Intelligence vs. Evidence

by , January 23, 2007

In his most recent peroration defending our escalating war of "liberation" in the Middle East, our Dear and Glorious Leader opined that Iran was stirring the Iraqi pot, and he strongly implied that they’d better back off – or else. Vowing to guarantee Iraq’s borders and territorial integrity, the president declared:

"This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

These charges have been persistently pressed by this administration since the U.S. colonial administration set up shop in the Green Zone: first, the insurgency was said to consist primarily of "foreign fighters" and Ba’athist "dead-enders," as Rumsfeld put it. Later, however, as the popular character of the insurgency became undeniable, the party line shifted to pointing the finger at Iran and its ally Syria: the mullahs of Tehran are arming and funding the Sunni insurgency, as well as aiding and encouraging Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, a radical Shi’ite militia. Resistance to the Americans has nothing to do with the daily depredations and humiliations of an occupied people: Iraqis acting at the behest of "foreign" influences, i.e., the Iranians, are killing increasing numbers of American soldiers as well as their fellow Iraqis.

The British dispute this, with Defense Secretary Des Browne averring:

"I have not myself seen any evidence – and I don’t think any evidence exists – of government-supported or instigated armed support on Iran’s part in Iraq."

The British military backs him up. “It’s a question of intelligence versus evidence,” says Basra-based Brig. James Everard of Britain’s 20th Armored Brigade. “One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one’s own eyes."

This "intelligence" vs. evidence dichotomy is useful in understanding how we got dragged into Iraq in the first place. You’ll recall that we had scads of intelligence coming at us, including on the front page of the New York Times, such that even most war opponents – present company excluded – conceded that Saddam undoubtedly did have "weapons of mass destruction," but that, for other reasons, we ought to at least delay attacking him. There was, however, as some of us pointed out at the time, no hard evidence of Iraq’s fabled WMD. Like tales of the Yeti and the Loch Ness monster, breathless stories of the Saddam Bomb, ubiquitous since the early 1990s, turned out to be utterly false, imaginative narratives spun by Ahmed Chalabi and his fellow "heroes in error," with a little help from Judith Miller. I suppose it takes a libertarian to fully appreciate the irony of how American taxpayers paid for their own deception.

Once again, we are seeing the victory of "intelligence" over solid evidence, this time in the run-up to war with Iran. Wayne White, until 2005 the deputy director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research‘s Near Eastern Division, has this to say about allegations of Tehran’s ties to Iraqi insurgent groups:

“I have no doubt whatsoever that al-Quds forces are on the ground and active in Iraq. That’s about it. I saw evidence that Moqtada al-Sadr was in contact with Sunni Arab insurgents in western Iraq, but I never saw evidence of Iran in that loop.”

The New York Sun piece in which this citation appears purports to reveal "Iran’s Secret Plan for Mayhem" in Iraq, supposedly based on captured "secret documents" – and also reminds readers that "in 2003, coalition forces captured a playbook outlining Iranian intentions to support insurgents of both stripes, but its authenticity was disputed."

Yeah, I’ll bet – not that the history of the gang that lied us into war would in any way cause us to suspect the authenticity of key documents and other "intelligence" produced by them. The same lie factory that churned out war propaganda based on lies, half-truths, and outright forgeries is being revved up once again, this time in the service of a new and even more dangerous war plan.

White, who worked as a top analyst for the State Department’s own intelligence agency, has also revealed the frightening scope of this administration’s war intentions:

“I’ve seen some of the planning. … You’re not talking about a surgical strike. You’re talking about a war against Iran that likely would destabilize the Middle East for years. We’re not talking about just surgical strikes against an array of targets inside Iran. We’re talking about clearing a path to the targets by taking out much of the Iranian Air Force, Kilo submarines, anti-ship missiles that could target commerce or U.S. warships in the Gulf, and maybe even Iran’s ballistic missile capability."

Forget the Iraqi civil war: the consequences of a U.S. military confrontation with Iran could prove particularly deadly to our troops in Iraq, where they are sitting ducks for Iranian attacks. As White puts it:

"’I’m much more worried about the consequences of a U.S. or Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure,’ which would prompt vigorous Iranian retaliation, he said, than civil war in Iraq, which could be confined to that country."

Numerous reports that the president is determined to confront Iran, one way or another, before leaving the White House have to be taken seriously, and there are at least some indications that even the Democratic leadership in Congress is finally beginning to notice that we’re headed for war with Tehran. Harry Reid has openly warned the administration that the president would need congressional authorization before unleashing American bombers, and others, including Joe Biden, have struck the same pose.

One wonders, then, why House Joint Resolution 14 – legislation recently introduced by Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) which explicitly forbids a U.S. attack on Iran, except in response to a "demonstrably imminent" attack on U.S. forces or interests – has yet to attract more than a dozen or so co-sponsors. Unlike the weak palliatives offered up on the Iraq question by the Democrats, the Jones resolution is a binding one.

Although I started making inquiries last week, I have yet to get an answer from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office as to her position on H.J. Res. 14. It’s now quite popular to be antiwar when it comes to Iraq, but Iran is a different story altogether. Hillary Clinton, who seems on track to grasp the Democrats’ presidential nomination, has criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on Tehran, and Howard Dean takes the kooky "Objectivist" position that the Iraq war is a case of attacking the wrong enemy, the right one being Iran.

Unless the Democrats and the fast-rising antiwar faction of the Republicans in Congress are willing to go on record as explicitly forbidding an attack on Iran, the presidential exercise of the military option will hang over our heads like a veritable sword of Damocles.

Confronted with this obstacle to his war plans, will a president who believes he has absolute power in wartime assert his supremacy and provoke a constitutional crisis? Given the legendary cowardice of the Democrats on questions of war and peace, we may never get to find out.

Read more by Justin Raimondo