Along the Tracks

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Intelligence reactions

The fame bubble caused by an Instapundit link can be fun for one’s ego, but more importantly, it often starts fascinating threads of thought across the blogosphere.

Right now, debate is heating up over whether or not to “throw in the towel” on the Iraqi WMDs. Most war bloggers rightly say “No!” Yet quite a few are taking things even further, questioning the intestinal fortitude of those of us who judge certain facts - i.e., no weapons found - as indicating an intelligence failure.

To be defensive for a moment, I think my hundreds of blog posts, newspaper columns and debate appearances make it abundantly clear that I believe THIS WAR WAS JUSTIFIED, NECESSARY AND LONG OVERDUE. Opponents kept saying Bush was “changing his reasons” for military action against Iraq, when in fact, he was merely citing the many justifications for war, any of which might well have stood on its own. The idea that no weaponized chems or bios somehow makes this war “illegitimate” is ridiculous.

Even so, the fact remains that after seven months of searching by David Kay, on top of three months of searching by Hans Blix (with a three-month interval of war and looting), no weapons have been found. The CIA said they were there. A year ago, George Tenet sat behind Colin Powell as he pointed to photos of facilities and trucks and testing sites and buried storage areas. When Blix looked into sites suggested by the CIA, he found nothing. When Kay and his team searched the hundreds of most likely locations according to the intelligence, he found nothing. The CIA was wrong in specifics, perhaps wrong in generalities.

Yes, yes, it was never America’s responsibility to find the “smoking gun,” it was Saddam’s to prove he didn’t have one. I know, I’ve made that argument numerous times, and stand by it. That procedural logic does nothing to let the American and Western intelligence community off the hook. A for instance: What if Saddam had already handed off substantial amounts of bioweapons to terrorists, who are now sitting somewhere in New Jersey with anthrax in their fridge, trying to decide the best way to spread the spores? The CIA’s failure to determine what Iraq has been doing with its stockpiles would seem pretty important then, eh?

Or suppose that some Iranian defectors tell the CIA that Iran is indeed harboring Osama bin Laden, and what’s more, fanatical clerics who are worried they may lose control of the country in the next few years have authorized passing chemical weapons and radioactive material to al Qaeda for a major attack against the West. American outposts in Afghanistan pick up some “chatter” in Iran that indicates the plan may be going into motion. Detectors note a surge in wind-borne radioactive material from Iran. What do we do?

Well, the margin of error in such a dilemma is slim, due to the incredible costs such an attack would incur, both in lives and dollars. Yet the margin of error in our intelligence has widened drastically due to what we have found - or not found - in Iraq, where we were so certain of stockpiles that we were marking them on maps. If we were to take military action to stop the threat, we really would be alone this time. Nobody’s going to march along side us into Tehran based on a report with George Tenet’s stamp of approval.

Sometimes we need to do things alone. So we march into Iran and fail to find al Qaeda, fail to find weapons and learn that the radioactivity spike was due to Iran doing a poor job of disposing of its illegal nuke program before U.N. inspectors came in country. Oops.

Then, a chemical bomb goes off in New York anyway.

We don’t need good intelligence information to pass U.N. resolutions or thump Democrats in election years. We need good intelligence information TO PROTECT AMERICA. We’re not getting it now, and we should demand a better Central Intelligence Agency, led by a better director.

P.S. - I’d like to point out that most war bloggers were singing David Kay’s praises a year ago, when he was on every news program which would have him describing the threat Saddam posed, including regular recitations of Iraq’s WMDs. Now, I see him getting trashed as another Scott Ritter. Please.

Furthermore, while I have been a strong supporter of George W. Bush and the War on Terror, I don’t think we are doing the president any favors by obstinately defending his administration’s mistakes (honest mistakes though they may be) without any accountability. We certainly aren’t doing America any favors when we don’t demand the best.

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