This column was written by David Corn.
As part of its much belated inquiry into the prewar intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 229-page report on Friday on the intelligence produced by U.S. intelligence agencies on what could be expected to occur in Iraq following a U.S. invasion. No surprise: The intelligence community foresaw the likelihood of chaos and trouble inside and outside Iraq.
As the committee's report notes, before the war the top intelligence analysts of the United States government concluded that creating a stable democratic government in Iraq would be a difficult and "turbulent" challenge, that sectarian conflict could erupt in a post-invasion Iraq, that al Qaeda would view a U.S. invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to increase and enhance its terrorist attacks, that a heightened terrorist threat would exist for several years, that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would probably cause a rise of Islamic fundamentalism and a boost in funding for terrorist groups, and that Iran's role in the region would enlarge.
That is, prior to the war, the experts predicted the tough times to come. In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War," we reported that the intelligence community and the Pentagon had produced several estimates in early 2003 that warned about what could happen following a U.S. invasion. In his memoirs, former CIA director George Tenet quoted from some of these intelligence assessments. And the Senate Intelligence Committee report reprints two such studies. The intelligence establishment blew the WMD call — partly because it failed to accept its own skeptical intelligence evaluations — but it was largely correct about what would transpire after the United States entered Iraq.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee — now chaired by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller — blinked.
That assessment comes from one of the committee's own members: Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. In comments attached to the report, she justifiably gripes that the report ignores a critical matter — what the Bush administration did (or did not do) with all this strong intelligence. She writes:
I believe that the report could have, and should have, been much stronger and more direct on the quality and use of prewar intelligence.
In particular, the report should have included a conclusion that the quality of prewar assessments was generally high and that many of the predictions made by the Intelligence Community (IC) about postwar Iraq proved to be correct. There should also have been a conclusion that although policymakers had access to these assessments...they failed to take steps to prevent or lessen postwar challenges.
Feinstein is essentially charging that Rockefeller wimped out. He let the Bush White House off the hook. As Feinstein writes,
A more troubling aspect of prewar assessments on postwar Iraq was the extent to which they were ignored by policymakers. ... In the rare occasion that administration officials addressed the postwar environment, their statements tended to ignore or directly contradict the IC's views.
Moreover, major policy decisions, including the number of troops needed after the initial combat phase and the extent of de-Baathification in the government and security forces, flatly ignored the assessments and recommendations of intelligence officials. Similarly, intelligence recommendations to actively engage Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran, in the postwar period were dismissed.
There is a bottom-line here: Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other top administration officials shirked their duties by not planning for the troubles predicted by the intelligence community. Moreover, they misled the public by presenting images of a post-invasion Iraq not supported by the assessments produced by the government's analysts. Feinstein notes:
The Committee has seen no evidence that government officials and decision makers appropriately considered and prepared for the difficulties in the postwar environment that were predicted by the Intelligence Community. The failure to act on this intelligence is a key contributing factor to the current situation in Iraq.
The Senate Intelligence Committee dropped the ball on the most important point: how Bush and his colleagues paid little heed to reality (or predictions of a reality to come) when they took the nation to war. It's good to know that the intelligence community — which screwed up the WMD question — did get something right. (The CIA also was correct when it produced reports saying there was no evidence of an operational link between Iraq and al Qaeda — a conclusion mocked by neocons in the Bush administration.) Yet the more significant issue is how Bush and his aides handled the decision to go to war. As the report shows — without stating so — the president and his team disregarded the experts and, thus, steered the country into one helluva ditch in Iraq.
The Senate intelligence committee has yet to finish its so-called "Phase II" report on the administration's use (or abuse) of the prewar intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. That inquiry has been the subject of contention between Republicans and Democrats on the committee for the past three years. (The Democrats even shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the Republicans' reluctance to wrap up that investigation.) But if the latest committee report is any indication, Bush critics, even fellow Democrats of Jay Rockefeller, may end up disappointed when the long-awaited Phase II report finally emerges.
By David Corn
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation