Thanks to Jeff, I get to grab the controls of this fine sports car of a blog while he is doing something in Paris that he has convinced his funders is of vital importance.
Let me start on a serious note with an elaboration of an analysis I posted on my home blog, Think Progress, last week. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee, lead by Senator Byron Dorgan, had the courage and wisdom to keep open the question of how our pre-war intelligence on Saddam’s weapons became so horribly distorted. I testified at the hearing.
Now I know some are tired of this. The administration is counting on that. Like OJ, they say the jury is in, they have been proven innocent, case closed.
But it isn’t. All the investigations (done by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the British and the president’s hand-picked commission) have focused exclusively on the gross errors in the intelligence community and not on what went on in the White House, the Department of Defense and, most importantly, the Vice-President’s office. Thus, we still have only half the story.
And maybe not even the most important half. We need a thorough investigation of how administration officials dealt with the intelligence agencies, how their own DoD intelligence operations (under Doug Feith and Steve Cambone) operated, and how the officials used the intel they got.
Eric Martin does a nice job dissecting this in a piece called “Euphoric Recall,” on his blog, Total Information Awareness,
Some of those posting comments to my original post seemed to be confused between concerns that Saddam could still have weapons or programs in 2002 with conclusions that he definitely had them. In other words, weren’t we all wrong?
Many agencies, countries and experts (including me and my colleagues then at the Carnegie Endowment) were concerned that without inspections it was possible, even likely, that Saddam still had tons of weapons agents. We also worried that he could be continuing a clandestine nuclear weapons research program. These concerns were largely based on the materials unaccounted for at the time the UNSCOM inspectors had to leave Iraq at the end of 1998. We made estimates of the possible.
Here’s the difference: In late 2002, inspectors went back in. We started getting new intelligence. Dozens of inspectors went to hundreds of sites. The inspectors visited the former nuclear facilities at which US satellites detected suspicious actives.
These guys are the Nuclear CSI. They could now look under the roofs, swipe for radiological traces, interview technicians, audit accounts. They found the facilities in a worse state of repair than when the had left.
There was absolutely no evidence of any renewed nuclear activity. The same for chemical and biological programs. We could now make new, more accurate estimates based on this new intelligence.
In other words, it was never a choice between war and nothing; between taking action and trusting Saddam. We had in place the most coercive inspection regime ever imposed on an independent nation. And it was working. Saddam was in an iron box, surrounded by thousands of troops, his political base deteriorating. David Kay said later that Saddam’s regime was in “a death spiral.” The concerns expressed at the time of the difficulties in keeping troops in the area through the summer to allow inspections to continue seem ludicrous in light of the 2500 US troops killed, 15,000 maimed and $300 billion squandered.
But it is even worse. US officials intentionally disparaged the inspectors and ignored their intelligence. They were bent on war and nothing, certainly not UN inspectors, was going to stop them.
I spoke to inspectors after Secretary Powell’s February 2003 UN presentation. I asked them how they felt to be told that the Iraqis were moving chemical weapons from sites just before their inspections. They said they knew the Secretary was wrong. I asked about the decontamination trucks that the Secretary had identified from overhead photos. They said that those were water trucks. They knew because they had been at the site and seen them. They also said they told the Americans this, but were ignored.
No, it was not for lack of intelligence that we invaded Iraq. It was not because the intelligence analysts misled us. The betrayal happened at a far higher level. The entire nation will pay the price for a generation.