The Shelf Life Of Intelligence

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

Glenn Reynolds notes with approval this "pushback" from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley:

"We need to put this debate behind us," he said. "It’s unfair to the country. It’s unfair to the men and women in uniform risking their lives to make this country safe."

Sadly, "don’t look behind the curtain" is not a convincing argument.  It’s what the Wizard says to Dorothy when he’s in the process of being exposed as a fraud.

Top Bush administration officials argued before the 2003 invasion that the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was working toward a nuclear weapon.

Hadley said the intelligence Bush used for those arguments "was roughly the same intelligence that the Clinton administration saw."

So that’s the argument?  The "Bush intelligence" was "roughly the same" as the "Clinton intelligence"?

Setting aside the obvious weasel word "roughly" — if what Hadley is saying is true, then there is a significant point he is overlooking:  that intelligence, whatever it was, was 4-5 years old when Bush "used" it

In other words, when Clinton was using it, it was fresh intelligence; when Bush was using it, it was old.

And that’s an important, indeed crucial, difference.  Intelligence has a shelf life.  A banana may be "the same" banana as it was five years ago when it was picked from the tree, but I assure you that it is no longer a banana I would consider "good".

I honestly think that some neo-cons don’t understand the concept of time.  I imagine Hadley probably opens milk that is months past the expiration date, takes a big swig, and spits it out.  Examining the carton, he thinks "That’s strange!  It’s the same milk that I drank from two months ago.  And it was just fine back then!"

Furthermore, to argue — as Bush did — that Iraq posed an "urgent threat", he really should not have relied on "the same intelligence" as Clinton.  And this is, of course, where the neo-con argument breaks down.  To say that "Clinton believed it", or that "everyone believed it based on the same intelligence that Clinton had" belies the urgency, conveyed by Bush and others, that Iraq was an "urgent threat" and we needed to do something — right then — lest we see ourselves enveloped in a "mushroom cloud".