Sunday, November 20, 2005

Prewar Intelligence II

I should probably find the prewar intelligence issues more compelling than I do. After all, I certainly believed that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and that he was determined to reconstitute his nuclear weapons, and was trying to find ways to do so. That was the administration position as I understood it, and I believed it even though I had (and have) no confidence in GWB's truthfulness. Nowadays, I think that much of what I thought was wrong. Am I upset? Not terribly. Have I learned a lesson? Yes, but it's of the "do your best, but sometimes you're just going to be wrong" variety, and I already knew that.

For me, the crucial item is from David Kay's Senate testimony (PDF) on page 24.

MR. KAY: Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn't personally have them and hadn't seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of no, I don't have them, I haven't seen them, but look to my right and left. This was an intentional ambiguity.
What does that mean? To me it means that even if the CIA had a telepathic superspy on the ground and got her in to check some of Saddam's generals, she would come back with "General X believes that some of his fellow-generals in the Republican Guard have deployable chemical weapons." And you would say that's very very very solid, but maybe you would risk her on another general. "General Y believes it too." A third? "So does General Z." And at that point you'd feel, I think, that it was not worth risking your telepathic superspy any more -- the chemical weapons were real.

But they weren't. Nor were the "10,000 litres of anthrax" that the UN strongly presumed had not been destroyed and might still exist, as of UNMOVIC's March 6, 2003 Working Document (PDF).

I believed they existed, I was mistaken. Hmm. My belief didn't depend on GWB's truthfulness. I'd been a believer before he was elected, from items like those reported by the Washington Post in It Wasn't Just Miller's Story:

the Times, along with The Post and other news organizations, ran many alarming stories about Iraq's weapons programs before the election of George W. Bush. A quick search through the Times archives before 2001 produces such headlines as "Iraq Has Network of Outside Help on Arms, Experts Say"(November 1998), "U.S. Says Iraq Aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan"(August 1998), "Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort" (February 2000), "Signs of Iraqi Arms Buildup Bedevil U.S. Administration" (February 2000), "Flight Tests Show Iraq Has Resumed a Missile Program" (July 2000). (A somewhat shorter list can be compiled from The Post's archives, including a September 1998 headline: "Iraqi Work Toward A-Bomb Reported.")

Similarly I believed that Saddam or his sons might well help bin Laden and others like him, with more than just the publically offered sanctuary. They had the same enemies, after all, including you and me. (They also had each other as enemies, I thought, but that would not preclude cooperation.)

Now, I believe that Saddam had no deployable WMDs or stocks thereof, and for all I know his nuclear developments may have all been literally buried in a garden. But his commitment was, I still believe, real; as Kay had put it some time before, in his Statement on the Interim Progress Report on the Activities of the Iraq Survey Group:

With regard to Iraq's nuclear program, the testimony we have obtained from Iraqi scientists and senior government officials should clear up any doubts about whether Saddam still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons. They have told ISG that Saddam Husayn remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons.
And of course we have Wilson's testimony that Iraq had (according to Niger) approached Niger, evidently about buying uranium, and that Niger hadn't followed up because of the sanctions.

I didn't believe in any "imminent threat" but then I didn't understand that I was supposed to; I thought we were all arguing about pre-emptive war, with me (not a blogger at the time) in favor. Two days before the war I wrote to my sister, describing the three basic options I then saw, being (a) leave Saddam and his sons alone to develop nukes, and (b) trying to continue the sanctions despite dead babies, opposition from France and Russia, and other factors, ending with

(c) "Regime Change"'s not a nice option, it will end us up in a big long-term mess, Bush is not a good President to be running it, but it looks to me a lot less bloody than (a) or (b), and the long-term mess is less clearly an utter disaster.
But maybe I shouldn't be putting this here, on a MistakesByTJM blog; I believe I was wrong about many of the details, but if I was wrong about anything really important in this area, I have yet to learn it. Well, maybe I will.

But I wish there were a President or Presidential candidate I could actually honestly support.


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