Thursday, July 24, 2003

Antidote to Instacrap

If you did as Atrios suggested and checked out Glenn's Instasubpundit, you'll need an antidote; foolishness raised to this level becomes poisonous.

Let's deal with the initial sting - the claim that the only issue at stake in whether or not the Administration was forthright with the American people about why we had to go to war with Iraq is the one about a sixteen word sentence in the SOTU.

Joseph Cirincione of the Carniegie Endowment suggests, instead, that it's the threat assessments, stupid.

Senior administration officials say they based their escalating warnings of the imminent danger posed by Iraqi weapons on official intelligence assessments.


These reports themselves, however, underwent a dramatic transformation from 2001 to 2002 after reporting essentially the same data for many years. There is little new evidence in the reports to account for this change. So what triggered the new, alarmist tone in 2002?


The assessments of the Iraqi nuclear program remained fairly consistent from 1998 through 2001, followed by a dramatic jump in 2002. From 1998 to 2001, Iraq's nuclear program was addressed in one paragraph, if at all.


In the first half of 2000, the report noted explicitly "we do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox [December 1998] to reconstitute its WMD programs," though analysts suspected that this might be underway.


The January-June 2002 report, however, raised alarm at unprecedented levels rhetorically, though it provided little new evidence of increased capability. This report, which moved the nuclear program from the last program mentioned to the front of the assessment, devoted six long paragraphs to the nuclear weapons, mostly detailed narrative of Iraq's nuclear history and the IAEA inspections and dismantlement process.

So why this marked increase in assessment angst? Cirincione suggests we need a Congressional investigation.

But assessments are based on intelligence, no? Sure enough. It's not sixteen words, it's the intelligence, stupid.

Over the past five years, the intelligence assessments and official warnings on Iraq's weapons capability followed a bell curve. From 1998 to 2001, they expressed a fairly low-level of concern about Iraqi programs. They rose dramatically in 2002, however, peaking in warnings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program in 2003 at the start of the war, and then declined in the weeks and months after the war to lowered expectations about the size of the arsenals and fairly low-level concern about the use or transfer of these weapons or capabilities.

Cirincione has high credibility in this area. Here he is at an April 18th CEIP forum about what's next in Iraq, convened right at what we thought, at the time, was the end of the war:

Of all the urgent missions remaining for U.S. forces in Iraq, none is more important than finding and securing Iraq's chemical and biological arsenal. We have two urgent reasons for doing this. The first has not been much discussed. It was bad enough when the Iraqi regime had control of chemical and biological weapons; it is worse when they do not have control of them. If the arsenals in Iraq are anywhere near administration estimates, then we are looking at a substantial number of unsecured chemical and biological weapons and possibly nuclear material that are now subject to the same kind of looting that we're seeing in other parts of Iraq. If Iraqis are looting national assets and national treasures, they may turn to the national arsenal. It is very serious that we do not know where these weapons are, that we do not yet have any sense of who - if anyone - still has control of these weapons.

Isn't it interesting how few of the war's industrial strength supporters were making that point at the time?

UPDATE: My canine companion, Apu, who monitors the cable news outlets for me, has just alerted me to a citing on all three news channels of our Vice-President, who has surfaced to lead a counter charge against administration critics, and who, at this very moment, is reading from a "threat assessment."