Street Corner Soapbox: Jeb Bush and Faulty Intelligence
Hindsight's 20/20, but Jeb Bush's vision of the invasion of Iraq may be blurred by bad intelligence seen through rose-tinted glasses.
"Nostalgia," according to my handy Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a "wistful or sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period of irrecoverable condition."
How sweet the honeyed taste of nostalgia. How alluring it is to sip from its nectar.
Take the interview that Fox News' Megyn Kelly conducted with Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, in which he was asked if he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq if he were president instead of his brother, George W. Bush, in 2003.
"I would have," said Bush. "And so would've Hilary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would've almost anybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."
Jeb Bush, of course, was referring to evidence linking Iraq to weapons of mass destruction – the infamous "WMDs" – his brother's administration used as justification for invading Iraq.
The current presidential candidate Bush scurried for a different answer after getting walloped in the press for his answer. (The Iraq War, after all, was seen by most to be a disaster.) "You know, given the power of looking back," he said in a later interview, "of course, anybody would've made different decisions. There's no denying that."
Ah, those days of yore! When men were men, and when bold, visionary presidents acted from the gut on the faulty intelligence they had! Sure, in hindsight, the invasion might have been a bad idea. But with the information we had at the time, it was the right call to make.
Nothing like the passage of time to add a rosy tint to your glasses!
Jeb Bush is not alone in his, ahem, nostalgia. David Brooks, also an avid Iraq War booster, recently wrote that "the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment." The lesson? "[W]e should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye."
Alas, reality has a harder shine.
The decision to invade Iraq was not based on faulty intelligence. Faulty intelligence was used to justify an invasion that had already been decided on.
It's this reality, by the way, that David Brooks calls, "a fable going around." Which is the real fable.
There's so much evidence that we were lied to, manipulated, that Iraq was planned months, even years before, that intelligence was cooked, or skewed, or not parsed properly. That the Bush administration pressured intelligence agencies and military bodies to come up with the information they needed to go to war.
Where do we start?
Perhaps with the neoconservative think tank, the Project for the New American Century, and a 1998 memo to then President Bill Clinton advocating for the overthrow of Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein. Which is a very big deal, when you realize that among the memo's signees were Paul Wolfowitz (later to serve as Bush's Deputy Secretary of Defense), Elliot Abrams (Bush's special assistant on the National Security Council), John Bolton (Bush's Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to the UN), and Donald Rumsfeld (Bush's Secretary of Defense). And that among the group's signatories to the PNAC's statements of principles includes Dick Cheney (Bush's Vice President), Scooter Libby (Cheney's assistant for national security affairs), and… drum roll …Jeb Bush!
Or maybe we start with recently declassified documents that show, only hours after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld met with top military aides and asked them how to turn the U.S. response against Saddam Hussein.
Which, you know, should remind everyone that the original reason the Bush administration gave for invading Iraq had nothing to with the dreaded WMDs – but instead due to Hussein's alleged ties to al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks. It was only after the media had trouble gagging down so obvious a lie that the Bush administration turned to WMDs.
"The fraudulence for the case for war was actually obvious at the time," wrote Paul Krugman in a recent editorial. "[T]he ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games – the talk about WMD that conflated chemical weapons… with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11."
As for the intelligence?
There's plenty of documentation that shows the Bush administration pressured the CIA into coming up with "actionable" intelligence on Iraq. That caused the agency to pass on unreliable or obviously false reports to the Bush administration that confirmed their allegations. Likewise, Donald Rumsfeld created the "Office of Special Plans" in the Department of Defense to provide unvetted intelligence information to the Bush administration. That office was headed by Paul Wolfowitz.
The Bush administration's thirst for an invasion of Iraq was so strong, it kick-started the U.S. "enhanced interrogation" program in order to torture detainees into coughing up "evidence" linking Hussein to al Qaeda, according to former State Department officials.
And let's not forget the press' role in creating bad intelligence. Take The New York Times' Judith Miller, who ran a series of stunning reports on evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions just before the invasion. Only that "evidence" was fed to her by Amed Chalabi – an Iraqi exile wanted for bank fraud in Jordan, who had close ties to Paul Wolfowitz, and who promised to supply the U.S. with the intelligence they needed to justify an invasion in exchange for being named head of the new Iraqi state. The Times later admitted that coverage of the Iraq invasion "was not as rigorous as it should have been," and its lead editor, Bill Keller, expressed "regrets" over his "handling" of Miller.
So… why all the nostalgia for a mythic time of good decisions made on faulty intelligence?
"Some of them, I suppose may have been duped…which doesn't say much about their judgment," wrote Krugman. "More, I suspect, may have been complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war…or allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along."
Saying you made a decision based on faulty intelligence lets you avoid the hard truth: you were a sap, a sucker, or worse, that you were in on the fix.
Jay Stevens can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org