Balkinization  

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What did the President know and when did he know it?

JB

The National Journal reports that President Bush was repeatedly given intelligence which contradicted the case for war he made to the American public.
The first report, delivered to Bush in early October 2002, was a one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate that discussed whether Saddam's procurement of high-strength aluminum tubes was for the purpose of developing a nuclear weapon.

Among other things, the report stated that the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research believed that the tubes were "intended for conventional weapons," a view disagreeing with that of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which believed that the tubes were intended for a nuclear bomb.

The disclosure that Bush was informed of the DOE and State dissents is the first evidence that the president himself knew of the sharp debate within the government over the aluminum tubes during the time that he, Cheney, and other members of the Cabinet were citing the tubes as clear evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. Neither the president nor the vice president told the public about the disagreement among the agencies.

When U.S. inspectors entered Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime, they determined that Iraq's nuclear program had been dormant for more than a decade and that the aluminum tubes had been used only for artillery shells.

The second classified report, delivered to Bush in early January 2003, was also a summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, this one focusing on whether Saddam would launch an unprovoked attack on the United States, either directly, or indirectly by working with terrorists.

The report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that it was unlikely that Saddam would try to attack the United States -- except if "ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime" or if he intended to "extract revenge" for such an assault, according to records and sources.

The single dissent in the report again came from State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known as INR, which believed that the Iraqi leader was "unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the U.S. homeland even if [his] regime's demise is imminent" as the result of a U.S. invasion.

On at least four earlier occasions, beginning in the spring of 2002, according to the same records and sources, the president was informed during his morning intelligence briefing that U.S. intelligence agencies believed it was unlikely that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United States.

However, in the months leading up to the war, Bush, Cheney, and Cabinet members repeatedly asserted that Saddam was likely to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or to provide such weapons to Al Qaeda or another terrorist group.

The Bush administration used the potential threat from Saddam as a major rationale in making the case to go to war. The president cited the threat in an address to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, in an October 7, 2002, speech to the American people, and in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003.


Although the Administration had multiple justifications for invading Iraq, the most important in garnering public and Congressional support was the imminent danger that Saddam posed to the United States. If Congress had known that intelligence services did not believe that Saddam posed such a threat, support for an authorization to go to war to overthrow Saddam would have been far smaller, and indeed, the President might not have been able to get a majority of Congress behind him. And if, in addition, he had been honest about how much the war would cost and how many troops would be needed it is very likely that Congress would not have gone along.

The President sold this war to the American public based on half truths. He then refused to acknowledge the cost of the war and the number of troops it would require. When his Administration botched the occupation, he repeatedly refused to admit how serious the situation was or how badly he had handled things. The Iraq war is a policy sold on misrepresentation, premised on wishful thinking, and carried out in denial. That's not a policy for success.


Comments:

If Congress had known that intelligence services did not believe that Saddam posed such a threat, support for an authorization to go to war to overthrow Saddam would have been far smaller, and indeed, the President might not have been able to get a majority of Congress behind him.

Who can say?

But I can say this - just before the Congressional vote, Tenet agreed to de-classify certain intel assessments that had been presented to Congress on the qt. Here is an excerpt:

These are some of the reasons why we did not include our classified judgments on Saddam's decision-making regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) in our recent unclassified paper on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Viewing your request with those concerns in mind, however, we can declassify the following from the paragraphs you requested:

Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or C.B.W. chemical and biological weapons against the United States.

Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or C.B.W.

Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a W.M.D. attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.


The NY Times covered this on Oct 9, 2002, complete with Administration rationalizations and responses.

Tom Maguire
 

I believe it is extremely doubtful that President Bush could have drummed up support for the war without presenting Hussein as an imminent threat to the US, aka the "mushroom cloud" comments post 9-11.

On a different note, for the National Journal to publish a piece like this is a startling demonstration of just how far President Bush has fallen.
 

"the most important in garnering public and Congressional support was the imminent danger that Saddam posed to the United States."

Call me crazy, but I have a distinct recollection of the President explictly denying that we should wait until the danger was imminent.
 

[I]f Bush...had been honest about ...war ...cost and ...[the number of] troops ...needed it is very likely that Congress would not have gone along.

But Bush wasn’t honest, and Congress went along, at least in part, and ostensibly based on factual allegations leveled against Iraq by Bush and his under bosses. The propaganda barrage of half-truths, misrepresentation, wishful thinking and denial was a policy for success. Pubic and elite opinion was sufficiently swayed to create a political situation that permitted Bush to launch the war.
 

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