Another Perspective

Intelligence Failure

How many of our problems in Iraq might have been avoided if our political leaders had bothered to read the relevant reports?

By 6.12.07

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Ten days before the vote in the U.S. Senate to authorize a preemptive war against Iraq, a 90-page classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate, containing numerous qualifications and dissents on Iraq's weapons capabilities, was made available to all 100 senators.

It was the most comprehensive analysis by America's intelligence agencies. Only six of the senators read it.

"Senators were able to access the National Intelligence Estimate at two secure locations in the Capitol complex," explain Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in the June 3 issue of the New York Times Magazine. "Nonetheless, only six senators personally read the report, according to a 2005 television interview with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, then the vice chairman of the intelligence panel."

Nevertheless, on Oct. 11, 2002, the Senate voted 77-23 to give George W. Bush the authorization to launch a war against Iraq.

Two months earlier, on Aug. 14, seven months prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the CIA sent a classified, six-page report to the White House, titled "The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq," highlighting the potential downside of removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Among other things, the CIA's analysis, according to a report about prewar intelligence recently released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that a U.S. invasion could result in al Qaeda taking "advantage of a destabilized Iraq to establish secure safe havens from which they can continue their operations."

The CIA also warned that a U.S. invasion could produce anarchy in Iraq, reduce European confidence in U.S. leadership, expand Iran's influence in the region, destabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, and bolster Islamic hostility toward the United States.

On Aug. 15, 2002, the morning after the White House received the CIA's words of caution, the Wall Street Journal published "Don't Attack Saddam" by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the administrations of Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

Acknowledging that Saddam Hussein was "a menace" who "brutalizes his own people" and "launched war on two of his neighbors," Scowcroft contended that "an attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken."

There was "scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks," argued Scowcroft. "Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them."

Additionally, "There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression."

Continued Scowcroft, accurately, as it turned out: "The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy -- and could as well be bloody."

The fall of Saddam, advised Scowcroft, "would very likely have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation," a state of affairs "certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism."

Additionally, given the "virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time," the U.S. would be caught in "a virtual go-it-alone strategy," making our "military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive."

An American attack, warned Scowcroft, might well "swell the ranks of the terrorists" while simultaneously causing "a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism."

Those weren't the only top-level warnings regarding a U.S. invasion of Iraq. President George H.W. Bush, after the 1991 Gulf War in which Iraqi forces were pushed out of Kuwait, explained why U.S. forces didn't continue on to Baghdad and topple Saddam. "It would have been disastrous," said Bush. "America in an Arab land, with no allies at our side."

Similarly, Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War, said in 1992: "The question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is, not that damned many."

Two questions. The first one is for Mr. Cheney, the same one as 15 years ago: How many additional American casualties is Iraq worth? The second is for each of the senators now running for president: Are you one of six out of 100 senators who bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate before the vote to send America's troops into Iraq, and, if not, what was it that you were doing that you considered to be more important than reading those 90 pages?

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.