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Uncertainty Kills

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U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan – Public Domain

Interesting find by Politico, but gets a key part of the story fundamentally wrong:

The [Joint Chiefs of Staff] report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew—or more importantly didn’t know—about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”

Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.

The article goes on to contrast the uncertainty described in the report with the public statements of Bush administration officials. It’s fair to acknowledge that there’s a significant disjuncture between the certainty with which the Bush admin publicly described intel, and the much more mushy reality of what the US intelligence community (IC) could prove. That said, in other cases officials made the case for war in terms of uncertainty; Condi Rice’s “Mushroom Cloud” comment was premised on precisely these terms.

And inside the administration, the uncertainty regarding the state of Iraqi WMD was viewed as a cause for war, in and of itself. Charles Duelfer is very good on this point; he was far from certain that Iraq had WMD, but he favored war because it was impossible to tell for sure. That may sound a bit crazy, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 this kind of argument carried a lot of weight within the national security community. To the extent that arguments were used strategically within the administration (not everyone was convinced that invading Iraq was a good idea; Colin Powell is the best example, but there are others) the “we don’t have enough intel to prove what Iraq is doing” case tended to support the hawks.

And so it’s really not the case that the distribution of a document raising caveats about the state of intel on Iraq might have slowed the rush to war; uncertainty was one of the key talking points of hawks within the administration (above and beyond all of the other reasons they wanted to invade Iraq). Rumsfeld may have decided not to distribute the report simply because he felt it unnecessary at that point to add to the case for war.

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  • mikeSchilling

    Uncertainty Kills

    Which is why Walter White called his criminal persona Heisenberg.

  • Honoré De Ballsack

    And so it’s really not the case that the distribution of a document raising caveats about the state of intel on Iraq might have slowed the rush to war; uncertainty was one of the key talking points of hawks within the administration…

    Robert: I’m not sure what the point of your post is–because the Iraq war was manifestly, obviously horseshit, all the way down, from the very beginning. Anyone who watched Colin Powell’s absurd half-assed justifications to the UN could see that, and it just went downhill from there.

    • Vance Maverick

      Granted that it was all factually horseshit — there was still a lot of effective persuasion going on, a tide of conviction. I would like to think that something could have turned that tide — but what? It’s a valid question even if we bracket the issue of veracity.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        Granted that it was all factually horseshit — there was still a lot of effective persuasion going on, a tide of conviction.

        With all due respect, I don’t even know what “effective persuasion” is supposed to mean–other than that a majority of Americans are so easily moved by a transparently emotional appeal for “revenge” that they’ll support a war on an already-gutless “enemy” that didn’t even attack them. (And yes, I *know* that’s the America we live in–which is why Mr. Farley’s post seems so disingenuous.)

        • Vance Maverick

          We’re saying the same thing. Going to war became intensely popular. How can we prevent that, next time around?

          • LosGatosCA

            Sadly, you can’t – under those/similar circumstances.

            Even if Gore had been president, he would have only been able to channel the anger in a different direction – caught bin laden in Afghanistan and settled the score without going into Iraq.

            I firmly believe Bush/Cheney did not close on Osama because the war fever would have subsided with Osama gone which meant going into Iraq would have required a better case than they had. If Osama was dead in the spring of 2002, the midterms later in the year are likely different and Iraqi invasion is unlikely.

            I also think that Bush/Cheney bought their own bullshit and thought they would be done in Iraq within 6 months and then go back and get bin laden in Afghan/Pakistan.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              I totally disagree with this effort to blame the war on the American people. Even after months of bullshit from the Administration and its enablers in both parties and the media, the public was deeply divided on war. Polls suggested that even on the eve of war, no more than 60% of the public favored invasion. There was a lot more opposition from the public at large than from the foreign policy elite in government and the media. It really won’t do to blame this war on the feelings of the American people.

              • LosGatosCA

                Polls suggested that even on the eve of war, no more than 60% of the public favored invasion.

                OK – I’m going to blame the war on no more 60% of the American people.

                That’s a landslide in electoral politics.

                And 40% is in the neighborhood of 40M+ voters who had no influence whatsoever on the path the nation took.

