September 28, 2003

Prolific Priest Much output from

Prolific Priest

Much output from Dana Priest in the WaPo today. First, you have got this piece on intelligence shortcomings related to Iraqi WMD. Next, along with Mike Allen, Priest writes about the developing scandal related to the "outing" of Joe Wilson's wife.

On the latter, go see Tom Maguire and Josh Marshall. For what it's worth, my thoughts at this stage are to wait and see if the story is accurate. Next, discipline whatever individuals were involved--to the maximum extent allowed by the law--if the story ends up proving true.

But I think it's a tad early to speculate about whether it was Andy Card, Ari Fleischer (on the day of his departure), Karl Rove or Dan Bartlett who "outed" Mrs. Yellowcake. And let's certainly not start hyperventilating about impeachment of Dubya and the like. We're so far from that stage it's risible to even write about it in serious fashion.

And for the record, don't you find it pretty rich that some like Josh Marshall and Atrios are suggesting that the White House (rather than merely refer to matter to the Department of Justice) should just reveal the alleged leakers right off?

Josh Marshall must surely be thinking of the approach the Clinton White House took re: such matters, doubtless (and no, I'm not just talking of the Monica peccadillo, but several other scandals besides). Wait, I seem to recall that the Clinton White House was not, uh, exactly forthcoming about turning over the goods...

That said, Bush's White House should not be striving to approximate the ethical moorings of the Clinton White House. They must do better. And to "out" the professionally-employed CIA agent spouse of a retired government official who is making public information inconvenient to the Administration is gang-land style politics. It's reprehensible. But this story has many moving parts and nothing definitively damning is yet evidenced. Referring this over to DOJ is the right way to go at this stage. Patience.

On the first Priest story regarding intelligence shortcomings, I'm going to put aside the alleged shortcomings related to the links to al-Qaeda and the nuclear program. On the former, that wasn't one of the reasons that I favored going to war against Iraq. I felt the links between Baghdad and al-Qaeda were pretty de minimis (given the very differing world views of Saddam and Osama). So I'm not surprised to see that the intelligence was pretty weak in that area.

Likewise, on the nuclear angle, I never viewed Saddam's nuclear program as necessarily constituting an imminent threat and suspected a judicious reading of intelligence on Iraqi nukes would render people, if not sanguine, at least not pushing a preemptive war on that basis alone.

That's leaves the intelligence related to the chemical and biological weapons. Saddam's potential possession of chemical and biological WMD is always what concerned me--particularly post 9/11. We've all heard it before, but it's worth stressing yet again. Post 9/11, the possible nexus among transnational terror groups, rogue regimes and WMD forced a reappraisal of U.S. strategic policy.

If Saddam wasn't a madman, irrational demon, etc etc--he was at least a strategic blunderer. To allow such a leader, who has used chemical weapons against people in his own country (and who was commonly considered to still possess chemical and biological weapons capability by myriad intelligence services) to retain such a capability post 9/11 would have constituted (at least) negligence in terms of a government's national security obligations.

Now back to the Priest story. The money graf (in terms of the chem/bio angle at least):

"The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist," the two committee members said in a letter Thursday to CIA Director George J. Tenet. The Washington Post obtained a copy this weekend.

Now, let me say right off that I have tremendous respect for Porter Goss. And so I don't take his comment on this lightly at all.

But let's analyze that sentence from the letter. Even if you end up agreeing with Goss' conclusions--they aren't that damning.

We all know Saddam possesed WMD at some stage (see Halabja, for instance). We didn't have conclusive proof that he had dismantled the program or destroyed his WMD weapons stockpiles. We knew how he had made a speciality of evading U.N. inspection schemes. Faced with these realities, given the post 9/11 strategic framework, the lack of compelling proof that the chem/bio capability had actually been dismantled didn't leave us with any easy policy options.

In other words, the burden of proof had shifted to those rogue states accused of possessing WMD. And Saddam failed to meet that burden.

Meanwhile, it's worth keeping in mind that collecting and appraising intelligence information is a highly imperfect science. And so to conclude that a threat existed, from a composite picture (no proof of destruction of the WMD and fragmentary indications of renewed activity, ie. possible mobile bioweapon labs) that a chem/bio capability existed doesn't strike me highly irresponsible. Indeed, it strikes me as just the opposite.

Posted by Gregory at September 28, 2003 06:06 PM
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