Thursday, October 07, 2004

So we've now got another report on Iraq's weapons programs. Predictably, the major media boils it down to the headline on this "News Analysis" in the Washington Post ("War's Rationales Are Undermined One More Time"). Meanwhile, the right-leaning blogosphere begins an exegesis pointing out details of the report that support the president's arguments. From what I've read (not much), it appears Saddam was sitting on his WMD program until the storm of international scrutiny passed. That is, the program was dormant, not extinct, rather like Mt. St. Helens for the last 24 years. Still, I'm quite sure all the headlines like the Post's are self-fulfilling. This will hurt Bush.

But what I find amazing is that nearly all the analysis - on all sides - is about how these revelations reflect on Bush's credibility and how they'll affect the election. OK, I don't find that amazing at all - that's the way it goes during an election year. But what is actually amazing is that nobody - not the French, not the Russians, not Hans Blix - nobody actually had any idea what was going on in Iraq between the end of the first Gulf War and the current war. Why are there no "News Analyses" examining how this could be?

I can somewhat excuse the failure of our intelligence services to pick up on the 9/11 plot. It's hard for spy agencies to keep up with a handful of loosely coordinated guys living apparently normal lives in the relatively open societies of the US and Europe. But the idea that all the world's spies, and all the world's weapons inspectors got basically nothing right about the weapons capabilities of a nation that had warred with at least two of its neighbors, had shot missiles into Israel, had declared the United States an enemy, had been invaded by us only a decade before, and had ever since been the subject of UN sanctions and inspections is surely worthy of some "analysis." Does this give anyone confidence that we know what Iran and North Korea (and who knows where else) are actually up to?

I can't help but point out that this inability to rely on intelligence suggests to me that we should give the president more slack, not less for deciding not to take the risk that Saddam was further along than everyone thought. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out (noted by Instapundit), after September 11, a president shouldn't be giving the benefit of the doubt to someone like Saddam. What we should be hammering Bush (and demanding more from Kerry) on is why they haven't done more to improve our intelligence capabilities so there's less of that doubt for whoever is president to weigh into future decisions about going to war.