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Caveat lector

THE FIVE-YEAR ITCH! A new report seems to answer our question. Hard data ceased five years back:

FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2003

HARDLY DATA: Readers, remember to seek, and ye shall find! Yesterday, we noted President Bush’s odd response to a question about those AWOL WMD (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/3/03). At the time, we posed an incomparable question: Could the Bush Admin have been using five-year-old info when it made its judgments on Iraq? Frankly, we would have guessed that Bush was simply giving a lazy, talk-show style answer. But in this morning’s Washington Post, Walter Pincus reports something different:

PINCUS (pgh 1): U.S. intelligence analysts lacked new, hard information about Saddam Hussein’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons after United Nations inspectors left Iraq in 1998, and so had to rely on data from the early and mid-1990s when they concluded in months leading up to the war that those programs continued into 2003.
Pincus cites “preliminary findings of a CIA internal review panel.” The four-member panel is headed by Richard J. Kerr, a former CIA deputy director. How did the intelligence community reach the decisions it forwarded to the Bush Admin? Kerr describes the process:
PINCUS: On the whole, he said, “[U.S. analysts] were very cautious, explored things carefully and followed evidence as far as could be.” Intelligence judgments are always inferential, he said, and with Iraq they were especially difficult without up-to-date hard intelligence.
Kerr seems to make explicit what had increasingly become clear—the Bush Admin was acting on inference and supposition, not on hard, observed data, when it made its judgments about Iraq. Those inferences may have been perfectly reasonable; the inferences may turn out to have been true in various respects. But if you’re trying to learn how those judgments were made, you should look at Pincus’ article. Meanwhile, did the Bush Admin overstate or exaggerate what it knew about WMD? After all, you know how the press corps just hates stuff like that! If you’re interested in that question, you should keep in mind what Kerr has said—that the judgments, right or wrong, were based on inference, not on hard, observed knowledge.

Knowledge is power, the sages have said. But let’s pretend they said something different. Let’s pretend they said that “knowledge is freedom,” and celebrate Pincus’ ongoing work as we observe this sweltering Fourth.

FULL TILT BOOGIE: We know, we know. We made too much fun of Margaret Carlson and Charlie Rose the last time the pair of pundits met. But our analysts emitted low, mordant chuckles when Carlson and Rose discussed WMD last night. Carlson said some intel had been “tilted.” Rose’s reaction drew muffled guffaws:

CARLSON: I think some [WMD] will be found, actually. I can’t imagine that all those years there were all those documents and they’re not there. But I do think that you can find weapons of mass destruction and still find that some of the intelligence was tilted.

ROSE: What does that mean, tilted?

CARLSON: For instance, the uranium sales—

ROSE: Oh, we know that. That’s obvious. I mean, that’s easy. It wasn’t tilted. They just didn’t listen to the guy who went over there and investigated.

It wasn’t “tilted,” Rose assured—they just didn’t listen to the guy who went over there! And with his very next remark, Rose brought more chuckles:
ROSE: There’s an interesting thing today, I think in the New York Times, and Warren Hoge wrote it, about how it’s much tougher for Blair, this whole issue of discovery of weapons of mass destruction, than it is for Bush. Why do you think that is?
Charlie! Rewind tape, and play your last statement! It’s harder for Blair because leading British pundits aren’t interrupting their guests to say they just didn’t listen to the guy who went over there. At any rate, Rose again interrupted to answer his own question. It was harder for Blair, Rose now said, because Blair had pushed the WMD argument more than the Bush Admin did.

Meanwhile, Carlson had brought an earlier chuckle when Rose asked where she stood on the war. We’ve tried to tell you about this before. I was with perfect, Carlson said:

ROSE: Where were you on the war?

CARLSON: I was, give diplomacy a chance. [Brightening] I was with Colin Powell the whole way along! Whatever Colin Powell—

ROSE: Oh, so whatever Colin— You know. OK.

CARLSON: Yeah. Whatever Colin does, I’ll go with.

ROSE: Is that right?

“Is that right?” Charlie! That is precisely the way the mainstream pundit corps “evaluated” the Admin on Iraq. And that explains why the Gil Cranberg piece still provokes exactly zero discussion. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/03, and marvel at the new birth of freedom experienced by the corps’ approved pols.