Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Democracy and Intelligence

People who supported the war did so for a melange of reasons, differing from person to person. Neither me nor any of the supporters I know did so because we bought the administration's line entirely. At times I was dubious of what even Powell was saying, I never liked Ashcroft, and I still think Cheney inhabits some cultish parallel universe.

To us, the fact that the administration messed up its case doesn't change the verdict we reached last year. But to many war opponents, this always was and always will be a domestic issue, not a future-of-the-world/clash-of-civilizations issue. To them, the connection or non-connection between Iraq and Qaida was all that mattered, because it gives thumbs up or thumbs down to the "Bush Lied" protest banner.

To me, that's a secondary issue; sure I'll take it into the voting booth (along with whatever John Kerry has to offer to prove he'll do better, which I still can't discover). To me, as I said, the interesting parts of the preliminary report were the degree to which Qaida was courting Saddam, which validates my fear, and the administration's pre-emtive response.

This was a dilemma. Our intelligence was flawed and weak. We didn't know a whole lot, and a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong. Intelligence-gathering in a democratic society is an inexact business: Americans are learning that this year. It's like baseball hitting: you know the pitcher is going to try to throw a ball past you, but you don't know exactly how. Or maybe he's faking it and plans a pick-off move. Either way, if you guess right one third of the time, you're considered to be doing great.

So do we want to live in a country that is ruthlessly efficient in snooping? If not, then we have to take a risk sometimes, and judiciously pre-empt without 100 percent certainty. The alternative is to be both nearsighted and naive in a jungle of a world.