Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Guy Can't Catch a Break

I have been asked, "If you knew what you know now, would you have supported the war?" While I would have to give a grudging "no" at this point, I still find it to be a fundamentally unfair question.

The first point is that we all wish we could go back to some point in the past with the wisdom we have gathered through hard experience and avoid the actual hard experiences. President Bush was given a pretty bad set of intelligence, bad not in "not leading to the desired conclusion" sense but in the "this doesn't lead to any conclusion" sense. He had CIA reports ranging from "He has nothing" to "He'll attack any minute". Ultimately, the intelligence made the strongest case for "He is in violation of the '91 cease fire agreement." That intelligence came not only from the CIA, but from England, France, the UN, and dozens of other agencies. Hell, we even had Russia telling us that Saddam was planning attacks against the US.

After the war, no hard evidence has been found that Hussein was in violation of the cease fire (aside from the shooting at our planes, of course). I am still skeptical given that there are still large numbers of ammunition sites still to be searched, and even more clandestine storage facilities that we don't know about. The indications are growing stronger, however, that the information the president had, and thus the decision he made based upon it, was wrong. I believe that it would be far better for the President politically to step up and say, "I made the decision, and the buck stops here." He would get roasted by the Democrats and their allies, but it would be the equivalent of pulling the band-aid of quickly. It might even improve his numbers, look at what Janet Reno's mea culpa after Waco did for her.

So the President drank the Kool-Aid in the "The got the WMD box" as opposed to the other one. And he went on to sell that interepretation hard. If one has made the decision to send American soldiers off to war, then one had at least look like on is confident in the decision. The question still remains: Why take the more dangerous of the two positions? Letting things slide along with Iraq would have been easy.

I believe one reason why the President took the grimmer reading of the intelligence is that his political ass was being raked over the coals for not having been aggressive enough with the intelligence regarding the nineteen hijackers and their activities leading up to 9/11. There would be a cost for doing something and a cost for doing nothing, and the exact costs of either were far from clear. Up until 9/11, the assumed cost to the US for doing nothing was considered negligible. After 9/11, we have learned that that is not, and probably was not, true.

In the heat and noise of the 9/11 commission all of the warning signs of the attack were easier to pick out than a black sheep from a flock, yet no thought was given to any of the assessments, and I'm sure you could find a pile in some archive, that said that no terrorist groups were known to have the capabilities to attack within the United States. I would hesitate to say that the information we had beforehand about the 9/11 attacks were all that much better, or credible, than what we had on Iraq. And it is situations like this that make terms in office as President look like ads for Grecian Formula in reverse.

Iraq did or did not pose a threat to the United States. With what information he had, George Tenet went to the President and said, "Its a slamdunk." (from Bob Woodward's book on the subject) The President acted in what he saw as the best interests of the country. He may well have gotten it wrong. All I have left to say is "Thank God I don't have that job."

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