June 16, 2003, 1:45 P.M.
What do the Columbia shuttle tragedy and the Bush administration’s WMD two-step have in common? The Mother of All Alliterations: an “institutional inclination to ignore inconvenient information.” In each case, the bureaucracy was not inclined to consider evidence contrary to what it wanted to hear. The Columbia disaster provided a chilling visual illustration of the perils of this kind of government thinking, and the independent panel investigating the shuttle accident is expected to conclude in its report that NASA is troubled by an institutional culture that discounts problems.
In a similar fashion, the White House, the Defense Department and the State Department appear to have harvested information relating to Iraqi WMD capabilities and stockpiles that supported the President’s claims of an Iraqi government ready and willing to use nasty chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against us, our friends or our interests, and/or supply those weapons to terrorist groups or rogue states. Nicholas Kristof wrote recently in the NY Times regarding the bogus documentation the Bush administration used to support its claims that Iraq had planned to purchase uranium from Niger:
"It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery," said Melvin Goodman, a former C.I.A. analyst who is now at the Center for International Policy.
Still, Mr. Tenet and the intelligence agencies were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq. Ambiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.
"It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a `mobile bioweapons lab' and every tanker truck would be `filled with weaponized anthrax,' " a former military intelligence officer said. "None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense and the secretary of state."
Kristof offers this unsettling conclusion:
“I don't believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs — and then deceived the American public as well. “
I think Kristof stops short of holding President Bush to account for lying to his country to garner its support for a war that he wanted to wage. Reading accounts of the discovery of mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of innocents certainly leads me to the conclusion that America’s War on Iraq has rid the world of a malignant tyrant.
Reading the transcript of Paul Wolfowitz’s remarks in his interview with Vanity Fair’s Sam Tanenbaum helps me see that a result of the war will be the removal of thousands of American troops from bases in Saudi Arabia, and that the presence of these troops has fueled the hatred of America in a region that produced many of the September 11 terrorists. I’m all for that. What I object to in the strongest possible way is that my government doesn’t think you and I are smart enough to understand that these are valid reasons to support our war on Iraq, and that it needed to concoct a weapons of mass destruction fairy tale to scare us into supporting the war. As Wolfowitz states in the transcript of the interview: “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.” I find another of Wolfowitz’s statements regarding justification for military intervention in Iraq in this transcript more disconcerting.
“[T]here have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two. . .The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy. . .”
Let’s review: reason #1 for the war, the threat of Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction, is a reason that was settled on for bureaucratic reasons, but now has been shown to not have had the support of much of the intelligence community. Reason #2, Iraqi state support of terrorism, is the subject of disagreement in the bureaucracy. Reason #3, the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people by its leaders, is not a good reason to put our soldiers in harm’s way, especially when you consider that our government once supported Saddam Hussein, and that it continues to support other regimes with questionable human rights records.
Boy, what a mess. It just goes to show you how much simpler life is when you shoot straight.
June 16, 2003, 9:15 A.M.
Some good news out of Tulia, Texas. You may recall the terrible story of the racially-motivated drug sweep conducted in 1999 by lawman Tom Coleman, resulting in the arrest of 49 Tulia citizens, of whom 39 were black. Charges against 7 of those arrested in that sweep were dropped, the remainder were either convicted or plead guilty for fear of harsh sentencing. Sixteen of those individuals are still imprisoned today. A judge is expected to free 13 of the 16 on bond today while their cases are reviewed. Read the story.