Probe into intelligence on Iraq must help U.S. rebuild trust with others

Posted: Monday, February 16, 2004

Presidential commissions can play a key role in analyzing White House scandals. The 1986-87 Tower Commission investigated the Iran-Contra affair and concluded that by ''failing to insist upon accountability,'' President Reagan permitted dishonest staff members to try to sell arms to Iran to gain release of U.S. hostages and illegally fund Nicaraguan rebels. ...

The Bush administration's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq does not enter that category of deliberate wrongdoing, but its consequence war with Iraq is larger. The matter requires a similar panel that can conduct a comprehensive probe of the intelligence services and National Security Council. ...

The panel will have nine members. The seven named Friday (Feb. 6) by the White House are generally lackluster Washington insiders. In addition, Bush gave the panel the very narrow task of identifying intelligence errors, rather than a broad mandate to look at the administration's handling of intelligence. ...

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated at Davos, Switzerland, last month that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a warning for the U.S. not to follow the ''laws of the jungle'' and said it must meet higher standards for military action. A limited probe of the type envisioned by Bush, carried out by a less-than-best panel of experts, will do nothing to make other nations trust U.S. intentions the next time around.

Los Angeles Times

Feb. 8

Aside from the politics of the matter, enough legitimate questions about the intelligence agencies' performance exist to justify the inquiries.

Australia has already conducted a parliamentary inquiry whose results will be released on March 1. If there were any consistency in politics, the French and the Germans would be doing the same as they, like the British and the Americans, were equally misinformed about what Saddam Hussein possessed in the way of weapons of mass destruction. Everyone, from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan down, believed it. ...

Intelligence has been spectacularly wrong in the last 20 years about the strength of the Soviet Union, about nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India, and most recently about weapons programs in Libya and North Korea. Intelligence is never certain. Arguments within agencies and outside over the significance of any given piece of information acquired from a covert source occur frequently.

Ultimately, of course, it was the politicians' use of the intelligence they received that is of most importance. It is unthinkable that Bush, Blair or (Australian Prime Minister John) Howard committed their troops to war on the basis of intelligence they had manipulated or lied about. No possible short-term political advantage could outweigh the certainty that such duplicity would be found out.

The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand

Feb. 7

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