                That’s democracy in action, as disgraceful as it might be. A clear majority of people were blood thirsty unthinking sheep easily led by all sorts of evil people they had just supported in the 2002 midterms and would again in 2004.

                It’s an unpleasant fact. But, it’s a fact.

                • Barry_D

                  “OK – I’m going to blame the war on no more 60% of the American people.

                  That’s a landslide in electoral politics.”

                  Did you read his comment?

                  “Even after months of bullshit from the Administration and its enablers in both parties and the media, the public was deeply divided on war.”

                  Adding on from others’ comments, this was also shortly after 9/11 – look that up on Wikipedia.

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  the continuing failure of presidential candidate Jeb Bush and Trump being able to say the war in Iraq was stupid without hurting *his* candidacy seem to indicate that if the people manage to learn a lesson they keep it learned

            • twbb

              he would have only been able to channel the anger in a different direction – caught bin laden in Afghanistan and settled the score without going into Iraq.

              “Only”?

      • AMK

        People in the news media could have taken half a minute to do their jobs before fitting themselves for pom-poms and miniskirts—but that wasn’t going to happen in the post 9/11 hysteria market.

        Congress could have done its job. Nope.

        People with doubts in the CIA and State Department could have found actionable intel on the location of their balls.

        The military brass could have pushed back much harder. More difficult for them than for the news media and Congress, for sure, but could and should have happened.

        The British could have taken a stand, but Tony Blair really enjoyed getting toasted by the Washington big-boy table and having an all-access pass to dumbfuck ranch. Even then, the invasion would probably still have gone forward….its not like the UK was militarily neccesary.

        Saddam and his sons (who thought Dubya & co were bluffing right up until the first airstrikes) could have voluntarily stepped aside for Chalabi or some other puppet/grifter—but again, unless the new leader’s first act in power was to rename Basra Halliburton City, the thing would still have proceeded.

      • LosGatosCA

        I would like to think that something could have turned that tide

        Millions of people (not tens of thousands as reported) in the streets all around the country (SF, NY, etc.) protesting the war Did.Not.Make.A.Dent in the momentum.

        Goring said it right:

        “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

        And when they are actually attacked? The truth cannot distract them from revenge.

        • Scott P.

          So the people are gulled and easily lead into war. At the same time the people don’t want to go to war and are protesting in the streets. Something doesn’t compute here.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            it might depend on who the government *wants* to listen to

          • LosGatosCA

            They aren’t the same people.

            There are over 300M citizens in the US. My point wasn’t that there are more people against the war than for it. It’s a fact there weren’t. The 2002 midterms confirmed that.

            My point was that even a significant effort on the part of citizens opposed to the war had zero impact on the war momentum because the political establishment, the media, and their fellow citizens had no interest in paying any attention to anything that didn’t confirm that war was a good thing.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Polls during the run-up to war suggest otherwise. There was unstoppable momentum. But it came from the political establishment and the media, not the public at large. I’m not sure what the 2002 elections prove about public opinion on War in Iraq. They were hardly a referendum on the War. Congress had passed the AUMF a month earlier. It was supported by both the Democratic Senate majority leadership and the Democratic House minority leadership. Turnout in November was, typically for a midterm, low at around 37%.

              • mark

                Your link really doesn’t make that case. The number who support war seems to always be larger than the number that do. 52% even before 9/11 (?!), and generally around 60% in the months before the invasion. The closest you get to antiwar is when there is an option to “do inspections first” or”get UN sanctions first”, people choose that.

                • LosGatosCA

                  Exactly.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  I’m not claiming the public was against the war. I’m claiming they weren’t clamoring for it. As you say, polls that gave the public more than just a yes-no option on war made support for immediate invasion drop below 50%. What made the war inevitable was the level of elite support not the support from the broader public.

    • Hogan

      Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.

      Is the point.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        Instead, the report disappeared…

        Of COURSE it disappeared. Are you surprised? And even if it hadn’t disappeared, we would’ve gone to war anyway. I don’t want to seem unduly nihilistic (and I still retain some faith in democracy)–but in the post-9/11 era, the common clay of the New West were overwhelmingly in favor of giving the government a blank check to kill all the brown people. The legal details are, in 2016, just footnotes.

        • LosGatosCA

          Also, too, gambling. I’m shocked.

        • Hogan

          And even if it hadn’t disappeared, we would’ve gone to war anyway.

          Is Rob’s point.

    • wengler

      I was alive at the time and paying attention. I can’t endorse this opinion enough.

      Also implying that the Bush administration cared about the truth requires evidence.

  • uncertainty was one of the key talking points of hawks within the administration

    That uncertainty was itself the result of considerable effort, stove-piping and B-team activity, was it not? Necessary to override a convincing body of evidence that Iraq was not engaged in nuclear or chemical weapons research?

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      it still kind of amazes me to think I could read a front page article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette parroting the latest Rumsfeld line and yet on page 13 of the very same edition read an article quoting Scott Ritter or Hans Blix in contradiction. It was awfully hard to get anyone else to read the back page news though. I think if it was all happening again today I wouldn’t be able to find anything opposite to the administration’s position in the papers

    • Warren Terra

      I am reminded of the famous seized shipment of aluminum tubes. They seized 60,000 tubes, half the diameter require for any centrifuge design Iraq possessed (and on the edge of being too small to work at all) but perfectly sized for making rockets. There was no evidence of a procurement program to build tens of thousand of high-speed gas centrifuges that would require these tubes. But nonetheless not just the people close to the White House but apparently people at all levels bent over backwards to insist that these tubes proved Iraq was on the very verge of going nuclear.

  • MacK

    One of the issues was that Saddam was very much riding a tiger – and part of what was keeping him on the tiger’s back was the uncertainty as to whether he had WMD and what its nature might be. The prewar demands were that he end all ambiguity – and, in fact he went a long way towards doing that – but giving it up that ambiguity entirely, when for example it helped keep the Iranians and Syrians at bay….it was obvious why he would not.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      wasn’t there also some talk that Saddam’s own people had lied to him about what they really had in order to preserve their own skins?

    • LosGatosCA

      It was liar’s dice all the way.

      Saddam’s game was excellent (from his viewpoint) all deterrence, virtually no cost.

      Until 9/11 upset his game in a way he could never have expected.

      • MacK

        The problem though is that the idea that he had any nuclear weapons was extremely unlikely – so that left chemical weapons, which would have needed some infrastructure that could be searched for. Biological weapons – it’s harder to say.

        But I think that the US, Russians etc. had the ability to find out had they taken the time to do so. Confirmation bias drove the Bush administrations analysis – at all times ignoring Saddam’s need to bluff.

        • LosGatosCA

          They had 12 years to find out.

          Confirming a negative when the target is deliberately playing a charade to imply a positive is pretty difficult.

          Who in the MIIC is going to EVER say, ‘He’s just bluffing, there’s no threat?’

          And his regional enemies are thinking, ‘If the US is investing all that time/effort to contain and inspect him, how can we simply assume he’s bluffing?’

          Saddam ran a pretty smart con that was foolproof (for himself) until 9/11 upset the apple cart.

        • Warren Terra

          Also: no-one was afraid of chemical weapons, at least in part because any fool can make them, perhaps not as well as a dedicated industrial state but quite scarily enough. Consider the Aum Shinrikyo for example, or just ask anyone who’s foolishly mixed bleach and drain cleaner. Yes, Saddam horrifyingly used chemical weapons on civilians (not to mention on Iranian troops), but no-one feared he might distribute freshman Chemistry textbooks to terrorists.

          Biological weapons are a more serious threat that hobbyists generally can’t make at home without some institutional support – but also something anyone could cook up at home, if they had a few thousand bucks, a little basic knowledge, and (and this is the hard part) access to the right starter cultures, which are fairly closely controlled (but were much less so before the Anthrax Attacks). Making something that can actually be delivered is harder, maybe impossible (any high school student can grow bacteria, maybe even safely; making aerosolized infectious spores is something the militaries of powerful countries learn to do in secret), but just getting something you can call a biological weapon and scare people with wouldn’t be too hard, so long as you can raid your country’s equivalent of the CDC for the starter culture.

          • MacK

            Chemical weapons used on a military scale – more than bathtub sarin in a metro needs large quantities, handling and delivery systems and hence an infrastructure, well at least for effective ones.

            • Warren Terra

              This is true, but Americans weren’t told to be afraid Saddam might have artillery companies armed with chemical weapons, they were told to be afraid Saddam might give his international terrorist buddies WMD – and in the case of chemical weapons that’s an absurd argument, because they can whip up a bathtub full at home.

        • AMK

          Confirmation bias?

          These people made the decision to invade Iraq on day one, and 9/11 gave them the perfect opportunity to set the plans in motion. This wasn’t the product of some botched experiment or poorly-designed survey where better evidence could have yielded better results and avoided a “mistake.” This was what happens when you allow the modern GOP combination of biblemonkey ignorance, unhinged hubris, besuited sociopathy and Likudnik treason to run amok in the halls of government. It’s that fucking simple.

          • LosGatosCA

            These people made the decision to invade Iraq on day one,

            Wrong. They made the decision to invade Iraq on day minus (est) 2100. June 3, 1997.

            They just waited for the opportunity to implement the decision.

          • MacK

            Confirmation bias,

            Yes – what you said is true – but their desire for a pretext drove that bias. They saw what they wanted to see.

          • Ronan

            What? This is a nice bit of rhetoric, but wasn’t the decision made post 9/11. It was absolutely driven by the 9/11 attacks, at least for Bush , at least afaicr the research on it. You might have had people in or close to the admin who wanted to remove sadaam , but 9/11 didn’t just give them a pretext , it changed the perspective in the executive and national security institutions .

      • 9/11 was only the excuse. They’d have found another one (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, JEB BUSH, and so on going back to the 1998 PNAC); it wasn’t even a good excuse. 9/11 delayed their plans, if anything, forcing them to allow the distraction of a war in Afghanistan, but they recovered their momentum quickly.

  • Joe_JP

    Rummy is going to be on Stephen Colbert on Monday.

    If nine Republicans go on the show, does he get a free sub?

    • LosGatosCA

      If I ever watched TV, I’d boycott that show.

      But since I boycott TV generally, except for sports/movies, they won’t miss me.

      • Joe_JP

        He has had some great guests. And, when someone asked, even wore a Black Lives Matters wristband. Had numerous Republican candidates on too though.

        • LosGatosCA

          Sorry, I meant the show with Rummy on it, not the show generally.

  • Murc

    not everyone was convinced that invading Iraq was a good idea; Colin Powell is the best example, but there are others

    Bullshit. Colin Powell thought going to Iraq was a great idea. He got up in front of the UN and lied and lied and lied to make it happen.

    • LosGatosCA

      Colin Powell is the second most overrated POS in recent American history. Kissinger is #1.

      Scalia, Greenspan, and WFB round out the top 5.

      • Murc

        Well, I mean… Kissinger is certainly excellent at what he does.

        He’s just evil.

        It’s a black mark on every DoJ since Ford’s that Kissinger hasn’t been thrown into a cell to rot. There are a lot of AG’s that should be deeply, cripplingly ashamed of themselves.

        • LosGatosCA

          Kissinger is certainly excellent at what he does.

          If you mean, making Kissinger rich, and presenting himself as a wise man. then yes I would agree.

          If you mean protecting/projecting American interests (as opposed to just the interests that will make him rich) then I think the record is pretty clear that no, American interests were not well served by him at any point. He was never half as clever or effective as his PR made him out to be.

        • twbb

          More than money Kissinger values his historical reputation. I am rapidly losing hope that he lives to see that reputation trashed beyond all recovery. The weirdest thing is the continued insistence by centrist Democrats (including both Clintons) to treat him as an elder statesman, which makes no sense. I mean, the Reagan-praise is annoying but understandable, but trashing Kissinger would not incur any significant electoral cost.

  • efgoldman

    Rumsfeld may have decided not to distribute the report simply because he felt it unnecessary at that point to add to the case for war.

    Occam says Rummy, W and Darth Cheney were a bunch of lying sacks of shit that got thousands of people killed, started the disintegration of the Middle East, routinized torture, and in effect created ISIS.
    I don’t believe in an afterlife, but those guys should burn in hell forever. And their enablers on the NY Times should have the next suite over.

    • LosGatosCA

      Agreed. Plenty of other quislings that belong with them too.

      I’m sure Michael Kelly will greet them when they enter that yet to be discovered circle of Hell.

