Pacifist Ignorance About Intelligence

by | Feb 15, 2003

Never underestimate the unwillingness of a pacifist to give up on his dogma, no matter how much factual evidence is presented demonstrating the folly in his approach. And, so it has been in the weeks following Colin Powell’s intelligence exhibition on Hussein’s already obvious treachery and deceit. “We see that he’s a threat,” they concede, […]

Never underestimate the unwillingness of a pacifist to give up on his dogma, no matter how much factual evidence is presented demonstrating the folly in his approach. And, so it has been in the weeks following Colin Powell’s intelligence exhibition on Hussein’s already obvious treachery and deceit. “We see that he’s a threat,” they concede, “but there is no case that he is an imminent threat,” implying that somehow we will know when the threat does become imminent.

Washington Post columnist William Raspberry said as much in his recent column titled, “Powell has a convert, but not for war.” Raspberry argued that Powell has, “in a perverse way,” made the case against war stronger by presenting our intelligence. “Our ability to know what is going on in Iraq’s secretive society is nothing short of stunning,” he said, followed by the deduction, “doesn’t it follow that we will know, in advance of the fact, Iraq’s intention to launch an attack?”

Raspberry is not alone. Every pacifist the world over who acknowledges the threat posed by Hussein’s regime, but demands proof of imminence, argues by implication that some means of gauging imminence exists. Nobody is expecting Saddam to send us a personal warning telegram, leaving to the intelligence community the unlucky task of providing the exact dates and times of whatever wickedness Saddam contrives.

But intelligence, by its very nature, is not an “on demand” resource. Our antagonists are aware of our efforts to collect it, and constantly attempt to thwart them, sometimes successfully. Intelligence collection involves exploiting the counter-intelligence oversights and carelessness of our antagonists. It doesn’t matter how badly we want to know exactly what our enemy is going to do, if he doesn’t speak carelessly over monitored frequencies, or conduct his exercises in a place where our satellites can observe him, then it is impossible to always know his precise plans. Furthermore, much intelligence information requires corroboration, causing unavoidable delays. After 9/11, the high cost of a late reaction should be obvious.

However impressed Raspberry is with Powell’s intelligence presentation, he should recall that intelligence failed to give us sufficient warning of Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, of the various bombings of US forces abroad in Lebanon and Africa, and of the 9/11 attacks. If our intelligence resources cannot tell us the location of the 18 bio-weapons trucks, how does Raspberry expect them to tell us when the truck whose cargo is a canister of VX gas departs some nondescript Baghdad warehouse in the hands of terrorists? No doubt, after the gas is released, Raspberry and the pacifists will clamor for someone to hold accountable for the “intelligence failure.”

But incidents such as these are not intelligence failures – they are policy failures. No intelligence operation can compensate for the Russian-roulette foreign policy of ignoring and appeasing the world’s most devious and incorrigible belligerents. Knowing the precise intentions and capabilities of all our antagonists, to the extent that would qualify as a safeguard against the danger of any attack, would require not intelligence but omniscience, and that impossibility is precisely what the pacifists demand.

Demanding that someone, somehow produce the impossible is the hallmark not only of pacifists, but of irrational master-planners of every stripe. Just as all the failing socialist economies of the world have scapegoated businessmen for not somehow finding a way to produce under suffocating regulation and taxes, so the pacifists must find someone to blame for the time when the inevitable consequences of their policies become reality. When Saddam’s germ warfare arrives via terrorist in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles, they will need someone to be the fall guy ? and intelligence services are the prime candidate.

It is vitally important today that we have effective intelligence services that scour the globe for information and produce correct analysis as threats are identified. Our intelligence should be an integral part of an overall active strategy to insure that America never witnesses another horrific spectacle like the one wrought by Al-Qaeda on 9/11. But that strategy must take cognizance of the fact that intelligence can only augment our overall national defense, not replace it in spite of the pacifist’s demands that if they would only somehow?

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Chris Smithe is a writer for Capitalism Magazine.

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