democratic, U.S.-friendly Iraqi state, not the ouster of Saddam Hussein. I disagree. While it is essential that we focus on bringing this war to a swift conclusion, it is also imperative that the Bush Administration be forced to take responsibility for their actions bringing us into this war. The war-making powers granted to the President are an awesome responsibility and it's a responsibility that Bush is continually trying to duck. Just declaring war, defeating "evil-doers" and strutting around on an aircraft carrier does not encompass the whole of tresponsibilitiesies of the Commander in Chief. These lame attempts at deflecting responsibility for this debacle demean the efforts of those forced to fight and die in Iraq for Bush's foreign policy mistakes.

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