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“The Big Lie:  Intelligence Failure in Iraq”

“The Big Lie: Intelligence Failure in Iraq”  by Harry Binswanger  (Capitalism Magazine  February 23, 2004).

Mr. Binswanger asks if there was an intelligence failure during the Bush administration’s run-up to the Iraq invasion, and claims there was none. Here is a summary of, and my response to, each of his six arguments.

1.  Mr. Binswanger starts by saying, yes there is something wrong with U.S. intelligence agencies – they haven’t enough power:

“... the Left has been adding layer upon layer of shackles to them since the Church Committee fiasco of 1973 [sic]. Now that the Left (with the avid support of Libertarians) has succeeded in gutting the CIA, they are shocked, shocked that the CIA is neither infallible nor omniscient.”

Critics of the CIA (by no means confined to the Left and Libertarians) seek neither infallibility nor omniscience, they – the better ones – seek honesty and respect for the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Binswanger pretends not to know, perhaps even approves of, the abuses perpetrated by the CIA. His trashing of the Church Committee is telling. It was a Senate committee that investigated illegal intelligence gathering by the CIA and FBI, such as occurred during the Watergate affair. It convened in 1975 (not 1973) and published its reports in 1975 and 1976. [1]  I haven’t read these massive reports, but from what I’ve read about them only a fascist would disapprove of them in the blanket manner Mr. Binswanger does.

For a readable account of corruption within the CIA and FBI see the books of Rodney Stich referenced on the Links page.

Mr. Binswanger insinuates that the pro-war intelligence on Iraq came solely from the CIA. He pretends not to know about the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, created by the neocons in 2001 because existing intelligence agencies were not telling them what they wanted to hear.

In asking “was there intelligence failure” Mr. Binswanger evades the essential point:  it was not a failure of intelligence that got the U.S. into Iraq, it was the dishonesty of that intelligence.

2.  Mr. Binswanger compares pre-war intelligence on Iraq to intelligence on the Soviet Union during the Cold War:

“... errors or omissions, if any, in the pre-war intelligence on Iraq are as nothing compared to the errors and omissions during the whole Cold War regarding the communist bloc.”
This only tells against his conclusion. After all, the U.S. did not invade the Soviet Union.

Comparing Iraq with the Soviet Union is instructive however. The Russians never were ten feet tall as the CIA made them out to be, and Iraq was a crippled midget, contrary to the fearsome portrait of neocon and ARI propaganda.

Ayn Rand herself, by the way, maintained during the Cold War that an invasion of the Soviet Union was unnecessary. (See for example her Playboy interview, March 1964.)

3.  Mr. Binswanger asks: Why is the failure in intelligence, if any, always attributed to America, when “exactly the same conclusions were reached by the intelligence ‘communities’ in England, Russia, Israel, and France?”

American critics focus on failure or dishonesty in U.S. intelligence because America is their country and they are concerned about it. And the U.S. is the country that promoted the war the loudest, headed the war’s execution and took the brunt of the expense and casualties.

Mr. Binswanger’s question is loaded with a dishonest list of countries. The only governments that favored invading Iraq were those of Israel, America and England, and Israel was the source for much of the other two’s pro-war intelligence.

At the beginning of his essay Mr. Binswanger said there was no intelligence failure, now he says other countries had the same intelligence and it is unfair to focus on America. Even if this last point were true, claiming that America’s intelligence is no better than other countries’ does not address the validity of America’s intelligence.

4.  Mr. Binswanger claims there is no real evidence for a failure in intelligence. In support of this he quotes some premature statements made by David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group which searched for WMD after the invasion.

Those WMD may still be there somewhere! This is addressed elsewhere on this website: A Lot of Explaining to Do.

Not long after Mr. Binswanger wrote his article, David Kay said (UPI July 28, 2004): “It’s most important that the president of the United States recognizes that in fact the weapons are not there.” And called the hope that WMD might still be found “delusional.”

5.  Mr. Binswanger asks, rhetorically: “If there was some failure in intelligence — so what?”

Here’s what. On the basis of that intelligence the U.S. Congress gave the administration carte blanche for the Iraq war. So far in that war the U.S. has killed and maimed more Iraqi women and children than killed by Saddam ten times over, as a rough estimate. The number of U.S. soldiers dead or maimed in that war was about six times the number of people killed on 9-11.

