Sunday, August 03, 2008

So, What Would Be a Realistic Intelligence Assessment

I just can't seem to drop this bone.

To repeat what I said before, the Rockefeller Report is a whitewash because it does not address the issue of political influence on the intelligence community, but it should lay to rest claims that the Bush Administration was simply the victim of bad intelligence. Let us consider, then, the intelligence community's original, unvarnished assessment of the threat posed by Saddam, errors and exaggerations included, and consider what a reality-based administration might have concluded from such an estimate.

In the intelligence community's opinion at the time Bush came to power, Saddam Hussein:
  • Did not have a nuclear weapons program because it had been shut down by UN weapons inspectors (true)
  • Had biological weapons, quantity and type unknown (false)
  • Was not producing chemical weapons on a large scale, but might have a small-scale program. His arsenal was unlikely to exceed 100 tons, and mustard gas would be easier to produce without outside help than the deadlier nerve gas. (False; he did not have chemical weapons)
  • Had a fleet of missiles in the 150-300 km range, in violation of a 150 km limit (true, but their range was only slightly more than 150 km)
  • Might have 25-30 pre-Gulf War missiles with a range of 650-900 km, capable of hitting Israel. (False; he had destroyed all pre-Gulf War missiles, and in any event, these missiles did little damage when they actually hit Israel during the Gulf War).
  • Supported secular terrorists, especially against Israel, but not Al-Qaeda (true).

So, leaving off the caveats and qualifications, the intelligence community's truly independent judgment was that Saddam had up to 100 tons of chemical weapons (probably consisting mostly of mustard gas), and unknown arsenal of biological weapons, and 25-30 missiles capable of hitting Israel but unlikely, by themselves, to cause much damage. The obvious worst-case scenario to consider here would be arming the missiles with chemical or biological warheads and using them to hit Israel. It should not have been too difficult to figure how technically feasible such an attack was and how deadly it was likely to be.

If the conclusion was that such an attack was technically feasible and apt to be highly deadly, next would be the much more vague and subjective question of how likely Saddam would be to launch such an attack. The most likely predictor would be Saddam's past behavior. He had used chemical weapons, first against the Iranian Army and later against Kurdish rebels, confident that neither could retaliate. During the Gulf War against the United States which could retaliate and promised to, Saddam did not use chemical weapons. He appeared, therefore, to be deterrable. And Israel, certainly, had the capacity to retaliate for such an attack, though it might cause wider repercussions. Most probable conclusion: Saddam was unlikely to launch biological or chemical weapons against Israel out of fear of retaliation.

The decision whether to go to war is, indeed, the realm of policy makers, not of the intelligence community, but not everything is a supportable casus belli. A technically feasible, but almost certainly deterrable, possibility of chemical or biological attack on Israel does not sound supportable as grounds for war to me.

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