Monday, March 24, 2008

JUDGING THE IRAQ WAR

Now that the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war has passed, it seems logical that now would be a good time to appraise the enterprise. I don't think that this is the case, however. Right now, discussion of the war is too imbued with emotionalism, partisanship, and frank hysteria.

One of the most paralyzing shortcoming of current analysis is the tendency to attribute any undesirable outcomes to someone's bad character. Thus, it is often stated without authority that "Bush lied" or that he was influenced by nefarious "Neocons" harboring malignant motives.

These unhelpful attributes of the current debate are exacerbated by the simultaneous political campaigns. What would otherwise be dismissed as campaign rhetoric gets mixed into more thoughful discussion and clouds, rather than illuminates the issue.

In the coming years, Bush's decision-making process will be scrutinized by more thoughtful and less biased scholars, and I suspect that he will come off considerably better than one would predict solely from today's discourse. It is fortunate for Mr. Obama that he was not a member of the United States Senate, required to make a consequential decision on the type of data presented to President Bush and Hillary Clinton. That data was far from perfect, and less than conclusive, but the decisions demanded at the time were not of a type that could await certainty.

What is most interesting is that the intelligence that was available to decision makers was colored by the recent intelligence failures of 9/11. This understandably led some in the intelligence community to be more aggressive in their analyses. No one was eager to be accused of "failing to connect the dots," particularly with the consequences of the most recent lapse frresh in memory. Likewise, policy makers, from the President, to his cabinet, to congressmen and senators could resonably be excused for interpreting the data in a light favoring a present threat. These were not due to poor judgment, incompetence, or improper motives; they were the understandable actions of persons who did not have the luxury of defering decisions that had potentially grave and immediate consequences.

An enlightening appraisal of the treatment of prewar intelligence can be found int eReport of the Senate Select Committe on intelligence dealing with the same topic, which can be found here .

Of particular interest is the way in which intelligence assessments were made to sound more conclusive by a stylistic edit removing phrases like "we judge," which was intended to eliminate the plural pronouns, but which had the effect of making the intelligence sound more definite. It is contained in Section X, regarding the White Paper on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs

1 comment:

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