Twice in the past week we have read Washington Post editorials and articles urging the Senate carefully read the 2007 NIE on Iraq. On February 6, the WaPo cited the NIE and urged Senators to concentrate on the realities in Iraq and not on domestic political positioning. On February 3, WaPo writer Dafna Linzer contended that the 2007 NIE is much improved over the 2002 Estimate:
The intelligence community's glossy October 2002 estimate, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was touted by the White House as a main reason for war with Iraq. After no such weapons were found, the intelligence community -- particularly the CIA -- significantly altered the way in which it would conduct future analyses, highlight uncertainty and acknowledge dissent.
The real scandal is not that these senators or the president lied when they all agreed Iraq had fearsome stockpiles of mysterious weapons. The real scandal is that they were all so gullible as to be taken in by such an obvious CIA deception.
In June 2003, in "Intelligence Without Brains," I wrote, "The senators should have read the CIA report last October, and not just the summary." Many irate critics then questioned my own intelligence, but not one pretended to have bothered to read the report. Why not? It can be easily downloaded at www.odci.gov/cia/reports.
The first two pages of that WMD story were called "key judgments," though there was no judgment and little intelligence. All the strong conclusions appear on these first pages, followed by ample waffling.
On this point I differ – a bit – with Reynolds. As one who participated in groups drafting similar documents, my intuition is that the NIE drafters were attempting to convey a double message. The drafters were under pressure to find for a WMD threat. They did so in a highly qualified manner, perhaps hoping that Senators could use the text to challenge the administration’s case for going to war. We can argue that they should have been more public about their challenge. We don’t know what was said in private.
The Post is correct in challenging the Senators to have an honest debate, setting aside considerations of the already existing presidential election campaign. The debate is a matter of crucial strategic importance. As I’ve posted, before reasonable assurance of public support is a critical factor. We can only hope that the Senate takes the time to thoroughly and carefully consider all the evidence. Pointing fingers at the intelligence community does not help.Beltway Traffic Jam for 2/8/07