11/15/2005: Thought for the Day:
Intelligence estimates are unwieldy documents, often studded with dissenting footnotes. Legislators and analysts with limited security clearances have often thought they had "access to intelligence," but unless they could see the footnotes, they didn't.
For instance, in the late 1950s, many senators thought President Dwight Eisenhower was either a knave or a fool for denying the existence of a "missile gap." U.S. Air Force Intelligence estimates—leaked to the press and supplied to the Air Force's allies on Capitol Hill—indicated that the Soviet Union would have at least 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles by 1962, far more than the U.S. arsenal. What the "missile gap" hawks didn't know—and Eisenhower did—was that the Central Intelligence Agency had recently acquired new evidence indicating that the Soviets couldn't possibly have more than 50 ICBMs by then—fewer than we would. (As it turned out, photoreconnaissance satellites, which were secretly launched in 1960, revealed that even that number was too high; the Soviets had only a couple of dozen ICBMs.)
So, yes, nearly everyone thought Saddam was building WMDs, just as everyone back in the late '50s thought Nikita Khrushchev was building hundreds of ICBMs. In Saddam's case, many of us outsiders (I include myself among them) figured he'd had biological and chemical weapons before; producing such weapons isn't rocket science; U.N. inspectors had been booted out of Iraq a few years earlier; why wouldn't he have them now?
What we didn't know—and what the Democrats in Congress didn't know either—was that many insiders did have reasons to conclude otherwise. There is also now much reason to believe that top officials—especially Vice President Dick Cheney and the undersecretaries surrounding Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon—worked hard to keep those conclusions trapped inside.
President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said today that the arguments over how and why the war began are irrelevant. "We need to put this debate behind us," he said. But the truth is, no debate could be more relevant now. As the war in Iraq enters yet another crucial phase—with elections scheduled next month and Congress finally taking up the issue of whether to send more troops or start pulling them out—we need to know whether the people running the executive branch can be trusted, and the sad truth is that they cannot be.
Len on 11.15.05 @ 04:15 AM CST