diet coke for breakfast

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Posted by Jake
The Boys Who Cried Wolfowitz

I am usually a bit skeptical about what Bill Keller has to say, but I have to say that this is about the best liberal analysis of the war that I have read so far. He makes a good argument, and supports that argument with some real understanding and inclusion of all the facts. Good show, Bill.

No, I supported it mainly because of the convergence of a real threat and a real opportunity. The threat was a dictator with a proven, insatiable desire for dreadful weapons that would eventually have made him, or perhaps one of his sadistic sons, a god in the region. The fact that he gave aid and at least occasional sanctuary to practitioners of terror added to his menace. And at the end his brazen defiance made us seem weak and vulnerable, an impression we can ill afford. The opportunity was a moment of awareness and political will created by Sept. 11, combined with the legal sanction reaffirmed by U.N. Resolution 1441. The important thing to me was never that Saddam Hussein's threat was "imminent" — although Sept. 11 taught us that is not such an easy thing to know — but that the opportunity to do something about him was finite. In a year or two, we would be distracted and Iraq would be back in the nuke-building business.

Second, I like that he acknowledges that there are different approaches to intellligence gathering, and that fight now is essentially over whether you should overestimate or underestimate what you don't know. Instead of accusing people of lying, he acknowledges that a reasonable person is going to be selective about how they analyze intelligence to do their job.

The origins of this may be well intentioned. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the most dogged proponent of war against Iraq, is also a longtime skeptic of American institutional intelligence-gathering. He has argued over the years, from within the government and from outside, that the C.I.A. and its sister agencies often fail to place adequate emphasis on what they don't know, and that they "mirror-image" — make assumptions about what foreign regimes will do based on what we would do.

One tempting solution has been to deputize smart thinkers from outside the intelligence fraternity — a Team B — to second-guess the analysis of the A Team professionals. Mr. Wolfowitz was part of a famous 1976 Team B that attacked the C.I.A. for underestimating the Soviet threat. These days the top leadership of the Defense Department is Team B. Mr. Wolfowitz and his associates have assembled their own trusted analysts to help them challenge the established intelligence consensus.

At the end he comes to a somewhat different conclusion that I did -- that the so called "Team B" has been discredited -- but this is also because he has a different perception of the facts than I do. For some, if we did not find a nuclear weapon or Osama bin Laden himself then the work of Team B is plain wrong. I for one can settle for some trucks that Powell said would be there and Ansar al Islam, which while only affiliated with al Qaeda was probably just as bad.

On the whole this is very reasonable analysis that anyone participating in this bickering should read. I do agree with one of his final conclusions as a good take home:

Honest, careful intelligence is our single most important weapon in the global effort against terrorism. It is also critical to winning the support of allies against nuclear proliferation, most urgently in North Korea and Iran. Already rather compelling evidence of Iran's development of nuclear weaponry is being dismissed as just more smoke from the Bush propaganda machine.

Just because people were really mad about Iraq doesn't mean that we can ignore Iran and North Korea, which are by any reasonable comparison a thousand times worse.


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