    • AMK

      Cheney’s not going to last much longer, and I have no idea about Rummy’s health, but Bush is still in his 60s and a fitness nut, and plenty of the neocons are younger. I hope to God these people live another 20 or 30 years….long enough to see themselves really chiseled into history as universal bywords for failure, even in fucking Midland Texas. When the country has changed enough to make prosecution politically feasible, maybe a few will still be kicking, though I doubt it.

      Actually, Cheney will always have a little gold-star footnote for openly endorsing gay marriage, even if he wasn’t loud about it. Goddamn it.

      • Actually, Cheney will always have a little gold-star footnote for openly endorsing gay marriage

        Maybe that Stalinist Liz will succeed in airbrushing it out of the picture in her coming congressional campaign.

    • Occam is a very good judge, though I still think W’s stupidity was more than just a pose. Don’t leave out Wolfowitz! The most capable of understanding how bad it was and in that sense the most evil of all.

      • LosGatosCA

        I never thought Bush was as stupid as clearly as he was willfully ignorant and intellectually lazy, very narrow focus and perfectly willing to be the front man, please don’t complicate things with details.

        And Wolfowitz is another pretty highly overrated POS. Even Brzezinski thought Paul was a serious person, until of course he was exposed as being so far in over his head it was, sadly, laughable. Remember his Turkey visit before the Iraq War. The guy was a joke from the word go.

        Nothing he has done since has broken his pattern of poor judgment/underachievement. At some point it’s not underachieving, its just what he is.

        No matter what score he may have on his SATs his functional IQ is no better than Bush.

        • The Texas Air National Guard let him fly. Not just any airplane, but a supersonic, nuclear armed interceptor. That tells me, that in situations where diligent study could keep his butt out of having to personally fight a war in southeast Asia, he can rise to the occasion. But yes, absent a threat to the integrity of his own hide, he doesn’t seem to be very motivated towards study.

      • efgoldman

        Don’t leave out Wolfowitz!

        Wolfowitz, Feith, Woo, Bybee, Libby, and the rest of the second-level assholes wouldn’t have done what they did without orders and support from the top. Ar any time, W could have said no.
        Nevertheless, they have a dormitory down the hall. No suite for them.

        ETA: And no, it doesn’t do to say W was an incurious dullard who didn’t care to know. Harry Truman had a sign in the oval office…..

        • LosGatosCA

          It doesn’t matter what sign you have in your office – an unmotivated jackass like GWB can easily ignore it.

          Bush was hired (by the same Republican establishment that hired Dan Q) to be the greeter at the car dealership.

          Cheney would hire the staff, approve all the shady deals, run the bait and switch ads,. Rumsfeld was to run the service shop, rip off the customers, and keep the money flowing to the silent partners.

          Rove was hired to convince enough voters this wasn’t a Potemkin operation by putting some window dressing (Colin Powell, DiLulio) that would make the rubes think it was a legit operation.

          So, Bush wasn’t the president – he was play acting ‘the decider’ while not interfering with the operation.

          I don’t excuse him in the least, he’s a war criminal and an accomplice to mass corruption and incompetence just the same as if they were his ideas.

          • CP

            So, Bush wasn’t the president – he was play acting ‘the decider’ while not interfering with the operation.

            I seem to recall that in his second term, Cheney and his whole faction were pushing hard for a third war on the region, this one with Iran, and Bush was the one who said “no, we’re not going to do that.” He also finally had the good sense to fire Rumsfeld after the shellacking he took in the 2006 midterms, and replace him with someone who was at least capable of thinking outside the narrow, ideologically circumcised box that is neoconservatism.

            As President, Bush did have the power to override the people who set themselves up as his puppetmasters, as he eventually did. He just wasn’t interested in doing so until far too late in his presidency, once the bulk of the bad work was already done. For most of his time in office, he was happy to be, as you say, nothing but the public greeter at the car dealership.

            (And yes, this absolutely makes him guilty as a war criminal and accomplice to mass corruption and incompetence).

    • Cheap Wino

      I would pay cold hard cash to see an Iraq war veteran or Iraqi whose loved ones were killed repeatedly punch Rumsfeld and Cheney in the face. With malice. There are more blatantly evil people in the world (Boko Harum, ISIS, yada, yada) but those guys were the central figures in an evil scheme that cost over a million people their lives and changed countless others lives for the worse. And they have no god damn excuse for it. They were raised in the height of privilege with all the opportunity anyone could possibly imagine and they turned it into horrible death and misery for millions.

      There is no being reasonable about this. FUCK THOSE BASTARDS. I cannot think about what they did without getting spittle flecking angry. That they live lives of wealth and ease is a horrifying reflection on humanity.

      • Lee Rudolph

        They were raised in the height of privilege with all the opportunity anyone could possibly imagine and they turned it into horrible death and misery for millions.

        That was their preferred exercise of all that opportunity; what’s your problem?

    • Brian Schmidt

      I respect Farley but the idea that uncertainty aided the case for war, and Rumsfeld just didn’t see the need to use the argument, makes no sense to me. If that’s true then the contrary argument should apply – that certainty about WMDs would’ve weakened the case for war.

      I think that if you accept there were some people in the Bush Admin. that personally wanted a level of certainty over WMDs, then this report would’ve made them say, “so what can we do to raise our level of certainty? More inspections? More analysis of who this Curveball guy really is?” I think that possibility is more likely an explanation of why Rumsfeld kept this paper hidden from others in the Administration (along with a fear that it might somehow get to the public).

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    If evidence proves your case, and the absence of evidence also proves your case…

  • So Rumsfeld was even lying when it was in poetry. Those unknown unknowns were actually mostly known unknowns.

  • heckblazer

    Too bad Cheney’s “1% Doctrine” only applied to blowing shit up in the Middle East and not to national security threats like global warming.

    • Brad Nailer

      “Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists agree” leaves one percent who don’t. Sounds like the Cheney-logic in action.

      • NonyNony

        You say this kind of glibly, but it’s exactly right.

        There could be a 1% chance that Hussein is a threat to Cheney’s interests and that’s enough justification to go to war.

        There could a 1% chance that global warming will cut into Cheney’s personal fortune[*] and that would be enough to go to war against the scientists suggesting anthropocentric global warming.

        You just have to position yourself in Cheney’s shoes to understand what a “threat” is, and once you’ve got that it all makes complete sense.

        [*] I’d say “or his crony’s fortunes” here but everyone knows that Cheney is more likely to shoot a crony in the face than he is to do something to help him that doesn’t also help Dick Cheney.

  • patrick II

    First, about uncertainty — the man sitting in the booth behind me ( I am in a restaurant right now) might be planning to kill me. I can’t be sure he isn’t. Maybe I should kill him first? But before I pick up my butterknife, and before we start a war costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, you need some judgement about what those chances actually might be.
    As for the threat of WMD, that had nothing to do it. Most of the people we are talking about in this thread signed a letter to Clinton asking him to start a war with Iraq before they ever got to the white house. War was inevitable from the day Bush was elected president. Cheney wanted war for oil, the neo-cons for their mid-east dreams, and Bush himself to fulfill his oedipal need to fix his father’s apparent failure’s — the cautious, non-vision manner, the “no new taxes” pledge, and the unfinished war with Iraq.
    As for the WMD, one memo one way or another did not matter anyway, because we were going to use possible WMD as an excuse anyway.

    The Bush administration focused on alleged weapons of mass destruction as the primary justification for toppling Saddam Hussein by force because it was politically convenient, a top-level official at the Pentagon has acknowledged.

    The extraordinary admission comes in an interview with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defence Secretary, in the July (2003) issue of the magazine Vanity Fair…

    “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,” Mr Wolfowitz tells the magazine.

  • A couple years ago, Corey Robin wrote a long piece that, among other things, traced this style of treating vague notions that some serious threat to the nation exists as all the proof necessary for extreme actions back to Hobbes. This bit is particularly relevant to the example at hand:

    But how does a state make a particular danger or disaster that lies far off appear up close? How does it turn hypothetical dangers into immediate threats? By developing an intellectual apparatus that dispenses with the ordinary requirements of evidence and proof, by articulating a set of arguments, and pithy slogans, that enables the state to take extraordinary measures against postulated perils: fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here; the Domino Theory; MAD and other theories of nuclear deterrence.

