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Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004 / 18 Shevat, 5764

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Fixing what's broken | President Bush — and Tony Blair in London — are caught in a political firestorm over the conclusion of the head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, that there are no significant inventories of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and virtually no programs to create them. Why did Bush and Blair tell us otherwise? The short answer is that this is what they were advised by their respective intelligence services. Independent inquiries into the prewar performance of those services have been authorized in both countries. But even before the inquiries begin, the suspicion was noised about that the intelligence agencies must have been pressured to say what they did so as to give Bush and Blair a case for making war.

Utter nonsense. The warnings that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing WMD predated Bush's inauguration and therefore could hardly be attributed to political pressure from him, any more than similar assessments by German, French, British, Russian, and Chinese intelligence agencies could be attributed to their political masters. Both David Kay and CIA Director George Tenet say they know of no such pressure. Clearly, the CIA has suffered a blow to its credibility, but when one looks at the context, the conclusion the agency reached is eminently reasonable. Consider these facts:

Only after the first Gulf War did we learn that Saddam was less than two years away from having usable nuclear weapons.

Only after his son-in-law defected in the mid-1990s did we learn about Saddam's biological weapons programs.

When the United Nations-led inspectors were ejected from Iraq in 1998, they assumed that the huge stockpiles of unaccounted WMD still existed.

Unanswered questions. What other assumptions could the intelligence analysts have made? If Saddam had destroyed his banned weapons or decided to give them up, why didn't he report it to the very agency that could have vindicated him? Why didn't he change his behavior toward the U.N. inspectors? Why, instead, did he prevent the U.N. inspectors from going where they wanted to go and seeing what they wanted to see? Why did his rhetoric continue to underscore his commitment to possessing WMD as part of his vision of Iraq as the dominant power in the region and in the Arab world?

Kay has speculated that Saddam continued to believe that he had WMD, as did most senior members of the Iraqi military complex, because his own generals and scientists lied to him about the programs. How could the CIA conclude that the Iraqis were just deceiving one another, along with everybody else — even deceiving Saddam himself in a country where he had such absolute power and where even minor infractions were punishable by death?

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Finally, there was no concrete evidence pointing to the opposite possibility, that Iraq possessed no chemical and biological capabilities, no missiles, and that Saddam had stopped trying to acquire them. Everything Saddam did gave the impression that he had something to hide, including his willingness to sacrifice over $100 billion of oil revenues and live with a regime of punishing sanctions. His push to end the U.N. inspections suggested he was attempting to free himself from supervision in order to accelerate his efforts to acquire WMD. Add to this the fact that he was not only an evil tyrant but also a reckless gambler, instinctively aggressive, operating with an intelligence of the outside world drawn almost entirely from sycophants and courtiers afraid to tell him the truth.

Let's not forget our history. We underestimated the Soviet nuclear program in 1949, China's in 1964, India's in 1974, and Iraq's in 1991. The list goes on: North Korea in 1994, Iraq again in 1995, India in 1998, Pakistan in 1998, North Korea in 2002, and Iran and Libya last year. The point is that without solid evidence to the contrary, it was virtually impossible for the intelligence services to come to conclusions any different from the ones that they did.

But that's not to excuse their mistakes. President Bush's commission must not only find out what went wrong over Iraq but also suggest how our intelligence services might be better organized to prevent future miscalculations. Let's not forget the price we paid for slashing the CIA budget in the mid-1990s, when the agency was allowed to recruit only 25 field agents a year. The CIA, under Tenet, did well after 9/11, when it used additional funds to establish alliances with foreign intelligence services with access to Arabic-speaking field agents.

But recalibrating a globe-spanning intelligence service won't be easy. The CIA must have the resources it needs to protect the nation. Fighting terrorism is too much a question of life and death to be left in the hands of politicians.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


01/13/04: Policing the corporate suites
11/25/03: Slowly but surely in Iraq
11/12/03: Holding their feet to the fire
10/29/03: Graffiti On History's Walls
09/04/03: All work and no play
08/29/03: Facing the other threat among us
07/23/03: Making odds on a recovery
07/15/03: A Kremlin conversation
06/10/03: Welcome to Sue City, U.S.A.
05/05/03: America's next critical test
04/22/03: The challenge of success
04/15/03: Shape up or step aside
04/08/03: The latest in reality TV is
04/02/03: Chirac and Saddam's thugs are two of a kind
03/26/03: War by new rules
03/05/03: The high price of waiting
02/14/03: Needed: fast fiscal action
02/03/03: Clear and compelling proof
01/24/03: Midnight for Baghdad
01/14/03: They should have said...
12/24/02: Who finances the fanatics?
12/19/02: Put-up or shut-up time
12/09/02: Sheep, wolves, and reality
11/21/02: Curing the uncommon cold
11/12/02: Everybody has the right to be wrong but the Dems have been abusing the privilege
11/05/02: Force vs. fanaticism
10/30/02: Land of the sinking sun
10/22/02: No more cat and mouse
10/15/02: And pigs will fly
10/07/02: A shameful contagion
09/26/02: Calling a madman's number
09/23/02: Our rainbow underclass
09/13/02: Why America must act
09/04/02: After bubbles, a double dip?
08/20/02: No time for equivocation
08/06/02: No time for politics
07/30/02: Getting off the dime
07/17/02: What scandal cannot dim
06/18/02: Time to crack down: Where is the outrage?
06/05/02: The next new thing
04/30/02: Roller-coaster nation
04/25/02: A critical tipping point
04/15/02: Israel's endgame will impact the free world
03/21/02: In the face of pure evil
03/14/02: A man on a mission
03/07/02: Land of the Sinking Sun
02/12/02: Speaking truth about energy
01/15/02: Putting our house in order
01/12/02: Talking points for 2002
12/24/01: The shape of things to come
12/11/01: Finally, a clarity of vision
12/04/01: Apocalypse now
11/26/01: The Big Apple's core
11/06/01: What it will take to win
10/22/01: Getting the mayor's message
10/08/01: A remedy for repair
10/01/01: A question of priorities
09/26/01: Our mission, our moment
09/11/01: Running the asylum
08/29/01: Hail, brave consumer
06/14/01: Blackouts --- or blackmail?
06/01/01: A time to reap --- and sow
05/25/01: A question of confidence
05/18/01: A question of confidence
05/04/01: Making the grade
04/26/01: The caribou conundrum
04/19/01: Chinese boomerang
03/27/01: The man of the moment
03/20/01: The Fed must be bold
03/15/01: Japan on the brink
03/01/01: Rethinking the next war
02/09/01: The education paradox
01/08/01: How the bottom fell out
01/03/01: Quipping in the new year
12/20/00: A time for healing
11/13/00: The need for legitimacy
10/30/00: Arafat's bloody cynicism
10/18/00: Arafat torches peace
10/03/00: A great step backward
09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
05/26/00: Is the Federal Reserve trigger-happy?
04/18/00: Tensions on the 'Net
04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
01/11/00: Loose lips, fast quips
12/23/99: The times of our lives
12/14/99: Hey, big spender
11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
11/04/99: An impossible partner
10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman