Lowered Standards for Intelligence

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There's a new argument against Bush. It's not completely new, but it's taken a new form with Richard Clarke's testimony. See here for one example among many. Apparently the Bush Administration is responsible for basing an attack against Iraq on intelligence that was faulty. The problem so far has been that they didn't have high enough standards in weighing the intelligence to determine that such an attack was necessary. (I still think it turns out that the connections between some of Saddam's men in higher positions and some higher-up al Qaeda figures plus the existence of WMD in even the small quantities attested to by David Kay should be enough to warrant careful consideration of dealing with someone who had made the threats Saddam had made.)

Well, now we have a new problem (at least in relation to the one they've been focusing on). Now they're saying that Bush should have paid more attention to the intelligence reports suggesting al Qaeda was going to do something. In the light of those objections, defenders of the Bush Administration have pointed out that the Clinton Administration had the same intelligence and didn't do anything, even giving up a couple opportunities to get Usama bin Laden. In front of the 9-11 commission now, the Clinton Administration officials have been defending their lack of action by saying they didn't think the intelligence was strong enough to be worth the potential negative consequences. The 9-11 commission isn't buying it. They think the threat was serious enough that they should have done something. The Clinton and Bush Administrations both bear the brunt of this criticism if it's a good one.

Now the liberals pushing such an argument can't have their cake and eat it too. Once they accept this argument, they can't criticize the military action in Iraq very easily. If lowered standards for accepting questionable intelligence were necessary given what they knew about the threat before 9-11, then how is it that the Bush Adminstration can be blamed for using lowered standards with respect to intelligence once it became clear how much more of a threat al Qaeda turned out to be after 9-11? In supporting this investigation of the Bush Administration before 9-11, liberals against the Iraq conflict are going to end up with two consequences they won't like:

1. Any criticism of Bush on this issue equally applies to Clinton.
2. This will undermine the main arguments against Bush on Iraq.

2 Comments

J., from the article you linked to, and what I've heard about Clarke, Clarke's main criticisms of the Bush administration are:
1. That before 9/11, terrorism and al-Qaeda were important, but not urgent concerns.
2. That going to war in Iraq has hurt the fight against terror.
3. That the Bush administration was focused inordinately on invading Iraq from the very beginning.
(Clarke did not criticize Bush too much publically about going to war over WMD's, although I'm sure he did in the book).
#1 Bush admitted himself, in an interview with Woodward, #2 is debatable, but it is obvious that resources were taken from Afghanistan to Iraq, and that the connection between Iraq and terrorism is marginal at best (even Bush in an interview said as much), and #3 is true unless you believe that Clarke is lying.
-Also, Clarke has criticized the Clinton White House. He said that they did a poor job as well.
So, I guess I don't see what the problems are with Clarke, while it is possible some folk could go wrong with interpreting him.
As far as the lowered standards, this seems to mix up the al-Qaeda intelligence w/the Iraq WMD intelligence. Nobody thinks the former is bad, only the latter. It's the action on the latter, dubious, intelligence, and ignoring of the former, good intelligence (by both the Bush and Clinton White Houses) that is so disturbing.

Evaluating Clarke's own claims is something I'm not willing to do until more information has become clear. Josh Claybourn says some good stuff on why this is a good idea.

My point was about how some Bush critics have used some of what Clarke has said. There are two things you can't say at once without a really good way to resolve the inconsistency, since either seems to undermine the other. It was about whether a lower standard for accepting intelligence information is justified by an increased threat. That's common to both cases.

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