Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Feedback Whine

Positive feedback, in scientific terms, is a process that runs away with itself, like sugar levels in a diabetic. Negative feedback is what nature usually uses to prevent this. With a non diabetic, its the release of insulin to drop blood sugar before it becomes dangerous.

Microphones are vulnerable to feedback, of course, taking the speaker noise, and feeding it back in a loop to the speaker itself. We call the irritating result the feedback whine. Guess what? We’re getting the same thing from the administration.

Congress has already added itself to a long line of people who are saying there were not WMDs in Iraq, that this was a huge intelligence failure. But they stop short of criticizing the behavior of their presidential candidate, of course, until after the election. That's an entirely different report altogether. But the evidence for the big role that this administration played in this failure is there.

Before the Bush administration, we did not go to war simply based on intelligence, on what we thought was going on, as opposed to what we knew was going on. This is a critical distinction.

Let's face it: human beings, smart as they might be, are always fools. We're always ignorant of something, always going through life only half understanding what we see in front of us, and with big blank spots covering most of the world around us. Intelligence, in the espionage sense of the term is about shedding some kind of light onto those big black spots.

Trouble is, intelligence is strongly dependent on perception and the reliability of the sources. It can and often is wrong. I mean, look at Matt Drudge. He thought Hillary was going to be Kerry's VP pick! Even if I am joking about that, some of the same principles apply. One's prejudices can damage one's ability to keep the intelligence at arms length, your conclusions tentative. It can also render one vulnerable to that wonderful breed of source that we encountered here in the Iraq war: the Lying Bastard. Or you might encounter The Idiot Who Doesn't Know What He Or She Is Talking About. Either way, an unskeptical attitude towards the intelligence is bad news.

It cannot be argued, in this case, that intelligence creating the need for a war preceded the drive to war. Colin Powell and Condi Rice argued early in Bush's term that the evidence indicated no major reconstitution of his WMD capability. But long before Bush got into office, many of his cabinet members, under the auspices of a letter sent to Clinton in 1998 concerning Iraq, had already shown that they had decided an invasion of Iraq was necessary.

O'Neill recounts it as being the first thing the National Security Council discussed, ten days after the inauguration. No question of if a war was justified, only a question of how we could justify such a war.

Clarke recounts that the some of the first suggestions of who committed 9/11 were Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq had not even attempted an attack on American interests in about eight years, and that just about everybody and their dog who knew something about terrorism thought Al Quaeda was responsible from the outset. I knew I did.

Now, of course, it is wise to eliminate other suspects, but Iraq was not first on most competent counterterrorists lists, and prudence dictates that you focus on likely suspect before unlikely. I would be more reassured if I had heard that Iraq was only investigated after Libya, Iran, Syria and other nations known for sponsoring high casualty terrorist attacks in the past, and still in a position to actively do so. But somehow, Iraq, coincidentally an obsession of the Neocons shoots to the top of the list.

The Congressional report is scathing in it's criticism of the CIA, in terms of its groupthink, it's unwillingness to challenge the assertions of top officials (elected or otherwise), and it's lack of red teams, analysts whose job is to challenge the favorite theories among the other analysts. But it is important to remember that the interaction between the Bush administration and the CIA was not a passive one. They didn't just sit around and recieve information. They had their aids actively fishing and cherry-picking through the current and archived information to make their case. They actively took that rhetorical case and pushed it past what even the intelligence would support.

If the Bush administration are victims of bad intelligence, they were willing victims. They knew what they wanted. Unfortunately for them, they got what they wanted, and even more unfortunately, what they got wasn't even true.

And even more unfortunately than that, after all this time, after all the evidence that even a majority Republican congress couldn't deny, this administration is still willingly submerged in it's nice little feedback loop of justification for the Iraq war. Even while most people not beholden to supporting Bush's re-election efforts have moved on, others still continue to convince themselves that this war wasn't a mistake.

It's sad, because such dogged insistence on their theories have subverted what needs to be done: the correction of that mistake, the rebuilding of Iraq as an independent, peaceful nation. If we lose this war, it will only be because the best and the brightest of Bush's administration were blind to their own mistakes.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 10, 2004 1:38 PM