Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tell us what we want to hear

Some more great logic from Judge Poseur Posner. Today he wrote about the new intelligence report:

For all of its genuine distinction, the report has weaknesses. Foremost among them -- a product of the blinding clarity of hindsight -- is a misplaced perfectionism that feeds the dangerous fallacy that all intelligence failures are the product of culpable, and therefore remediable, blunders. Actually, most such failures are the inevitable result of the inherent limitations of intelligence. Before the invasion of Iraq, nearly every competent observer, including the intelligence services of foreign nations opposed to the invasion, believed that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and was trying to build nuclear bombs as well. Hussein's history, and above all the logic of the situation -- surely he wouldn't risk his regime by failing to come clean if did not have such weapons [sic] -- created a presumption that he had them. The commission criticizes the intelligence agencies for embracing the presumption. But no inquiry operates without preconceptions that shift the burden of proof to the doubters -- of whom there were, in the case of the Iraqi weapons, precious few.

There's a lot for Richie to be embarrassed by in this paragraph, but let's look at the "logic of the situation."

Posner basically says that intelligence agencies "believed" that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and that we had to attack because he "fail(ed) to come clean," something he surely wouldn't have done if he didn't have them, since doing so would be risking his own downfall. Yet no one has proven that Iraq's December 7, 2002, report to the U.N. was false in any meaningful way. In other words, yes, there may have been a couple antique chemical weapons lying in a ditch somewhere, but, having seen whole Army units misplaced by admin clerks here in Afghanistan, I can attest to the fact that there's a qualitative (and quantitative) difference between intentionally misleading someone and screwing up. Hell, given Saddam's report to the U.N. and statements made to that same body by the United States, we have to admit that Saddam was far more right than we were.

So, as we know now, there were no WMDs in Iraq. But, by Posner's logic, we still had to attack because Saddam wouldn't tell us where they were. The truth isn't important to Posner. In fact, it seems that the only way Hussein could have made Posner and the "situational logicians" of the White House and Defense Department happy was to actually purchase some weapons in order to hand them over. That might have satisfied their need for reality to match their view of the "logic of the situation" or, at least, have allowed them the satisfaction of saying "we told you so" which would still have sent us off to war, regardless.*

The other major stupidity in this excerpt is that Posner says, basically, "Gosh, these kinds of screw-ups happen all the time. That's just the nature of the intel beast." As anyone who's dealt with the intelligence community in even a tangential manner can attest, he's completely right. However, this does not excuse our going to war, but, rather, shows it for the idiocy it truly was. Yes, intelligence is often wrong. Yes, it's difficult to know what's going on in closed and secretive societies. Wouldn't that, therefore, suggest that starting a preemptive war based solely on sketchy intelligence is lunacy?

By Posner's standards -- remember, the man's a judge -- a police officer could pull me over and tell me to take the gun out of my pocket and place it on the hood of my car. When I tell him I don't have a gun, he can then shoot me because I refused to "come clean" about the gun he thought I had. When it turns out later I was telling the truth, Internal Affairs could then justify the shooting by saying that police officers are always thinking there are guns in peoples' pockets, so this was nothing new. Case closed.

And then the cop, the I.A. investigator and the Police Chief would all get Medals of Freedom.

* In an e-mail written February 4, 2003, a CIA official chastised an intel analyst skeptical of the claims made by an informant known as "Curve Ball": "Keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say and that the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about."


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