Faster, Please!

Intelligence at Work

Have a look at Steve Schippert’s excellent diatribe on the latest lawyerly dithering by the Bush Administration on how much to tell the American people about Iran’s ongoing war against us and our friends in the Middle East.

He describes the White House deep thinkers as living in an alternate universe, which is certainly true. Over the past several years, the American Government has gathered a mountain of evidence about Iran’s role in the Iraqi “insurgency,” documenting Iran’s support for both sides of various ethnic and sectarian battles. The recent arrests of top Iranian military leaders, along with materials found in their computers and their satchels, amazed many of our diplomats (some of whom called the information a “bombshell”) and led our military in the field to insist, at long last, that the American public be informed of the nature of the enemy.

Our military leaders should have insisted on this a long time ago, for they have had the evidence, even before they nailed down the Iranian provenance of the shaped explosives that first surfaced in the Gaza Strip in use against Israeli tractors. The military knew–at least 18 months ago–that these weapons, by far the leading cause of American casualties in Iraq, were manufactured in Iran. And both American and Iraqi military intelligence knew that the Iranians were running the smuggling operations that brought the weapons into Iraq. The Marines captured documents and photographs that showed terrorists from Iraq were in Damascus, meeting with Syrian and Iranian military officers.

It requires an act of faith to believe that the Iranians are not a major force in the terror war in the full theater of combat, from Gaza and the West Bank, to Iraq, Lebanon, and Somalia.

Yet the Administration dithers. Shall we release this information or not? If so, how shall we release it? And where? Should our military in the field release it, or should the president do it?

This embarrassing debate of course is framed by the recent “intelligence failure” over WMDs in Iraq. I put the two words in quotes because we have found hundreds of shells containing sarin in Iraq–WMDs of the first order–and an Iraqi program in place that could have resumed manufacture of chemical and biological weapons within days of an order from Saddam. Not to mention the still unexamined possibility that WMDs were smuggled out of Iraq just before, and just after, our invasion. And I put the two words in quotes because the White House itself, in the person of Steve Hadley (a distinguished attorney and an honest man), apologized for “improperly” permiting the president to pronounce the infamous sixteen words that simply and correctly stated that British Intelligence believed that Saddam had attempted to optain fissionable material in Africa. The words were true, and the apology remains inexplicable.

The embarrassing debate–not the national debate, mind you, but the one within the Administration–also reflects the total failure of this Administration to craft an Iran strategy. You might have thought that six-plus years were sufficient, but no. We still drift through our alternate universe, hotly debating whether, when and where to release information whose import, as Schippert so rightly says, “everybody knows.” For we all know what Iran is up to. The question is whether we are going to fight back.