A Cautious Man
July 19, 2004
Have Mercy on the Man Who Doubts What He's Sure of ...
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it always seemed that there was an assumption that war was necessary, and opponents were expected to prove why there should not be one. Doubts about the wisdom of the course of action chosen, were belittled and even mocked. Now, there's a small surge of doubt, being seen with respect to the justification for the timing and manner of the invasion of Iraq last year. More Administration-friendly voices are noting that there should have been more caution, perhaps, in the decision-making process. For example, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, was quoted in the New York Times the other day (as pointed out by Josh Marshall in TPM):
Mr. Roberts said he was "not too sure" that the administration would have invaded if it had known how flimsy the intelligence was on Iraq and illicit weapons. Instead, the senator said, Mr. Bush might well have advocated efforts to maintain sanctions against Iraq and to continue to try to unearth the truth through the work of United Nations inspectors. "I don't think the president would have said that military action is justified right now," Mr. Roberts said. If the administration had been given "accurate intelligence," he said, Mr. Bush "might have said, 'Saddam's a bad guy, and we've got to continue with the no-fly zones and with inspections.' "That is basically a statement that going to war as we did was a mistake! Sen. Roberts hedges a bit, by blaming the intelligence agencies, but I think that more needs to be learned, about how the intelligence was handled and interpreted.
Which leads to another doubter, David Kay. As noted here back in January, Dr. Kay disappointed a lot of war proponents with his conclusion that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. At the time, he speculated that the intelligence agencies should consider apologizing to the President. I noted that stories about the pressure on intelligence analysts were already being heard, such as those recounted by Kenneth "Gathering Storm" Pollock. As he noted:
The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence. Throughout the spring and fall of 2002 and well into 2003 I received numerous complaints from friends and colleagues in the intelligence community, and from people in the policy community, about precisely that.Well, now Dr. Kay is being heard, voicing his concern about how the British and American governments overstated the case, based on what the intelligence indicated. As reported by Newsmax:
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair should have realized before going to war that intelligence on Iraqi weapons was weak and did not indicate Saddam Hussein posed a danger to the West, America's former chief weapons inspector in Iraq said Sunday.There's more on this on the website of the British newspaper The Independent.
David Kay resigned from the CIA in January and his conclusion then that Iraq did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons caused serious problems for both Bush and Blair, undercutting their main justification for war.
He told Britain's ITV network that Bush and Blair "should have been able to tell before the war that the evidence did not exist for drawing the conclusion that Iraq presented a clear, present and imminent threat on the basis of existing weapons of mass destruction."
"That was not something that required a war," he said.
He said the leaders may not have been sufficiently critical of intelligence on Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
So, to recap. The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee says that the war was a mistake, but based on bad intelligence. Experts "in the know", who are not "liberal shills" by any stretch of the imagination, point out that, instead of "bad intelligence", the real problem was bad judgment by the decision-makers at the top. Is any of this relevant, now? I believe it is, because going forward we have to insist that decisions about going to war include a healthy dose of doubt and circumspection. If our government takes the approach that they need to be shown why not to go to war, we should do something about that.