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It's the Intelligence, Stupid
February 10, 2004
By Jeff Rosenzweig

Since David Kay's recent testimony before Congress, many conservative politicians and commentators have sullenly retreated to the position that intelligence failures are to blame for the prosecution of what is clearly an unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The issue of intelligence failures, however, runs much deeper than the quality of our espionage. The position in which America now finds itself, internationally and domestically, has resulted from a series of intelligence failures of frightening magnitude.

First and foremost, there was the intelligence failure of November 7, 2000 that led millions of American voters to cast their ballots for the callow, ill-informed, unqualified George W. Bush, rather than his opponent Al Gore, whose credentials included decades in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and eight years as an activist Vice-President who played a key role in the greatest economic boom in American history. This widespread failure of intelligence was unmitigated by the voters who made the smarter choice, a group officially 540,520 bigger than Bush's bloc.

This was followed on December 12, 2000 by the intelligence failure of the Supreme Court, which unconstitutionally awarded the presidency to Mr. Bush. In fairness, four members of the court actually engaged in rational thought. Five, however, did not, setting the stage for further failures.

Next came the new administration's decision to disregard the warnings of their predecessors, who had cautioned them that terrorism should be a front-burner issue. That it would be, but only after 3,000 Americans had died at the hands of terrorists.

It can only be an intelligence failure for the president's National Security Adviser to claim, as Condoleezza Rice did in May 2002, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." In fact, our much-maligned intelligence services had discussed similar scenarios for years, and shared their concerns repeatedly with an indifferent Bush administration. In April 2001, the Fox Network aired an episode of the show The Lone Gunman which featured a hijacked 727 headed for the World Trade Center.

But Iraq, Saddam and Weapons of Mass Destruction remain the trifecta of national intelligence failures under George W. Bush.

The term "intelligence failure" hardly does justice to the Secretary of State's presentation to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. Mr. Powell's intelligence didn't just fail him that day, it took a leave of absence. Privately, Mr. Powell had concluded that some of the claims he was asked to make for the threat of Iraq were "bullshit." But leaving his qualms aside, he painted a vivid and thoroughly false picture for the world community and the American people.

Of course, he was one among many in the administration to do that. Caveats and contradictions in the intelligence estimates were routinely ignored. The findings - or lack of findings - of United Nations weapons inspectors were routinely ignored. The language used to pitch the war was routinely unambiguous, imperative, apocalyptic.

Donald Rumsfeld told ABC news, "We know where they [the weapons] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Dick Cheney told the National Convention of the VFW, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

Mr. Bush's own flat statements included this from the 2003 SOTU: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

In statement after statement over the space of many months, the Bush administration managed to lower the nation's collective IQ to a level not seen since the Reagan years. The word "intelligence" barely enters into much of what followed.

As American and British forces invaded Iraq, the "embedded" media's already uncritical reporting degenerated into an extended pep rally, as if in tribute to a president whose major academic achievement at one of America's finest universities consisted of a stint on the cheerleading squad. Meanwhile, the Congressional cafeteria served up "freedom fries" and Republicans served up a lot of guff equating dissent with treason. Eventually, Mr. Bush snuck into Baghdad to serve up plastic turkey to the troops.

A scant few months later, the antiwar faction is vindicated. It was an unnecessary and illegal war, an obscene episode in our history. There are scads of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, but they are American ordnance.

There are still those who believe that Saddam's stockpiles of weapons were somehow spirited out of Iraq to Syria or Iran or Brigadoon. Or destroyed just before we went in, as if Saddam had decided there was no point in using them against the most dangerous, implacable enemy he would ever face. There are still those who believe he was personally directing the resistance that continues to kill and maim American soldiers, from a hole in the ground.

There are still those who believe that Mr. Bush would never be so brazenly amoral as to send hundreds of our young people and thousands of Iraqis to an untimely death, just to appease business cronies and bolster his image as a wartime leader.

And there are those who believe that poor Mr. Bush, who just about tied himself in knots pursuing a diplomatic alternative and even took a few hours to go and have lunch in the Azores to prove it, was the well-meaning victim of Bad Intelligence. Some will believe it despite the documented connections between this White House and PNAC, despite the eyewitness account of Mr. Bush's own former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, despite a public record that already clearly indicates that this administration - the day they were given squatter's rights to the White House - intended to go into Iraq. The president didn't want to go to war, they will maintain. George Tenet made him do it.

Ambrose Bierce defined the word "consult" as, "To seek another's approval of a course already decided upon." Mr. Bush's stacked-deck commission to investigate intelligence failures probably won't conclude that the president "consulted" with his intelligence services this way, but anyone who's really been paying attention over the last few years cannot doubt it. The war was waged not on the strength of American intelligence, but in spite of it.

Intelligence, however, has recently shown some signs of recovery.

Books with a liberal point of view are selling strongly. Michael Moore won an Academy Award.

Despite the media's continued fascination with non-stories ranging from Janet Jackson's nipple to Martha Stewart's handbag, airtime and column inches are finally being devoted to Mr. Bush's National Guard record, to Halliburton's profligacy with public money, to just how many children have been left behind by the president's Leave No Child Behind initiative, to the administration's attempts to turn the 9/11 Commission into a whitewash, to the black-box voting technology that threatens to turn consecutive presidential elections into tragic farce.

Even some conservatives are finally seeing Mr. Bush's economic policy for the disaster it is. His approval rating has dropped below 50% for the first time since his installation in office. Support for the war against Iraq has declined. Polls consistently indicate that, were the election held today, Mr. Bush would be refused a second term.

Will that still be the case in November? That depends squarely on the quality of our intelligence as a nation. If We the People are as smart, as caring, as brave, as strong as we were all brought up to believe, George W. Bush will be heading for the Crawford ranch for good in 2005. We can only hope that when he mutters to himself, "Why did America fire me?", one of his aides will have the guts to tell him what a lot of Democrats are already saying. It's the intelligence, stupid.

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