Now they tell us

One of the persistent arguments against going to war with Iraq now is that doing so would increase our vulnerability to terrorism, through either or both of two mechanisms:

— Increasing the threat, by increasing the capabilities of terrorist groups (giving a boost to their recruiting or fund-raising, inducing Iraq or other states to contribute more or different weaponry) or by giving them additional motivation for attacking, or making an attack somehow more beneficial to them;

— Distracting our efforts from defense against terrorism to war-fighting.

If that were really the case, that wouldn’t have been a decisive consideration as I see it: making us a little more vulnerable to terror might be an acceptable trade for making the world, and in particular the Middle East, less vulnerable to nuclear or biological attack. In addition, I wasn’t convinced that it was the case. The effects on terrorist capacities and motivations might in principle work in either direction, and it’s not obvious why fighting a war ought to “distract” us in any operationally relevant sense from fighting terror: why can’t we walk and chew gum at once? [Having to make nice to terror sponsors, such as the Saudi royal family, in order to get their support for the war did strike me, and still does strike me, as a far more serious issue; I hope, but do not expect, that whatever promises were made to the Saudis were made with fingers crossed.]

Now it seems I was wrong on the second point, or at least that the people who know more than I do think so. (See the UPI story below, from the Washington Times. That doesn’t change my mind about the war — or at least, I’m not sure it ought to change my mind — but it does increase my level of outrage about the way our leadership has, apparently, deliberately misled us.

I’d like to hear from the warbloggers about this. Are they surprised by what the Washington Times reports as the near-consensus of official intelligence and counter-terrorism experts on this point? If they are, does it make them angry to have been misled? If they aren’t, does it make them uncomfortable to have assisted in misleading others? They’re perfectly entitled to disagree with the experts, of course, but it seems to me that when a non-expert disagrees with experts, or when an expert disagrees with the consensus in the field, that person has an obligation to report this his views are non-standard ones.

Someone needs to remind the folks around the President that Churchill’s “bodyguard of lies” was supposed to keep the truth away from the enemy, not from the citizenry and our own decision-makers.

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) — The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.

Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror.

Beers has served as the NSC’s senior director for counter-terrorism only since August. The White House said Wednesday that he officially remains on the job and has yet to set a departure date.

“Hardly a surprise,” said one former intelligence official. “We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies.”

A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer familiar with the resignation agreed that it was not a protest against the war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but confirmed that frustration is widespread in the anti-terror establishment and played a part in Beers’ decision.

“Randy said that he was ‘just tired’ and did not have an interest in adding the stress that would come with a war with Iraq,” the source said.

The source said that the concern by the administration about low morale in the intelligence community led national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to ask Beers twice during an exit interview whether the resignation was a protest against the war with Iraq. The source said that although Beers insisted it was not, the tone of the interview concerned Rice enough that she felt she had to ask the question twice.

“This is a very intriguing decision (by Beers),” said author and intelligence expert James Bamford. “There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration — by the president, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell — over Iraq.”

Bamford cited a recent address by President Bush that cited documents, which allegedly proved Iraq was continuing to pursue a nuclear program, that were later shown to be forgeries.

“It is absurd that the president of the United States mentioned in a speech before the world information from phony documents and no one got fired,” Bamford said. “That alone has offended intelligence professionals throughout the services.”

But some involved in the fight on terror said that it was dangerous to look too far into one resignation — particularly from an official who has not blamed the war on Iraq.

“I found his resignation shocking,” said one official closely involved in the domestic fight on terror. “And it might reflect a certain frustration over the allocation of resources. But I’m not positive that there’s a consensus (among intelligence services) that deposing Saddam’s regime is a bad idea for fighting terror. I think that there are serious concerns about resources and alienating allies, but some of us see an upside.”

But others point out that the CIA warned Congress last year that an invasion might lead to a rise in terrorism. This, they say, is evidence there’s more than just ambivalence about the war among the spy community.

“If it was your job to prevent terror attacks, would you be happy about an action that many see as unnecessary, that is almost guaranteed to cause more terror in the short-term?” said one official. “I know I’m not (happy).”

Beers joined the NSC in August after heading the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement branch, where he ran the Plan Colombia program to fight narco-traffickers in that country. Beers served both Bush administrations as well as serving in similar capacities with both the Clinton and Reagan administrations.

Footnote: If Beers had left his post immediately after the war, that might have been for merely “personal” reasons. Leaving just before the war has to be a deliberate statement.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com