Having it both ways

(via Instapundit)

RealClear Politics points out that the critics of Bush over the Iraq/Niger uranium intelligence want to have things both ways:

According to Krugman, the Bush administration is to be held accountable both for not being sufficiently alarmist with respect to intelligence estimates prior to 9/11 and then for being unduly alarmist with those same intelligence estimates after 9/11.

Think about the absurdity and hypocrisy of this for a moment: Krugman wants to vilify the Bush administration for not piecing together scraps of intelligence, speculation and theory to "predict and prevent" a one-in-a-million terrorist attack scenario and then turn around and vilify the administration when they take seriously intelligence reports - reports that the British government continues to stand by even to this very moment - that Hussein attempted to purchase material to make a nuclear bomb.

I'm not a fan of the administration or it's fast and loose style with what they used as fig leaves for the Iraq operation, but RealClear Politics has a point here. Either the government views intel with a high degree of skepticism (and as a consequence allow catastrophes such as 9/11) or it lowers the bar for what constitutes worry (delving into rumors and viewing everything in the context of a global terrorist conspiracy/threat). It can't do both simultaneously, absent omniscience and omnicompetence.

The cynic in me thinks that part of the reason for the Yellowcake hype (and pushing the pre-9/11 paradigm of strict scrutiny & skepticism towards intel, with a bias for inaction) is that a) critics of Bush couldn't get "the administration was too lax in its intel assessements before 9/11" to stick or resonate with the people, and b) that insisting on (a) would give justification for the Bush admin's fast and loose "trust the rumors" approach.

I do think, though, that the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and never saying it's sorry (or that it messed up) has made this mess several orders of magnitude larger than it would have been if they'd come forward earlier (or just never used it). Its a trivial affair in itself, but like Watergate the 'overreaction' to it is somewhat justified in the context of the other actions by the administration. Chickens coming home to roost, so to speak.

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The story only has legs

The story only has legs because the administration said the uranium claim shouldn't have been in the State of the Union speech. That's pretty candid for politicians.

Well, not only that, but the

Well, not only that, but the problem is that while they say (now) that it shouldn't have been in the SOTU, its also revealed that they thought the story was bogus back in February, after the SOTU address. That it took essentially rumormongers breaking the story for them to say "yeah, that was kind of bogus" looks really bad- like they were embarassed and thought that it would seriously undermine their case.

I don't know. The case was pretty clear back in October before there was much talk of nukes and such- we knew he had the WMD programs, he wasn't complying with inspectors, he'd thrown them out in '98 and nobody knew what he was up to since, and he made a lot of noise and sent up a lot of smoke regarding WMD. All that, plus his support for islamic terrorism (of the palestinian variety, to be sure), as well as other bits and pieces (the undisputed fact that the Iraqi intelligence agency tried to assassinate a former US president, disturbing ties between Iraq & the first WTC bombers, etc) led me and most other Americans to think that, in the light of 9-11, old debts had to be settled.

The idea that the american people (or, rather, the current bush critics) were skeptical and only went along with it in the end because of the nuclear claim (which is perhaps more audacious a falsehood on the part of Bush critics than the fraudulent nuke story itself) is ludicrous. The congress had already approved the action in October; it was a moot point.

Hence I'm *really* curious why the Bush Admin didn't just say "oops" after the fact. That they kept it hidden makes them LOOK guilty, and I think that really helps keep this thing going. If you act like you have something to hide, people are going to suspect you.

Either the government views

Either the government views intel with a high degree of skepticism (and as a consequence allow catastrophes such as 9/11) or it lowers the bar for what constitutes worry (delving into rumors and viewing everything in the context of a global terrorist conspiracy/threat). It can't do both simultaneously, absent omniscience and omnicompetence.

Said another way, this is really three choices:

1) When presented with low-quality intel, be skeptical,

2) When presented with low-quality intel, be paranoid, or

3) Spend more money and be more intrusive so you can get high-quality intel.

I would bet that the admin chooses door number (3) and sticks with it way past the point of diminishing returns. That has less to do with my opinion of the current admin than with my general impression of how government departments like to build empires.