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Thursday, February 20, 2003


Update: one of the news items going around the blogs today (the 21st) is that the weapons inspectors are getting bad intelligence. Story here. The post below expresses the opinion that with cooperation from the various intelligence agencies of the U.N. member states, the inspections would be successful in fulfilling resolution 1441. While U.S. intelligence may be faulty, there are enough sources available to piece together a picture of what's actually happening in Iraq. I'd bet, for instance, that the Israelis know more about this than they're saying. (Robert Fisk, who writes for the Independent, has written that the Israelis aren't all that hot and that their reputation is larger than the reality. Nevertheless, they've consistently beat the U.S. at the intel game. More on that later)

original post:

I just watched this, an independent video report on the anti-war protests. I have a couple of observations about the video. First, this quote from an Atlantic Monthly article by Robert Kaplan in 1999:

'. . . A former British diplomat, Jonathan Clarke, wrote in his essay "Searching for the Soul of American Foreign Policy" (1995), for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, that Americans "have in fact ... a rather consistent, well-developed, and finely-calibrated feeling for what does not make sense for their nation's foreign engagements," which in Clarke's view only the illuminati mistake for isolationism.' (here)

The protesters in the video have a wide range of views on why the U.S. wants to attack Iraq, but there was little in the way of counter-argument to several of the points brought up by the interviewer. It's not that these points can't be argued, it's just that no one on the tape addressed them. So, in response I'd like to give some views on the matter. First, the above quote points to something fundamental about these protests, i.e., that American public opinion is generally a good judge of interventions. I think alot of people feel something is fundamentally wrong about going to war with Iraq, but haven't figured out what it is yet. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to discount the numerous opinion polls that point to, among other things, a strong desire for the U.S. to get U.N. support before any military operation against Iraq. This supports the theory that it's not so much the content of U.S. foreign policy that's objectionable, but its execution. Saddam Hussein has done many bad things, but that doesn't justify a unilateral U.S. strike against his country.

In an interview on NPR last night, assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pushed the notion that among U.N. security council members, only France objects to the use of force in Iraq, thus turning the "unilateralist" argument on its head -- it's France, not the U.S., that is acting unilaterally, and a French veto goes against prevailing world opinion. However, as the recent difficulty in getting Turkey to sign on has shown, there are still a number of hurdles to jump before military action can take place, and these are not limited to French objections. Of the security council members, France, Russia, and China are on record as opposing a military operation in Iraq. It may be that through bargaining that Russia has been brought on board. China has a history of abstaining from Security Council votes, so it is still a dark horse. Germany is on the council, but as an elected member and does not have veto power. The evidence is against Wolfowitz' argument -- at the moment, France does not stand alone in its objection to the use of military force. At the same time, the U.S. doesn't stand alone, either, so technically it can't be charged with acting unilaterally.

Getting back to the tape, the interviewer asked what should be done to disarm Saddam Hussein. One answer would be to give the weapons inspectors full access to all of the intelligence about Iraq that's been gathered by U.N. member countries. If the U.S. or anyone else knows where these weapons are (see my post below about a possible scenario), it is their job to relay this information to the inspectors, along with the raw intelligence that supports their position. A number of propositions have been made about beefing up the inspections teams, and there have been complaints by the inspectors that the U.S. is not cooperating fully with its intelligence. This brings up two issuse. First, resolution 1441 establishes that all member countries should provide intelligence that will help the inspectors find WMDs or Chemical and Biological weapons (those are two distinct groups. Chemical and Biological weapons don't cause "mass destruction"). Second, if member countries _are_ complying with weapons inspectors on this score, then that would mean the intelligence available is spotty at best, and at worst non-existant, to support the notion that Iraq possesses these weapons. The quality of intelligence gathering by the CIA is quite low, being dependent primarily on electronic surveillence. A number of agents who have left the CIA point out this fundamental flaw in U.S. intelligence gathering (specifically John Stockwell, although there are more recent examples whose names escape me at the moment). I suspect that really solid intelligence on Iraqi weapons doesn't exist -- the evidence presented to the Security Council came primarily from a public CIA document on the subject published in October 2002, with a couple of satellite photos and phone conversations thrown in for good measure. The human intelligence cited in the report came from defectors and captured suspects who may have been interrogated under dubious circumstances (i.e., the information came after the use of torture). The administration downplays the intelligence aspect of the inspections by saying that the inspectors aren't in Iraq to play a "shell game", but rather to "verify" that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. The problem is, we have to know conclusively what happened to the materials Iraq had after the Gulf War, and to do this we need to know either a.) where and how this material was disposed, and b.) if it wasn't disposed, where it is now in order to verify its existance or non-existance. The administration argument on this point is that Saddam hasn't provided part a. However, if part a can't be fulfilled, then we must move on to part b. Either the inspectors or the world's intelligence agencies need to determine where these weapons are in order to verify that they are still around. In any case, an inspection regime backed by the full force of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States, Israel, Britain, Russia, and etc. would be able to fulfill its mission by either verifying that these weapons have been destroyed or by finding them. Until then, the inspections are not finished and should continue.

To sum up; don't discount the protesters simply because their motives and explanations seem simplistic -- for the most part, the whole of the debate on Iraq has so far been simplistic so it's no suprise that this has affected people on both sides of the argument. Second, even though these arguments are simplistic, the protesters represent a majority of Americans, and possibly world citizens, who do not want a unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq. Third, despite attempts to paint the opposition to war as being in the minority, both in the U.S. and in the Security Council, the U.S. is actually in the minority in both spheres. Finally, an inspection regime based on full access to all the intelligence available on Iraq would be able to effectively fulfill the madate of resolution 1441 and disarm Saddam Hussein.

O.k., enough for now. Hopefully the public debate on Iraq will rise above simplistic assumptions and the usual arguments -- beyond these lie a number of tricky questions that have yet to be addressed. Over the next couple of days I'll try and post some of these questions. As a starting point, consider the following argument: During the twentieth century, the number of democracies in the world increased from only a handful to over 50. Some people believe that a war against Iraq is justified because it will facilitate the spread of democracy in the region, thus furthering this trend. Discuss.

Andrew 12:04 PM : |


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