Along the Tracks

Friday, June 20, 2003

Words of caution from a Clinton hand

Ken Pollack, a former National Security staffer for the Clinton administration, and one of the true experts on Iraq’s weapons programs, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times advising those who think the weapons “never existed” to think again. Good Democrat that he is, he questions whether the Bush administration overemphasized the most alarming intelligence while dismissing more cautious assessments, and believes analysts were pressured to come to more hawkish conclusions - but even Pollack admits there is nothing illegal about this. In fact, as Pollack well knows, a change in national security stance (pre-emption over containment) undoubtedly requires a different focus in intelligence analysis. Pollack might argue with the policy change, but it’s hard to see how making analysts rethink their conclusions based on present U.S. policy is somehow massaging the data.

This, once again, all goes back to 9/11 and the change in mindset that terrible day wrought. Some people still have not accepted the new, proactive, preventive outlook adopted by George W. Bush. In fact, I was speaking with a liberal just the other day. He made the point, regularly argued, that Iraq “had nothing to do with 9/11.” Causally, that is true (at least to the best of our present knowledge); Saddam did not assist in that conspiracy. But Iraq had everything to do with 9/11, philosophically. That is, 9/11 initiated the paradigm shift, advanced by President Bush, that terrorism was no longer to be considered as individual criminal acts, but rather, a collective violent struggle against America and her allies by connected groups and countries united by their hatred and aggression toward us. This, in turn, constituted a new world war. Until these threats are eliminated, the war continues. Every confrontation does not necessarily involve military action; but that action has to be a clear and present option, always on the table. And its justification is based on an unacceptable threat level, not merely a willingness to retaliate (the old containment paradigm).

Another point: Containment was focused on means - weapons systems, computers, economic strength, etc. A country could be checked by denying it the ability to wage an effective attack. September 11 awakened us to the spectacle of a few dozen people using low-tech, co-opted weapons, and using humans as the delivery systems.

Pre-emption, on the other had, is fundamentally focused on the agents, the actors. A terrorist cannot fly an airplane into a building if he’s sitting in a cage at Guantanamo. An al Qaeda financier cannot raise and distribute money if he’s rotting in a cave in Afghanistan. And Saddam cannot provide bioweapons production training if he’s been removed from power.

Getting back to the Times op-ed, Pollack fully expects the weapons and their means of production to be found over time, and suggests those quick to go out on the thin ice - as I have called this line of attack - should rethink their strategy. He quibbles with the policies of the present administration, particularly the timing of the war, but not the intelligence or the ultimate necessity of Saddam’s removal. Coming from a Democrat, that’s pretty strong support for the White House.

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