Nov 15, 2005

"Knowing then what we know now" [LINK]

The latest disturbance to my serenity:

I was rather amused to read Thomas Oliphant's assessment of the flawed intelligence President Bush relied upon in deciding to go to war in Iraq. He says Bush's defense, that he and his Democratic rivals were all relying on the best available intelligence from a number of countries, is tantamount to creating "a Potemkin universe of intelligence dupes."

Yet Oliphant is capable of some obfuscation on the matter as well. In the same column, he refers to the "now-accepted wisdom that Iraq possessed no unconventional weapons and posed no threat to the United States." Using a now-familiar phrase, he says that "knowing then what is known now," war would have been unwise.

It should be obvious that we did not, and could not, have known then what we know now. Saddam Hussein was by all accounts engaging in such dissemblance that definitive intelligence was difficult to come by. It was only by going to war that we "now know" enough to flagellate each other to score political points. To my mind, that seems like the best possible outcome considering the alternative.

There's not enough room in such a letter to address the quality of knowledge at each stage. Hussein engages in dissemblance, forcing us to rely more heavily on flawed intelligence. We go to war, and we "now know" he did not have WMDs. We do not "know" any such thing. He had them at some point, and something must have happened to them. Since there was no credible evidence they were destroyed during the period Hussein expelled weapons inspectors, Syria is a good guess.
UPDATE: Score another one. I'm happy they fixed my "did not, and could not, have known" mistake, but I'm a little pissed they screwed up "Oliphant is also capable of obfuscation as well." They also removed the reference to Democrats who believed Hussein was a threat: "he and his Democratic rivals were all relying on the best available intelligence." And "dissemblance" is a word, thank you. To say Hussein was "engaging in such dissemblance" is far better on the ear than "doing so much dissembling," which sounds childish.

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