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Feb 6, 2004 8:56 am

Chalmers Johnson, A Modest Proposal

Published on Thursday, February 5, 2004 by

A Modest Proposal by Chalmers Johnson

So the Bush administration -- under considerable pressure from people outraged that we invaded Iraq not only without U.N. approval but on false intelligence that Saddam Hussein had"weapons of mass destruction" -- has now decided to investigate itself. For this important task it is proposing a panel of former CIA officials (Robert Gates, Richard Kerr), former Congressional members with"intelligence expertise" (Warren Rudman, Gary Hart), and David Kay, the weapons inspector whose recent report and change of heart have so discomfited the administration. Unsurprisingly, if this administration has its way, the investigation will not make public its results until well after the November election.

The whole exercise smacks of" cover-up" and is about as trustworthy as asking Enron executives to investigate themselves. A group of men, deeply protective of their former colleagues, friends, and Washington connections, will doubtless tell us in due course that U.S. intelligence on Iraq was"thin" (at the time of the war it had been two years since there had been a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq). The now-famous misinformation about"yellow cake" being purchased from Niger will be blamed on England's MI6, the equivalent of our CIA. The real reasons why former ambassador Joseph Wilson's first-hand report on Niger yellow cake was ignored and Wilson's CIA wife subsequently outed will be conveniently forgotten. The real story of how and why the Bush administration went to war in Iraq will be lost in a miasma of words - and undoubtedly an endless commission report with endless appendices, some of which will surely be declared top secret and shielded from public view -- and no one in particular will be blamed (much as Robert McNamara now blames"the fog of war" and not himself for the failures of American policy in Vietnam).

Let me propose that if the Bush administration really wants to find out what went wrong with our pre-war intelligence on Iraq, it should appoint a commission consisting of first-class investigative reporters, including first and foremost the New Yorker magazine's Seymour Hersh and the Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows. These two journalists have, in fact, already told us in damning detail what really went on inside the Bush administration. In several of his New Yorker articles, but particularly"The Stovepipe" (published in the October 27, 2003 issue), Hersh describes the process whereby a pro-war cabal within the administration -- Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and others -- set out to cherry-pick the intelligence tidbits that supported their preconceived plans for war in Iraq.

In an equally well-documented Atlantic article in the January/February 2004 issue of that magazine, James Fallows explores why so much went so badly wrong after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Why the looting? Why the continuing guerrilla attacks? Why the failure to bring the mass of the population over to our side, even after the capture of Saddam Hussein? Fallows's answer is that most of what went wrong had long been predicted by non-governmental organizations that tried to work with the Pentagon but whose advice was studiously ignored.

Perhaps the most amazing discovery Fallows made with regard to intelligence concerns Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel who taught for years at the National War College and who compiled a"net assessment" of how Iraq would look after a successful U.S. attack. Not only did Gardiner's predictions regarding the infrastructure prove devastatingly accurate, but his report was compiled entirely on the basis of information freely available on the Internet. No need at all for $30-plus billion worth of intelligence agencies. Of course, Gardiner's warnings went unheeded in large part because the administration was already bent on war and uninterested in anyone else's thoughts, let alone intelligence on the coming"post-war" era in Iraq.

In its desire to evade responsibility for its lying and reckless decisions, the administration is now trying, on the one hand, to place all blame on the Central Intelligence Agency while, on the other hand, protecting the CIA from the full brunt of such blame by carefully choosing an"old-boy" commission to absolve it. If we really want to know who skewed, manufactured, or otherwise diddled the data about Iraq (and who is doubtlessly still doing so), then we need some good reporters who can develop their own"deep throat" sources of information. Although journalists are not infallible, the best of them are incorruptible to the extent of being willing to be jailed in order to protect their sources. It is hard to imagine the administration's commission getting that sort of data from bureaucrats who want to keep their jobs and protect their families from retaliation. Since the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court have become so dangerously collusive and disregarding of the American public's interests, let's see what the"4th estate" can do to save us.

Chalmers Johnson is most recently the author of 'The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic' as well as'Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire'.

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