Cheney's Perfect Storm
November 9, 2005 - 12:29pm ET
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This idea just struck me in corresponding with some of our writers yesterday. The newly invigorated Senate panel on the misuse of the intelligence will have to create a narrative that links the CIA's 1990s certainty on Iraq's WMD and its post-9/11 doubts. Putting it all together for the first time, I think I found something interesting.
My guess here is that in the 1990s, we had an analytical community overcompensating for what they missed in Desert Storm, combined with an overreliance on technical collection and a paucity of HUMINT. Since Clinton was not going to invade Iraq, that conjecture and lack of evidence got little scrutiny, but the conclusions became cemented in the Democratic national security establishment. This is the intel problem we have to fix and should have been the substance of phase one of the Senate's inquiry.
Enter Cheney and 9/11. His experience in Desert Storm must have left a deep impression about the shortcomings of the CIA. That experience combined with the 1990s conventional wisdom and the lowered threshold of pre-emption convinced Cheney that Hussein had weapons. Cheney probably pushed the CIA to produce the evidence it had to support the 1990s findings and, if he was really sweating the agency, he should have quickly figured out that the CIA was only assuming Saddam had weapons.
If that happened, that would have put Cheney in a major bind. But Cheney, based on Desert Storm, would have trusted that Saddam was superman and that the weakness lay in our HUMINT capability. As Rumsfeld would say, we don't know what we don't know.
In such a situation, forging the evidence and cutting other corners would not matter, since 9/11 changed the stakes and the ends would justify the means, he was sure. First came the OSP, then the WHIG, all fed by the neocons, who had been focused on Iraq for years. They knew the Clintonites had a predisposition to the notion that Saddam had WMD so all they had to do was anchor the case with some spectacular "facts." This is the Phase II narrative we need to flesh out.
Ultimately, it may come down to Cheney not being able to believe that the UN inspections worked, that Saddam was not concealing but bluffing to deter Iran, and that the CIA's lack of evidence could both reflect reality and be the product of extremely weak HUMINT.
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