It is now evident that Saddam Hussein’s possession of vast quantities of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is about as likely as Mars having canals, complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers. Remember, it wasn’t just a couple of stink bombs we accused him of possessing. According to data compiled by columnist Nicholas Kristof, the governments of the United States and (once) Great Britain told the world that Saddam had 500 tons of mustard and nerve gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum, almost 30,000 banned munitions and the tornado that abducted Dorothy. So far, all we have found is two empty trailers. Presumably, American troops had sufficient time to paint over the “Allied Van Lines” logos.
Since Saddam’s WMD were one of the principal stated reasons for this strategically curious war, their absence is something more than a social faux pas. Were the American and British publics, as Pat Buchanan puts it, lied into war? If they were, it would not be the first time. In Britain, the practice goes back at least as far as the 18th century and the War of Jenkin’s Ear. Americans were lied into World War I by cartoons of German soldiers bayoneting Belgian babies and into Vietnam by a Tonkin Gulf torpedo boat attack that never happened.
There are, of course, other possibilities. It may have been simply an intelligence failure. That is the least disturbing possibility, because the others are worse.
One is that someone in the chain of military intelligence deliberately cooked the books. If they did so, it was probably to curry favor with their political and budgetary masters, who let it be known what “findings” they wanted. This sort of corruption is now endemic in Washington. Virtually every Federal agency, including the armed forces, have accepted the rightness of doing and saying anything to get money. Budget size is the universal measurement of success, and whatever pleases those who allocate funds is wholesome and good. What John Boyd said of the Pentagon is now universal: “It is not true they have no strategy. They do have a strategy, and once you understand what it is, everything they do makes sense. The strategy is, `Don’t interrupt the money flow; add to it.'”
Another possibility is more disturbing still, and regrettably I have to say I think it is a certainty. Those who use military intelligence do not understand what it is.
Throughout history, in virtually every conflict, a universal law has applied. That law says that when it comes to military intelligence, whatever you think you know is incomplete, and some of it is wrong. You don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know how much you don’t know, and you don’t know what part of what you think you know is wrong.
As part of the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs,” which promises to turn war into a video game, many intelligence users, both military and civilian, have come to think of military intelligence as “hard data.” RMA touts have long and loudly promised perfect information, on both your own side (in war, just knowing what your own forces are doing is difficult) and the enemy. The military talks about “information dominance” (for just a few more billions), which somehow suggests one of our attractive female officers, dressed in a natty leather outfit, serving as the G-2SM, the Information Dominatrix.
It may be — though I doubt it — that our intelligence agencies really believed Saddam had all that stuff. But even if that is what they reported to the decision-makers, the decision-makers should have known better to swallow it. If they did not know that, they are not fit to be making military decisions. They lack the most basic understanding of the nature of military intelligence, a nature no technology can alter (and can easily make worse, by making the errors more convincing).
The upshot is that we went to war and wrecked a country over something that, barring an unlikely revelation, was not true. The American people don’t seem to care. Perhaps they expect to be misled by their government, or, more likely, they have just changed the channel.
But the rest of the world does care. The international credibility of American assertions based on military intelligence is now zero. When we make claims about other countries — as we are now doing about Iran — not a soul will believe them, even when they happen to be true. At this point, Americans should not believe them either.
Footnote: The U.S. is now moving rapidly to relocate its forces in South Korea well to the south of the DMZ. I suspect the real reason is to move them out of range of North Korean artillery. At present, if we launch airstrikes on North Korea, Pyongyang can respond with a massive, World War I-style artillery bombardment of U.S. ground troops that could kill thousands. The sudden withdrawal of Americans to positions south of the Han river reveals our intention to go after North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities. A possible North Korean riposte: demand Japan expel all American forces or kiss Osaka goodbye.
WILLIAM S. LIND is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.