    It was Cardinal Richelieu, of all people, who declared, “In normal affairs, the administration of justice requires authentic proofs; but it is not the same in affairs of state. . . . There urgent conjecture must sometimes take the place of proof; the loss of the particular is not comparable with the salvation of the state.” The more severe the threat, the less proof we require that it is real in order to take action against it; the less severe the threat, the more proof we require of its reality in order to take action against it. If we underestimate serious threats, the consequences will be great — so great, suggests Richelieu, that we may have no choice but to overestimate them.

    In 1950, Learned Hand invoked a similar rule in his decision in United States v. Dennis: in or order to decide whether or not to suppress the rights of the leadership of the Communist Party, Hand wrote, government officials must first weigh “the gravity of the ‘evil’” — and then make sure that that gravity is “discounted by its improbability.” The graver the evil they (or any other threat) pose, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it. Or, to put it another way, if an evil is truly terrible but not very likely to occur, we may still take preemptive action against it.

  • addicted44

    And so it’s really not the case that the distribution of a document raising caveats about the state of intel on Iraq might have slowed the rush to war

    This may have been true for the members of the administration, but it almost certainly wasn’t true for the American people (and definitely not true for the international allies).

    Knowing about the uncertainty of the intel regd. Iraqi WMDs would have almost certainly reduced American support, and would have destroyed any international support.

    • LosGatosCA

      There was no significant international support beyond the UK in any case.

      • Hogan

        You forgot Poland!

  • CSI

    Any significant NBC program or stockpile would have vindicated the neo-cons. It must have seemed like a sure thing. Why wouldn’t a brutal dictator have stockpiles of nerve gas, at the very least?

    The reality was unexpected and probably the worst outcome for their cause. Saddam had dismantled all his programs and disposed of stockpiles. The big question is why didn’t Saddam do what he could to satisfy demands of inspections. Or was it even possible to satisfy the Bush administration in the runup to the invasion, so convinced were they of the righteousness of their cause?

    • Warren Terra

      I don’t remember Saddam flouting the inspectors all that much, especially when you consider the degree of violation of sovereignty their demands sometimes posed. Sure, he refused to reveal his vast stashes of WMD, but then again he didn’t have any. It’s really not clear there was any way he could have satisfied the Bush administration, especially not without so undermining his authority within Iraq he’d get himself killed anyway. Can you think of any?

      • Doubtful he could have done anything.

        We’d have just kept moving the goalpost so that he could never satisfy our demands.

    • Barry_D

      The big question is why didn’t Saddam do what he could to satisfy demands of inspections.

      He did.

      Read Hans Blix’ report. To me, the short version would be: there are no WMD’s, but I can’t say so.

  • GregSanders

    I disagree with Prof. Farley’s analysis here because the uncertainty hawks were only one prominent faction within a coalition in support of the war. As other commenters have pointed out and the Politico article points out, there were a range of public arguments that were predicated on certainty. Indeed, there’s the classic two step argument 1) we know Saddam has a massive WMD program 2) well maybe there’s things we don’t know, but that just makes him more dangerous. Proponents could go from #1 to #2 and back again with ease.

    A report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have given valuable top cover to anyone seeking to argue against point #1. I don’t think this document stops the war, but I do think it peels off weak supporters and gives a valuable tool to establishment opponents. As I’d say the uncertainty hawks were the among the less convincing faction to the other side. In disagreement with Honoré De Ballsack, Colin Powell’s presentation was the sort of thing that was cited by weak supporters while the 1% doctrine and the mushroom cloud speech were even then derided by weak supporters as nonsense.

    • Kurzleg

      I don’t think this document stops the war, but I do think it peels off weak supporters and gives a valuable tool to establishment opponents.

      Especially in view of the fact that there was a lack of documentation about the intelligence. Adding a piece that came from the Joint Chiefs would have been helpful, if not definitive in changing the course of things.

  • calling all toasters

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that we would want to invade a country that has weapons of mass destruction. Wouldn’t they tend to use them when invaded? Is that what we wanted?

    • patrick II

      It is certainly the premise of at least two countries that nuclear weapons would be a deterrent to invasion by the U.S.. In his state of the union address Bush names Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil”. We invaded one and the other two stepped up their nuclear weapons programs. We aren’t about to invade North Korea no matter how crazy they get — they have their bomb.

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