Monday, March 20, 2006

Faulty Reading of the Intel in War Planning

The anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War has occasioned plenty of retrospective pieces on the Bush administration's justification for the war. Largely and predictably, these have focused on statements about WMD and Al Qaida connections that for the MSM are now patent falsehoods. NPR, for instance, led off with such a story on today's Morning Edition.

Such assertions have more to do with interpretation than with facts alone. The conclusion that Saddam didn't have WMD is based on the fact that no large supplies of WMD have been found in Iraq. Isolated chemical weapons have been located, and various government and military officials have offered accounts, none verified to the public, of weapons being sent to Syria (which, if it has Iraqi WMD, no doubt now figures the costs of their use to be far greater than any benefit). And evidence of Saddam's mothballed WMD programs, awaiting the end of UN supervision to resume production, are clear enough to all. Further, it is clear enough that Saddam consistently cultivated the impression that he was hiding WMD, in effect acting like the person in a bank who holds his hand in his coat pocket and says to the teller that he has a gun (who by law is guilty of armed robbery even if his pocket held only his hand). But "there were no WMD" is the mantra of the MSM.

Likewise we are told that Saddam's alleged connections to al Qaida were nonexistent. Here the key phrase is "operative connection." However, no one would reasonably deny clear evidence that Saddam's Iraq did not provide cooperation and safe haven to terrorists with whom his regime had common cause. Such, however, is assumed not to be a sufficient provocation for war. Hence, "Saddam had no ties to al Qaida" is another MSM mantra.

But enough of all that. Let's requote what the indispensable James Taranto quotes for some real cooking of the intelligence prior to the war:

  • "In launching a war against Iraq now, the United States may precipitate the very threat that we are intent on preventing--weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. If Saddam's regime and his very survival are threatened, then his view of his interests may be profoundly altered: He may decide he has nothing to lose by using weapons of mass destruction himself or by sharing them with terrorists. . . . Saddam may well hide his most lethal weapons in mosques, schools and hospitals. If our forces attempt to strike such targets, untold numbers of Iraqi civilians could be killed."--Ted Kennedy, Sept. 27, 2002
  • "Not so long ago, prominent German politicians were outdoing each other forecasting worst-case scenarios for the Iraq conflict. The predictions ranged from 'millions of victims of U.S. rockets' to 'millions of Iraqi refugees desperately fleeing the country.' "--San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2003
  • "It is also likely that in the early stages there will be a large segment of the population requiring treatment for traumatic injuries, either directly conflict-induced or from the resulting devastation. Given the population outlined earlier, as many as 500,000 could require treatment to a greater or lesser degree as a result of direct or indirect injuries."--U.N. report on "likely humanitarian scenarios," Dec. 10, 2002
  • "Up to four million people could die in a war on Iraq involving nuclear weapons. A more contained conflict could cause half a million deaths and have a devastating impact on the lives, health and environment of the combatants, Iraqi civilians, and people in neighbouring countries and beyond. It could also damage the global economy and thus indirectly harm the health and well-being of millions more people across the world."--executive summary, "A New Gulf War: The Real Cost," Medact ("a UK-based charity taking action on key global health issues"), Nov. 13, 2002

In the political battle that preceded the military one, it seems that both sides may have used some Weapons of Mass Deception. But from the SWNID perspective, the administration's case still looks like the less hyperbolic one. Taranto cites, a committed antiwar site that as we write puts the total number of Iraqi war dead, civilian and military, between 33,710 and 37,832. Those are big numbers, representing human beings, each of whose lives has incalculable value. War is at least heck, if certain generals are to be believed. However, 38k is closer to zero than a 500k, much closer to zero than to a million, and definitely, with apologies to the Senior Senator from the State of Inebriation, a told* number.


*As the inspiration for this expression we offer a tip of the SWNID hat to Edwin Newman, journalist and English stylist, who objected to the common expression "unsung hero" because there is no such thing as a "sung hero." A "sung hero," he observed, sounds like an Italian sandwich in a Chinese restaurant.

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