And there is the economic cost of that war, over a trillion dollars, wealth taken from productive people and given to – considering the nature of the Iraq war – destructive people.

And Mr. Binswanger’s reply is:  “So what?”  What a jerk.

After this bit of rhetorical brilliance Mr. Binswanger points out that the

“whole Manhattan Project in World War II was largely based on wrong intelligence ... . I don’t recall any recriminations about that ‘intelligence failure.’ ”

Perhaps because his historical knowledge is sadly lacking. In any case, what is Mr. Binswanger’s point? Intelligence – looking out at the world – doesn’t matter at all?

6.  Mr. Binswanger begins:

“Intelligence?  Why did we need intelligence?”

Do you get the impression we’re reading bad dialog from a gangster movie?  Mr. Binswanger continues:

“... Saddam was a dictator, a madman, a hater of America, near to the heart of terrorism ...”

Yes, Saddam was a dictator. (And curiously, he demonstrated that a dictatorship can exist along with widespread gun ownership, something I would have thought impossible. During Saddam’s reign any Iraqi could and did own guns, even AK-47 rifles. [2]) Saddam was a madman? It’s very doubtful he was psychotic. He was sane enough to survive. Obviously he was not suicidal. And note that his dictatorship was secular, not Islamic. In many respects he was a step in the right direction compared to, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saddam hated America? Historically, no. Recall that photo of Rumsfeld and Saddam warmly shaking hands in 1983 when the U.S. armed Iraq with WMD against Iran – a bit of history Mr. Binswanger never mentions. And even right up to the day of the invasion the U.S. was purchasing Iraqi oil. Doubtless Saddam came to view the U.S. as less than a friend after encouraging him in 1991 to invade Kuwait (in retaliation for Kuwait’s underground cross-border drilling) and then defending Kuwait, and later still for imposing half-way economic sanctions. But any hatred he harbored was without practical effect. Why destroy himself in order to harm the U.S.?

Mr. Binswanger’s final phrase “near to the heart of terrorism” is rhetorical fluff which, coupled with what came before, is intended to smuggle the idea into your mind that Saddam was a terrorist threat to America. In fact, he was only a threat to some of his neighbors, notably Israel.

Mr. Binswanger continues:

“Saddam had invaded Kuwait ...”

That is to say, one brutish dictatorship had invaded another equally brutish dictatorship. They are welcome to one another. This spat between thugs was not the tiniest jot of a reason for the U.S. to invade Iraq.

And note that it occurred August 1990, over twelve years before March 2003. Yet all of a sudden it justifies invading Iraq right away?

“Saddam had tried to murder George W. Bush’s father ...”

This is not true.

The folks at ARI dished up this story repeatedly during their agitation for the Iraq war (see the ARI op-ed “War and Morality” by Peter Schwartz, Dec. 2, 2002; the Intellectual Activist article “The Case Against Iraq” by Christian Beenfeldt, Oct. 2002; and the Capitalism Magazine article “Why We Must Take Out Iraq” by the same, Sept. 19, 2002) so I will treat it at length.

At the time of the alleged murder attempt Bush Sr. was not in the U.S., he was on the other side of the earth in Kuwait, visiting with its dictators, who were and are thugs every bit as brutal as Saddam.

There was no murder attempt. The Kuwait government (known for its honesty – I’m being sarcastic) claimed a plot for such a murder existed. The evidence for it was obtained under torture. No evidence at all in other words. Below we quote from the article “President Bush Does Not Tell Lies!!” by Jude Wanniski, who had been an associate editor of the Wall Street Journal from 1972 to 1978, and until 2006 ran the online investment news service Supply Side Investor  where his article appeared. The following is from the second paragraph:

“... the [news]papers ... insist Saddam tried to assassinate the President’s father, after he had left the presidency and was visiting Kuwait City in April 1993. Our Central Intelligence Agency ... bases [that] conclusion on the Iraqi whisky smuggler who confessed under torture by the Kuwaitis to having been sent by Iraqi intelligence. [That is, sent to assassinate under the cover of whisky smuggling.] After he was convicted and before he was executed, he said he was not sent by Iraq, but was seeking revenge against President George Bush, Sr. who had killed 16 members of his family in the Gulf War.

