the Intelligence, Stupid
By Jeff Rosenzweig
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Intelligence, however, has recently shown some signs of
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
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.