From David Kay’s statements about the fruitless search for Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, we can glean several things:

Kay, as advertised, is a man of considerable competence and unquestioned integrity.
We’re very unlikely to find large bio-weapons stockpiles in Iraq.
The Bush administration inherited the following legacy:

· The Clinton 1998 bombing of Iraq’s suspected weapons facilities did far more damage than was thought;

· The Clinton intelligence community was short of the mark in identifying the 9-11 threat;

· Essentially the same intelligence community, stung by its 9-11 failure, went over the mark in estimating Saddam’s remaining weapons’ capabilities.

W. J Clinton, like all presidents, was more often the prisoner of the various bureaucracies that serve the chief executive than their effective manager. Change is possible but requires ongoing energy and attention The institutional failures in the intelligence community were too complicated to be attributed to any single administration, or even a single figure, like the CIA’s Clinton-appointed head. Reform is ongoing. Mr. Kay’s observations should be the fulcrum for an acceleration of the process.

In retrospect, it is clear that Saddam was poorly served by his subordinates and his own bad judgment. And that President G. W. Bush and this country have been inadequately served by the intelligence community. That said, Mr. Bush’s judgments were and are appropriate to the post 9-11 circumstances. National security policy is now governed by a far more muscular “Never Again” ethos.

That sea change is essential to our survival. And it transcends party and personality. Any administration in the post 9-11 era must continue follow, support, and implement these three principles:

Regimes can no longer hide in the shadow world of neutrality in the war on terror. Nation states – all nation states – are either against the terrorists or they are potential enemies, subject to sanctions for aiding those who would do us harm. And sanctions now include possible military and paramilitary action.

The war on terror can no longer be fought as a mere legal battle between lawyers and crime scene investigators, chasing a mobile, armed clandestine enemy capable of attacking the White House, the Pentagon, and core facilities by unconventional means.

When the truly dangerous weapons are concerned, especially the compact, highly deliverable radiological and biological weapons, we (and indeed any civilized nation state) need not wait until we are damaged to neutralize the threat. Whether this is characterized as preemptive action or not is beside the point. The nature of WMD’s have forever changed the self defense equation.

The partisan attacks that attempt to portray the run up the Iraq as some massive program of deception are badly off the mark. Intelligence is never perfect but it is our only tool to assess threats to our nation’s security in a dangerous world. New threats, every bit as serious as 9-11, continue to develop. Given the stakes, would you prefer that we err on the side of complacency or overreaction?



This piece was first posted on “The Policy Think Site”

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Copyright © 2004 by Jay B. Gaskill

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