This is the quality of the intelligence behind Misters Binswanger and Schwartz urging us on to war. Mr. Wanniski continues:

“I’ve always thought the idea improbable, as the never-planted bomb was not only of questionable origin, but the timing was not right. It was ‘discovered’ by Kuwaiti police in a van only a few weeks after President Bill Clinton was inaugurated. Clinton had publicly said he would try to resolve problems with Saddam, and Saddam had no incentive to disrupt that possibility.” [3] 

The president chums it up with the leaders of a crummy little dictatorship halfway around the world, someone manufactures an assassination plot, and we must invade Iraq right now  ten years later.

That Mr. Binswanger and others at ARI bring up this story again and again only shows how extraordinarily weak their case really is. They grasp at anything.

Mr. Binswanger continues:

“[We were] already constantly running minor sorties in Iraq—dozens of them—because Saddam kept violating the ‘no fly-zone’ and otherwise breaking the terms imposed by our victory in the Gulf War.”

Which begs the question of the justice of the Gulf War. Saddam flying over Kuwait is not America’s concern.

“[It did not require] special espionage to uncover a possibility that Saddam would cooperate with bin Laden ...”

Saddam, very much a secular kind of thug, had never cooperated with bin Laden or other Islamic militants. The future possibility was unlikely. As noted earlier, Saddam was not suicidal. Unlike bin Laden he had a more or less fixed address, capable of being targeted and destroyed – without need of invasion.

Finally Mr. Binswanger’s last argument, and while you read recall that before the Iraq war bin Laden never endorsed Saddam, in fact they were enemies:

“And wasn’t it on television [after the war] that bin Laden issued an official endorsement of Saddam against America?”

This video was mostly a collection of old footage and soundtracks that had flown over the transom of the Arab TV station al-Jazeera and which they broadcast on the second anniversary of 9-11. The man resembling bin Laden never mentions Iraq. On the soundtrack is heard his chief lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri endorsing the Iraq War.

And why wouldn’t he?  It’s the best recruiting tool he ever had.

Swapping times, treating what came after the war as if it had come before the war, and then using it to justify that war, takes the cake for the most fallacious argument put out by an ARI writer. It’s so stupid the fallacy may not have a name, though circular argument comes close.

After this tour de malaise Mr. Binswanger ends:

“[After 9-11] the only intelligent question was: which lousy Middle East pesthole-dictatorship are we going to crush first? Not: was or was not the threat from this particular statist sewer ‘imminent’ or only ‘growing’?”

Iraq was no threat to the U.S., neither imminent nor growing. Mr. Binswanger’s inability to distinguish between entities like Iraq and bin Laden allows him to take your wealth and send it six thousand miles away to kill and maim a hundred thousand random Iraqis, some of whom may have wondered why. Mr. Binswanger substitutes bogus self-righteousness for observation, thought, and human decency.

1  The Church Committee reports can be found at

2  “Threats and Responses” New York Times; March 12, 2003.
“Most Iraqi households own at least one gun.”

“Iraq Arms Civilians As Second Line of Defense Against U.S.”   Washington Post; Feb. 5, 2003.
“From dusty villages to the bustling streets of Baghdad, guns are omnipresent in Iraq. They are, as people here are fond of saying, more common than telephones or cars, and perhaps even portraits of President Saddam Hussein. ‘Everyone has one,’ Abdullah said. ‘And some people have two or three.’ ”

“Small Arms are Continuing Threat in Iraq”  Center for Defense Information, Columbia University; May 2003.
“The gun culture is pervasive in Iraq. There is even an Iraqi saying, ‘Give everything to your friend, except your car, your wife, and your gun.’ ”
“In the months preceding the war with Iraq, small arms in Iraq fluctuated in price. A shotgun was selling for $100, Iraqi-made ‘Tariq’ 7.65 mm pistols for $200; AK-47 assault rifles were selling for between $120 and $250, Israeli Uzis and German MP5 submachine guns for $400, a 9mm Beretta for $850. Each bullet was selling for approximately 25 cents.”
“There were so many arms in circulation, that when the Iraqi government gave away weapons, citizens were selling them to buy food.”

3  The full article can be read at

For a more thorough treatment see
“A Case Not Closed”
by Seymour Hersh
The New Yorker, November 1993
Kuwait had “a clear incentive to play up the continuing Iraqi threat.”
The complete article is reprinted at:

See also the more recent
“Pentagon report finds no evidence of Saddam attempt to assassinate Bush”
by Nick Juliano,  March 24, 2008