Slate’s Daniel Benjamin does a good job of pointing out just how catastrophically wrong and ideologically-motivated the Bush Administration’s efforts to cast aside professional intelligence estimates were during the run-up to the Iraq War. The Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, created by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s behest, and headed by Doug Feith, appears to have been bound and determined, by whatever nebulous, uncertain, and downright mendacious means, to demonstrate a web of terror with Saddam Hussein reigning in the center. It has become abundantly clear that Feith’s conclusions were wrong.
This has all happened before. During the Ford Administration, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney (yes, that Cheney) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (yes, that Rumsfeld) became – along with a group of ideological allies – convinced that the Soviet Union had developed a silent, super ballistic-missile submarine (the inspiration, no doubt, for Tom Clancy’s Red October) that could rain destruction down on American heads. The Central Intelligence Agency disagreed, stating that there was absolutely no indication that such a submarine existed. Enraged, Cheney and Rumsfeld created an entity within the Department of Defense called Team B – which would later become the Committee on the Present Danger, a collection of neoconservatives and hawks mobilized against Communism. Team B was organized by then-CIA director George H.W. Bush and included Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pipes (key players in the CTEG). Many reports were made, many a hearing held, all for naught, though, because the Soviets had no such submarine.
The love for the tactic held, however. When the intelligence professionals refuse to abide by the conclusions you have reached with such certainty, the solution is obviously to sideline the disloyal and create an alternate program to bolster one’s claims. It helps when the alternate program is staffed by your fellow travelers.
The CTEG (or Office of Special Plans as, its Iraq-specific section was called) exists still, in an incarnation known as the Directorate for Iran. The Iranian Directorate is engaged in similar intelligence cherry-picking as CETG and OSP. Though concern that President Bush will unilaterally declare war on Iran is probably overblown, the real concern is that the Bush Administration appears to be actively manufacturing situations in which they can claim that Iran provoked the need for military action.
This process would be helped immensely if the people searching for such intelligence had long ago reached their conclusions and were simply looking for supporting evidence. And as you can see, there isn’t exactly a lack of precedence in that department.
[This post originally appeared on Often Right, Rarely Correct --ed.]