Intelligence failures: Russiagate and the Iraq invasion of 2003

In the wake of the breaking "Russiagate" scandal, a lot of comparisons are being made to Watergate and "WMD."  WMD refers to the "weapons of mass destruction" rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Since no WMD stockpiles were found post-invasion, it became fashionable to cite the WMD hype as nothing more than Republican war-mongering and intelligence failure.

Not so fast.

U.S. intelligence on the Iraqi WMD program was certainly flawed in the run-up to the invasion.  But the Iraqi program definitely did exist, at least as regards chemical weapons capability and the desire to acquire nuclear weapons.  The existence of Saddam's WMD program was confirmed following the Desert Storm victory.  The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was able to inspect the Osirak reactor previously destroyed by the Israelis and determine the program's scope.  The fact that Saddam was in 1991 estimated to be a year away from obtaining a bomb, and the subsequent U.S. failure to find viable Iraqi bomb-making capability after 2003, does not negate the fact that an Iraqi nuclear weapons program did exist.

And Saddam's post-Desert Storm chemical attacks, which killed some 5,000 Kurds in northern Iraq, attest to the existence of an Iraqi chemical weapons capability.  So anyone declaring "no Iraqi WMD" is not telling the whole story.

In fact, the telling aspect of the Iraq intelligence failure is that absolutely no one guessed Saddam's actual WMD capability in 2003.  Sometime between 1991 and 2003, Saddam managed to "disappear" his chemical weapons capability.  He either disappeared his nukes, too or never acquired them in the first place, though not for lack of trying.  Were the weapons destroyed?  Were they spirited off to Syria or elsewhere?

A key question in hindsight is why Saddam continued to block international inspectors from Iraqi territory when by some point he had nothing to hide.  The pressure on him to open up was intense, including the invasion he had to know was coming.  At any point, Saddam could have relieved this pressure by acquiescing to U.N. inspections.  He didn't do this, a decision that would cost him his country and his life. 

It was suggested — after the fact — that Saddam feared exposing weakness to his enemies in Iran.  Perhaps.  But, importantly, no one in 2003 guessed that this was the situation.

Fast-forward to the present.  The attempt to frame candidate and then president Trump for collusion with the Russian government to influence the 2016 U.S. elections — Russiagate — has now been exposed.  Russiagate has been revealed as a corruption of government and a highly collaborative media establishment.  Is it fair to compare it to "WMD"?

My answer is that WMD and Russiagate are comparable only as a general rationale for being skeptical of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  There have been many U.S. intelligence failures, most recently the Boston Marathon bombing, the shoe-bomber, and 9-11.  Back to the current question, WMD was both an intelligence failure and the result of executive overhype.  (Did FDR know when and where Japan would attack in 1941?  Was he guilty of overhype as he dragged an isolationist U.S. into war with Germany?  The answers are "probably not" and "likely yes."  A scandal?  Certainly nothing like today.)  Russiagate, on the other hand, involved a conspiracy between senior government officials and the media to first prevent a presidential victory and then destroy a sitting administration.  Russiagate involved Americans plotting against Americans.

In my estimation, Russiagate will prove much worse for American politics than the unfortunate invasion of Saddam's Iraq.

In the wake of the breaking "Russiagate" scandal, a lot of comparisons are being made to Watergate and "WMD."  WMD refers to the "weapons of mass destruction" rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Since no WMD stockpiles were found post-invasion, it became fashionable to cite the WMD hype as nothing more than Republican war-mongering and intelligence failure.

Not so fast.

U.S. intelligence on the Iraqi WMD program was certainly flawed in the run-up to the invasion.  But the Iraqi program definitely did exist, at least as regards chemical weapons capability and the desire to acquire nuclear weapons.  The existence of Saddam's WMD program was confirmed following the Desert Storm victory.  The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was able to inspect the Osirak reactor previously destroyed by the Israelis and determine the program's scope.  The fact that Saddam was in 1991 estimated to be a year away from obtaining a bomb, and the subsequent U.S. failure to find viable Iraqi bomb-making capability after 2003, does not negate the fact that an Iraqi nuclear weapons program did exist.

And Saddam's post-Desert Storm chemical attacks, which killed some 5,000 Kurds in northern Iraq, attest to the existence of an Iraqi chemical weapons capability.  So anyone declaring "no Iraqi WMD" is not telling the whole story.

In fact, the telling aspect of the Iraq intelligence failure is that absolutely no one guessed Saddam's actual WMD capability in 2003.  Sometime between 1991 and 2003, Saddam managed to "disappear" his chemical weapons capability.  He either disappeared his nukes, too or never acquired them in the first place, though not for lack of trying.  Were the weapons destroyed?  Were they spirited off to Syria or elsewhere?

A key question in hindsight is why Saddam continued to block international inspectors from Iraqi territory when by some point he had nothing to hide.  The pressure on him to open up was intense, including the invasion he had to know was coming.  At any point, Saddam could have relieved this pressure by acquiescing to U.N. inspections.  He didn't do this, a decision that would cost him his country and his life. 

It was suggested — after the fact — that Saddam feared exposing weakness to his enemies in Iran.  Perhaps.  But, importantly, no one in 2003 guessed that this was the situation.

Fast-forward to the present.  The attempt to frame candidate and then president Trump for collusion with the Russian government to influence the 2016 U.S. elections — Russiagate — has now been exposed.  Russiagate has been revealed as a corruption of government and a highly collaborative media establishment.  Is it fair to compare it to "WMD"?

My answer is that WMD and Russiagate are comparable only as a general rationale for being skeptical of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  There have been many U.S. intelligence failures, most recently the Boston Marathon bombing, the shoe-bomber, and 9-11.  Back to the current question, WMD was both an intelligence failure and the result of executive overhype.  (Did FDR know when and where Japan would attack in 1941?  Was he guilty of overhype as he dragged an isolationist U.S. into war with Germany?  The answers are "probably not" and "likely yes."  A scandal?  Certainly nothing like today.)  Russiagate, on the other hand, involved a conspiracy between senior government officials and the media to first prevent a presidential victory and then destroy a sitting administration.  Russiagate involved Americans plotting against Americans.

In my estimation, Russiagate will prove much worse for American politics than the unfortunate invasion of Saddam's Iraq.