Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Intel Folks? Do Dems Trust Too Much?

One of the pushbacks I get from time to time when discussing FBI/CIA/NSA stuff, like yesterday's Trump performance of running directly against the intel community's findings on Russia (bad), North Korea (not disarming), Iran (not so bad) is that the intel folks got 2003 wrong.

Um, not quite and what they got wrong was partly on Hussein.  Huh?  First, there were a lot of reports before the war.  The intel community did not have a consensus that there was a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.  What mattered was that there were enough hints and rumors that a motivated person could extract those and make a case for a WMD program that needed to be attacked.  Oh, and that person was Dick Cheney.  He cherry-picked the intel to find the stuff he wanted to find.  In my interactions with military folks, they like to say that intel drives policy--that the info drives what the country/unit should do.  In the case of 2003, it was very clearly the case that policy--we need to attack Iraq--drove intel: "hey, lookie, this says that there might be a chance Hussein is pursuing WMD!"

Moreoever, Hussein did little to dissuade folks because his strategies to both stay in power and deter the neighbors.  That is, Hussein created heaps of ambiguity about the weapons programs inside the country, with many military officials wondering mid-war why these capabilities were not being deployed, so that potential opponents within Iraq would be frightened of him.  Likewise, after the failed war with Iran and other foreign misdventures, he wanted to deter the outsiders.  Of course, it was a dumb move since aspiring to develop WMD puts a target on one's country.  The point is that the confusion in 2003 about what Iraq was doing was partially intended by Hussein.

The intel community might have gotten wrong how fragile Iraq was, that it would be hard to govern after an invasion--I am not sure about that since it has gotten less coverage.  But the intel about WMD was gamed by the White House and Rummy's shop and not by the CIA or NSA.

Sure, folks were upset about what the NSA has been doing thanks to Snowden.  And, yes, the FBI has not been a force for social justice.  So, none of these agencies have been loved by Liberals and those further to the left.  However, those who want a sensible foreign policy tend to want to have functional intel agencies--knowing more about the world is usually conducive to better policy.  As it turns out, the intel agencies, despite much efforts by the Trump administration to politicize them, are still mostly reality based organizations who have clearer eyes about what Russia/China/North Korea/Iran are doing.  That their reports are dismissed by Trump is a tell--that he would rather do what he wants rather than what the US national interest happens to be.  Trump does not like folks to disagree with him, but disagreeing with the intel agencies is inevitable if one is deliberately and inherently ignorant.

This leads to a strange dynamic where the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so Liberals have reduced their criticism of the intel agencies despite the FBI leaking to the GOP about HRC and on and on and have embraced these organizations, even has they have done much that is not so nice in the past (and present).  For me, this is where I tend to be more centrist--that foreign policy requires secrets, requires trying to read the mail of the adversaries, and even sometimes requires subversion and violence.

Anyhow, this is a longer post than intended.  The key is this: 2003 is not a good way to de-legitimate the secret squirrels who are putting out reports in 2019.  It is a good way to to criticize the GOP, which has been the party of ignorance for more than just the Trump administration.  The difference is now it is not in service of a convoluted view of the national interest but is an effort to reduce Trump's vulnerability to prosecution.

1 comment:

Scott C Monje said...

Two NIEs you might interest you, both from January 2003.

Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq
Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq