Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Okay, the data sucks, but still: "faster, please"!

A commission investigating the Bush regime's intelligence failures (stop laughing) surrounding Saddam's non-existant WMDs has decided to do the public service of looking forward to see whether a similar pattern is emerging in places like Iran and North Korea. According to the New York Times, the panel "will describe American intelligence on Iran as inadequate to allow firm judgments about Iran's weapons programs." The Times continues:

The Bush administration has been issuing increasingly sharp warnings about what it says are Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons. The warnings have been met with firm denials in Tehran, which says its nuclear program is intended purely for civilian purposes.

The most complete recent statement by American agencies about Iran and its weapons, in an unclassified report sent to Congress in November by Porter J. Goss, director of central intelligence, said Iran continued "to vigorously pursue indigenous programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections in Iran for two years, has said it has not found evidence of any weapons program. But the agency has also expressed skepticism about Iran's insistence that its nuclear activities are strictly civilian. The nine-member bipartisan presidential panel, led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, had unrestricted access to the most senior people and the most sensitive documents of the intelligence agencies.

In its report, the panel is also expected to be sharply critical of American intelligence on North Korea. But in interviews, people who have been briefed on the commission's deliberations and conclusions said they regarded the record on Iran as particularly worrisome.

One person who described the panel's deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as "scandalous," given the importance and relative openness of the country, compared with such an extreme case as North Korea. That person and others who have been briefed on the panel's work would not be more specific in describing the inadequacies. But former government officials who are experts on Iran say that while American intelligence agencies have devoted enormous resources to Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979, they have had little success in the kinds of human spying necessary to understand Iranian decision-making....

In Congress, the Senate Intelligence Committee has recently begun its own review into the quality of intelligence on Iran, in what the Republican and Democratic leaders of the panel have described as an effort to pre-empt any repeat of the experience in Iraq, where prewar American assertions about illicit weapons proved to be mistaken. But Congressional officials say the language of some recent intelligence reports on Iran has included more caveats and qualifications than in the past, in what they described as the agencies' own response to the Iraq experience.

In testimony last month, intelligence officials from several agencies told Congress that they were convinced that Tehran wanted nuclear weapons, but also said the uncertainty played to Iran's advantage. "The Iranians don't necessarily have to have a successful nuclear program in order to have the deterrent value," said Carol A. Rodley, the State Department's second-ranking top intelligence official. "They merely have to convince us, others and their neighbors that they do."

Note carefully just how low a cognitive bar Rodley is setting for U.S. intelligence. And why you're taking note, don't forget that this is the bar that (presumably) determines whether or not the U.S. should "invoke the doctrine of preemption"--i.e. whether or not we should attack Iran.

Rodley is not requiring that the Irans actually have WMDs. Nor is she demanding that the United States actually know that the Iranians have or are acquiring WMDs. In fact, the cognitive threshhold for invoking the doctrine of preemption, as Rodley suggests here, has nothing to do with the Iranians at all. On the contrary, it has to do with whether or not "we," the United States, are "convinced" (i.e. that "we" have the belief) that the Irans have or are acquiring WMDs.

When people observe that current American foreign policy is driven not by reference to the external reality, but rather by our own psychological anxieties, this is what they're talking about.

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