The American intelligence community was “dead wrong” about Iraq’s weapons arsenal in large part because of an outdated Cold War mentality and a vast, lumbering bureaucracy that continues to shackle dedicated and capable people, a presidential commission said today.

“The intelligence community must be transformed – a goal that would be difficult to meet even in the best of all possible worlds,” the commission said in its report to President Bush. “And we do not live in the best of worlds.”

The commission said the erroneous assumption by intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein possessed deadly chemical and biological weapons had damaged American credibility before a world audience, and that the damage would take years to undo…

“The C.I.A. and N.S.A. may be sleek and omniscient in the movies, but in real life they and other intelligence agencies are vast government bureaucracies,” the nine-member commission told the president.

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I don’t buy this “lumbering bureaucracy” excuse. It’s not that I think our intelligence agencies are well coordinated…they’re not.

When Bush Sr. decided to stop the Persian Gulf War, he expected that Saddam Hussein would be toppled in short order. When that did not happen our country got sucked into a containment policy as an ad hoc solution.

We imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, but, ironically, they only served to strengthen Saddam’s hold on power. The sanctions crimped trade in the region, hurting the struggling regional economies. When we developed the oil-for-food program as an attempt to alleviate humanitarian concerns in Iraq, it only invited corruption and skimming by the Ba’athists in power.

Our heavy military presence in Saudi Arabia, necessitated by our need to patrol the southern no-fly zones, had invited repeated attacks on American interests in the Kingdom, as well as in Africa and Yemen, and finally New York, and Washington DC.

As early as February 1998, the Republicans had pushed through the Iraq Liberation Act. The Act stated that American policy should “support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq,” and it authorized $97 million in military aid and equipment for dissident parties within Iraq.

By December 1998, President Clinton had adopted ‘regime change’ as official policy toward Iraq. In early 1999, he sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the region to feel out support for Saddam’s overthrow.

Now, this is just my opinion, but if you make it the official policy of this country to overthrow another government, and then you don’t do anything about it, you are asking for trouble. The prudent thing to do, is to not make such bellicose proclamations until you are prepared to act on them.

The Iraqi Liberation Act was pushed by hawks in both parties, but predominately by Republicans, as a way to force Clinton’s hand. Clinton paid lip-service to regime-change in Iraq, but he didn’t take decisive action.

At least, that was the mindset of the neo-conservatives that came to power in 2001. They wanted to take Saddam out from the moment they were sworn into office, and all they needed was an excuse.

We have heard reports of how, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Paul Wolfowitz recommended invading Iraq instead of Afghanistan. We have heard Richard Clarke relate how Bush demanded he find an al-Qaeda connection to Saddam Hussein.

But what really forced the hand of American foreign policy was the Axis-of-Evil speech, which was a virtual declaration of war on Iraq. At that point, it was no longer the job of our intelligence agencies to do dispassionate analysis and risk assessment. It was their job to prepare us for war. And that is what they attempted to do. It’s absurd to say that are they solely responsible for providing bad intelligence. They made the most compelling case for war that they could, based on the available evidence, because war was already set as the policy, and ginning up public support was deemed a critical prerequisite for success.

This latest Commission Report, is just another exercise in blame-shifting.

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