Intelligence, Murky Wars
On Sunday, Paul Wolfowitz stated that even "murky" intelligence requires pre-emptive military action. Aimed at deflecting attention from growing pressure on the Bush Administration over Iraq, Wolfowitz's remarks instead highlighted all that is wrong with the Administration's approach to foreign policy as well as their increasing desperation as the attacks continue, the casualties mount and the well-stitched case for war unravels further.
Wolfie's Surprise Left Hook: 9/11
Since suspicions abound specifically in regards to the Iraq war, Wolfowitz sought to defer attention from it. He based his case on 9/11 hoping that the viewers' emotional connection with the tragedy would trump reason, and that the analogy with Iraq could somehow be supported:
"'…The nature of terrorism is that intelligence about terrorism is murky,' Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq war, said on the 'Fox News Sunday' program.
"'I think the lesson of 9/11 is that if you're not prepared to act on the basis of murky intelligence, then you're going to have to act after the fact, and after the fact now means after horrendous things have happened to this country,' he added."
Wolfowitz, who also said that Iraq "is now the central battle in the war on terror," then made the implicit connection between 1990's-era Islamic terrorism and the failure to "contain" Iraq:
"…Wolfowitz said it was wrong to think the United States could have continued a policy of containment against Iraq instead of going to war.
"'Twelve years of containment was a terrible price for us,' he said, citing the attacks on the USS Cole off the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000 and on the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996."
However, there is no demonstrable proof to link Iraq with either of these attacks unless, like Wolfowitz, you've already assumed in advance that Saddam and bin Laden were covert allies. Manufacturing such a connection has been the murkiest of the Bush Administration's "intelligence" initiatives since 9/11.
Vice President Cheney, who emerged last week from his undisclosed location to deliver a rare public rebuke to his critics, cited intelligence to prove that Saddam would have had nuclear weapons within the decade. In other words, "containment" wasn't an appropriate policy against a country that might have been connected with Islamic terrorists, that might someday have a bomb, and that might someday use it. Never mind that America successfully contained the USSR an infinitely greater threat for almost 45 years without launching any pre-emptive war.
Actually, the US attacked Iraq only because it didn't have nuclear weapons. Yet it is less eager to take on similarly repressive, nuclear regimes such as North Korea. The disparity is no doubt instructive for weak countries which fear eventual US invasion. If anything, the Iraq war, allegedly waged to make us safer from terrorism and nuclear threats, has probably increased their likelihood.
An Ambiguous Argument
There are three problems with Wolfowitz's argument. First of all, is "murky" really the best way of describing pre-9/11 intelligence? "Incomplete," if not "incompetent," might be a better choice of words. But most emphatically, as the recently declassified federal investigation showed, "not shared" is the best way to describe how US authorities let the terrorists slip through their grasp.
Secondly, even if the government were to react to intelligence that was not "actionable," there still remains the question of what that reaction should be. Wolfowitz, who backs war in all cases, cited the failure to attack Afghanistan before 9/11 as the main reason why the terrorist attacks happened. Certainly, more could have been done but why a full-scale war? Almost two years later, guerrilla attacks continue to plague the troops, Mullah Omar has set a bounty on Afghan collaborators, and a resurgent Taliban roams free. The US war and ongoing occupation have, at a very high cost, disrupted, not eradicated the terrorist networks. And even the prospect of capturing bin Laden hasn't been mentioned for many, many months.
Finally, we come to the most disturbing implication of Wolfowitz's argument that is, that intelligence is never murky for those with special plans.
A Cabal of Clowns
Wolfowitz and his fellow neocons have been angling for a war with Iraq for years, and one to be waged not primarily for American interests. To their minds, all the justifications were there: all that was missing was the intelligence. Acquiring it was viewed as merely an onerous hassle, a chore to be completed as quickly as possible.
Predicting that the CIA and other agencies wouldn't be sufficiently creative, the Pentagon set up its own intelligence-gathering wing the Office of Special Plans. Staffed by neocon cronies, Pentagon extras and off-the-books temps, this hand-picked bunch set about manufacturing the evidence required to please their minders. In doing so, the OSP upstaged and impeded the work of legitimate intelligence-gathering bodies, and then released data into the waiting hands of war "architects" like Wolfowitz.
Indeed, only the murkiest of intelligence can come from murky, politically-motivated agencies like the Office of Special Plans. Back when bin Laden was plotting terrorist attacks in some Afghan mountain redoubt, Wolfowitz and his cronies were manufacturing the case for invading a truly non-threatening Iraq. Yet instead of taking their share of the blame for missing the real threat, the neocons only point to the pre-9/11 intelligence failure as confirmation of why they had to have been otherwise engaged at the time.
Before 9/11, painting Saddam as a grave peril to US security was essential; now, finding a way to connect Saddam to that dark day has become essential for the neocons merely to justify their initial obsession. Living thus in the past, surreptitiously creating an agency to manufacture "intelligence," the nation's protectors run the risk of missing emerging threats. Yet, even as their apologists insipidly mock the critics, the Special Planners are due for some special scrutiny. Indeed, while they were so busy serving up yellowcake for those who were expecting an Iraqi cakewalk, the intelligence pros had come to some different conclusions:
"…U.S. intelligence agencies were persistent and unified in warning the Defense Department that Iraqis would resort to 'armed opposition' after the war was over."
As the Americans sink deeper into the Iraqi morass, it's becoming clear that they are paying a terrible price for heeding a handful of incompetents over the established intelligence agencies. Will the masterminds of this war be called to account for themselves?
If the threatened congressional investigation of the OSP does take place, it should go a long way towards "shining a light" on exactly what's hidden in the murky depths of the neocon lair.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a freelance writer and Balkan correspondent for Antiwar.com, UPI, and private European analysis firms. He has lived and traveled widely in the Balkans, southeastern Europe and Turkey, and holds a master's degree with distinction in Byzantine Studies from Oxford University. In the past year, he has reported from many countries, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, the Republic of Georgia and the Turkey-Iraq border. Mr. Deliso currently lives in Macedonia, and is involved with projects to generate international interest and tourism there.
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