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Iraq War: Can Anyone Pass the Intelligence Test?
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the public debate over Iraq. President Bush, approval rating sagging, support for the war sagging, is on the stump to rally renewed support for the war (the general message being that we must stay the course until victory, and that to suggest otherwise is traitorous.) We have yet to be told exactly what would constitute victory; it isn’t as if we’re trying to capture a hill, and we’d know we had won when our flag was raised on the hilltop (I thought that happened when the Saddam statue fell.) Rather, we are assured of the importance of this nebulous and undefined objective of “victory,” and how as good Americans we must support this effort.

OK, fair enough. Today, I’ll even go that far.

But there is a growing trend in the way information, disinformation, PR, spin, the media, and politics converge and interact, and it is a disturbing trend, and Iraq provides a fertile ground (or, if you like, a fertile crescent) for understanding this troubling new dynamic.

In the run-up to the war in 2003, we were assured by the administration of several things:

· That Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to American security;

· That Saddam Hussein provided support, safe harbor, and allegiance to “the terrorists,” which we took to mean Al Qaeda, the Wahhabi fundamentalists, Osama bin Laden, and the 9/11 attackers.

· That Iraq was somehow implicated in the 9/11 attacks.


We understand, now, that none of these things was true. Even the administration is long past contending with any conviction that any of these things were ever true. Now the dialogue has shifted to, “The intelligence was faulty, the decisions were made in good conscience given faulty intel, and now that we’re there, well, Hussein sure was a bad man, and we can’t ‘cut and run.’” (Apparently there is something heinous a priori about “cutting and running.” As opposed to, say, “Dying and killing.”)

When the left enters into the current debate about the quality of the intel, they are, as usual, sadly missing the point. Because entering into this debate at all is conceding that the debate has merit, that we must understand how the administration responds to intel. When in fact they do not respond to intel at all; rather they use intel to sow the seeds of public support for the things they have already decided to do. The intel IS the response.

To place blame for policy on the interpretation of intelligence requires a belief that the intel drives policy decisions. This is a fallacy.

Rather, this administration makes policy decisions in an intelligence vacuum, based on ideology. (The neo-conservative belief that we should invade Iraq, oust Hussein, and install a Western style democracy pre-dates the Bush victory in the 2000 election; a direct consequence of that victory was that the US would act to implement that neo-con world view.)

Once the policy decision is made, then intelligence is sifted until nuggets emerge that support the decision. These nuggets are used—regardless of their veracity—to generate PR, or “spin,” in favor of the policy decision. Intel that feeds the PR machine is hyped, intel that does not is suppressed. So Bush talks about Niger and yellowcake in his state of the union, not because we believed that intel (we did not), not because it dictated our subsequent actions (it did not), but because it helped the spin to deploy public opinion accordingly.

We did not decide to invade Iraq because of some interpretation of the intel. Rather, we elevated or ignored intel based on whether or not it supported our decision to invade Iraq.

We think that the logical sequence should go, (1) collect intelligence; (2) interpret intelligence; (3) formulate action plan based on intelligence; (4) take action. But in practice, the sequence goes, (1) formulate action plan; (2) collect intelligence that supports action plan; (3) use PR machinery to disseminate selected intel as spin; (4) take action.

Consider: (1) In the wake of 9/11, the administration begins talking up a link between Al Qaeda, 9/11, and Iraq. (2) The administration goes to war in Iraq, sold as part of the “war on terrorism” which was joined on 9/11. (3) It becomes increasingly clear to the American people that no link at all existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq (indeed Bin Laden saw Hussein as an enemy—but then, the administration knew this all along, even if you did not;) (4) We are told, “It isn’t important that no link existed; what is important is that the American people had reason to believe there was such a link.”

Only, the source for such a belief was the assertions of the administration, who knew better, and the support for the assertions was bad intel, which the administration knew to be false and misleading. Knew, in the first place.

So when the left argues that the administration was cavalier in believing faulty intel, they have again missed the boat. The administration did not believe the false intel; rather, they deployed it, set it loose into the spin machine, specifically to win popular support. As soon as the discussion shifts to, how egregious was it for the administration to have believed bad intel, the wool has been successfully pulled.

The administration never believed the faulty intel. They just wanted you to think they did, because they want you to think they invaded Iraq as a result of intel (faulty or otherwise.) So when you accuse them of using faulty intel to justify the Iraq invasion, well, all they can do is sit back, toss up their hands, and cry, “Whoops! Guilty as charged.”

And again, the Democrats are left with the look on their face that the dog gets when you fake throwing the tennis ball.

There was an article in a recent Rolling Stone called The Man Who Sold the War, about John Rendon, a government contractor who operates in the world of intelligence, public relations, and propaganda. Read the article. Then read his company’s response; they contend that all they do is PR for the government. And I’ve decided that they are telling the truth.

However, when the government uses PR to “create consumer demand” (let’s call it by its name) for an unjust war that Americans would otherwise oppose, and which they now oppose anyway—well, maybe there is no such thing as “just PR.” Because we’ve come to a place where the veracity of intelligence is irrelevant, but public opinion is paramount.

Labels:


Posted by: --josh-- @ 3:32 PM  


4 Comments:
At 12/14/2005 8:18 AM, Blogger --josh-- said...   

Good comment to this, posted under the previous post.


At 12/14/2005 1:15 PM, Anonymous Annie said...   

To my mind, the title should be "A Marketer Looks at Iraq" or something along the lines, because that's eactly what you've done; broken down the war and the events leading up to it as if it were a marketing campaign--which it is, the product being that neo-con worldview.

When I was in college I used to work for my father's suppliers, research companies which coded and tabulated the raw response to public opinion polls. (I think this whole sub-industry must have gone out of business by this time; surely a computer can do the work better than a roomful of aspiring actors). The point was not to find support for the product, or even to find real opinion on the product--it was to find "intel" which could be twisted to support whatever the client wanted it to support. Eactly what you're talking about, and annoyingly unintelligent when applied to perfume or dog food. Much, much worse when it's about faith, ideology and death.


At 12/14/2005 10:02 PM, Anonymous pia said...   

Bush admitted today that we went to war using faulty intelligence and I have been sick ever since I read his admission

A dollar short and...everybody knows so now he's spinning it for him.

Great post. Loved Annie's comment about the titel


At 12/15/2005 8:32 AM, Blogger --josh-- said...   

Two smart ladies, one I know, one I do not, who's opinions I respect a whole lot. Thanks grrls.


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