At 2:30 pm Eastern, a hearing on the Downing Street Minutes, by the Democratic members of the House questioning when the Bush Administration decided to begin the Iraq War and on what basis, will be convened. Expectations from both sides of the political spectrum are quite extreme. The "Far-Left", including those who hate the very idea of George W. Bush in the White House may be hoping that this will be the first serious salvo in the march toward eventual impeachment hearings - while those with a right-ward bent are sure to insist that this is just another example of how those "whiny Loser-crats" refuse to accept that their defeats in the 2000/2004 elections, and simply can't resist blaming everyone else but themselves.
As usual, my position is toward the Center as I suspect that both sets of expetations will fall far short of the reality.
Did President Bush Lie us into a War? I think not. At least - not exactly. Was the President merely the innocent victim of a broken intelligence apparatas that failed to warn us of 9/11, and then continued to fail when it came to Iraq's involvment in the event, ties to al-Qaeda and possession of WMD's? Again, I think, not exactly.
I think if you look at the facts honestly and squarely, you will begin to see a pattern that has led us to where we are now - and it's not neccesarily a pattern of deliberate deception, it's a pattern of paradigm, a pattern of received wisdom, and fervent belief. A pattern of faith before fact.
In 1998, the often noted PNAC (Project of the New American Century) penned it's letter to then President Clinton urging that he commit American energy and forces to removing Saddam Hussein as leader of Iraq. Signatories on this letter including Donald Rumseld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, William Bennet, Richard Armatage, Dick Cheney and others. This document outlines a strategy which would, thought it's authors, lead to greater world security and a new renaissance of Democracy in the Arab world and beyond. It was clear that Saddam was our enemy, although many of the left often gloss over it, Saddam's Intelligence Agency did conspire to assasinate President George H.W. Bush with a car-bomb in Kuwait in 1993. The plan failed, but the animous lingered - at least among many who felt that President Clinton by bombing the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters, simply didn't do enough.
We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.I see little reason to assume that those who penned this letter, didn't believe thier own words - in fact I feel confident that they absolutely and devoutly believed every sentence, as they've done nothing if not remained true to the goals outlined then. And there in, lies the beginning of our saga and the problem we find ourself living in today.
We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.
After the 2000 Election, there was a not just a change in the Chief Executive, there was also a major shift among key positions througout the Administration. Besides Dick Cheney as Vice-President, many other PNAC supporters and signatories - people who hold an ideological fervor the likes of which this country has rarely seen - were given Deputy and Undersecratary positions in Defense (Wolfowitz), the State Department (Bolton) and others. For example, Bush's Deputy in the Labor Department is Eugene Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and a former business lobbyist against workers compensation claims. Mr. Scalia has been known to claim that Repetitve Motion Injuries are simply "Junk Science" being used as an excuse for lazy workers to soak their employers. This person is now the Socitor of Labor, the primary legal representative for workers in the United States. A rather sad irony some would say.
The question on Downing Street has been framed as how much did the President and Administration know about Iraq WMD's and when did they know it? But the question should be, knowing that they believed Saddam himself was an imminent threat what did they do to verify that belief and most importantly did they ignore or downplay evidence which defied that belief?
The record is repleat with examples.
Following 9/11, the fear of international terrorism was at a fever pitch. It's clear that Saddam did at one time possess significant stockpiles of WMD's. He had used them against Iran and had used them against the Kurds following the first Gulf War in 1991. According to Richard Clarke's "Against all Enemies", contrary to credible evidence Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz continued to posit theories of Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11, but also in the first World Trace Center Bombing in 1993. Some of the lastest Post-Downing British Memos that have been released also confirm this view of Wolfowitz's. Against all evidence, Saddam was still the ultimate Boogey Man.
As it stands now, there have been several investigations into the Iraq WMD intelligence and indeed many failures have been found, but none have found that the intelligence was "fixed around [a specific] policy" - but that may be simply because one of these investigations were never tasked with answering that question. The 9/11 Committee didn't addressed the issue. The President's Robb-Silberman Commision on WMD's didn't bring the subject up.
"(W)e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence CommunityThe Senate Intelligence Committee Investigation was split into two sections, the second which was to address Administration influence on intelligence has be indefinately postponed. Senator Harry Reid responded to the announcement in a Press Release:
Last year, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee committed to investigate whether Bush Administration officials misused intelligence. The failure of the report issued today to examine this important issue only serves to increase the need for the chairman to keep that commitment.”All of which indicates all the more need for the core question to be answered - how did America screw up this badly?
Some would argue that there was no evidence against the presumption of guilt by Saddam, and of course, it's better "safe than sorry". That's all well and good, except for the fact that there was quite a bit of evidence indicating that Saddam had no more WMD's, and that this information may indeed have been systematically ignored by those with a shared fervent belief - including the PNAC Deputies - who then proceeded to block positive news about Saddam from their bosses, Rumfeld, Powell and by extension, the President.
When the U.S. Energy Commision stated that the aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were the wrong type for Uranium enrichment, this information didn't reach Colin Powell before he testified before the UN. When his own State Department's intelligence service stated that they had doubts about Saddam's continued possess of WMD's. Those doubts were ignored, many strongly suspect, by well position Deputies such as John Bolton - who himself already had a reputation for intimidating and threatening analyists who he felt were understating the dangers of WMD's in Cuba.
When Joe Wilson went to Niger to investigate whether Iraq could find a way to aquire Uranium, he returned stating that it simply wasn't possible - and was promptly trashed by a Robert Novak, who reported based info from a unamed Adminstration source (someone in the "middle"?) stating that his wife, CIA Operative Valarie Plame, had been instrumental in his being sent to Africa. A year ago the Washington Post reported that Wilson's claims that Plame "had nothing to do with" his trip were contradicted by a Senate Intelligence Report, even with this blow to his credibility his core claim that Iraq didn't have Uranium remains strong as it is clearly supported by the Dulfer Report.
ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material—activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.
The other key factor that the Dulfer Report showed, was that many key allegations of WMD activity by Saddam all came from a single source, code-named Curveball. A source that his own German intelligence handlers found "not credible", yet his claims of mobile laboratories and imminent mushroom clouds still managed to find their way into Presidential Speeches and public comments by Secretary Powell, then-NSA Chief Condoleeza Rice and even Clinton Admin hold-over George Tenet, Director of the CIA.
Subordinates have claimed that they passed information up the chain concerning Curveball's lack of credibility, yet Tenet, for one, continues to state they he was unaware of this:
"It is deeply troubling to me that there was information apparently available within CIA as of late September or October of 2002 indicating that Curveball may have been a fabricator," Tenet said in a detailed seven-page rebuttal. "There is nothing more serious or galvanizing in the intelligence business than associating the word fabricator with a human source.Once again, the failure wasn't at the analyst level - the inteligence wasn't "Dead Wrong" - nor was it (allegedly) with the leadership (Tenet, Powell) - the disconnect was apparently somewhere in the middle. Somewhere among the middle management or at the Administration appointed deputy level were PNACers such as Wolfowitz and Bolton who in all likelhood, simply refused to believe or to promote ideas and facts that deviated from their predetermined agenda.
This view is further supported by information and experience provided by Lt. Col Karen Kwaitkowski, a former Aide to the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, who has been quite outspoken and direct concerning on this issue. In her experience working directly with high-level Bush appointees during the lead-up to the Iraq War she has written that "the pressure of the intelligence community to conform, the rejection of it when it failed to produce intelligence suitable for supporting the 'Iraq is an imminent threat to the United States' agenda, and the amazing things I was hearing in both Bush and Cheney speeches told me that not only do neoconservatives hold a theory based on ideas not embraced by the American mainstream, but they also have a collective contempt for fact." Particularly, it seems when those facts are inconviently opposed to their shared beliefs.
For these Deputies and Undersecretaries, it's not simply a matter of them deliberately lying to their superiors - it's an issue of which facts did they choose to highlight in their reports, and which did they choose to de-emphasize or omit? This might mean that the longed-for independant investigation of President Bush may find that he was simply the victim of misguided and overzealous aids, not a deliberate prefabricator or liar per se.
Or then again, was he a willing victim of this paradigmatic group-think?
The most telling answer to this question comes from former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who said the Bush was like ""a blind man in a room full of deaf people", and that he whole-heartedly belives his decisions are the right ones, regardless of all nay-sayers and in many cases - clear and raw evidence to the contrary.
This is why he [Bush] dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett [a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance] went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.This reliance on belief and conviction over fact, may indeed be a common trait among the PNAC/neo-conservative movement, and has gradually influenced the President. Where once he opening took input from many source, according to a extensive report by Ron Suskind for the New York Times, today he has closed himself into the tightest circle of "happy-talking" insiders and confidents of any President in modern history.
To lie is to state as fact, something that you yourself don't believe is true - but I strongly suspect that the aswer to the perennial question of "How did we get here?" may be something both far greater and far smaller than simply a set of repeated lies, it may indeed involve quite a bit of blind self-deception as well.
If the nation is to truly learn something valuable from this process, it will not be achieved simply by toppling the Bush Adminstration in the midst a highly-partisan conflagration in the rush to the third impeachment trial in our nation's history. We need to learn what really did and what did not occur in our intelligence assesment process, and what may be continuing to occur in all of our government decision making in order to truly prevent anything like this from happening again.
And if we fail in this, we ensure - whether the right remains in power, or the left regains it - that we remain quite ilkely, if not certain, to repeat this type of failure sometime in future.
It may happen later rather than sooner, with luck, but it's clear that without genuine understanding and a national commitment to a true paradigm shift away from pure belief to verifiable fact in governing - we will again ask and wonder in frustration, "How did we get here?"