President Bush has agreed to appoint experts to figure out how U.S. intelligence agencies got it wrong in saying Iraq was full of weapons of mass destruction. Fine and good. Maybe our spying will be improved, though sometimes investigations make things worse.
Think, for instance, about Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho whose flagellation of U.S. agencies in committee hearings in the1970s is believed by some to have left this country at graver risk than before. A think tank fellow reminded a newspaper's readers last year that the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan had said a consequent bill mistook the U.S. government for the enemy instead of the Soviet Union.
This time out ought to be better, seeing as how Bush is unlikely to name a wild-eyed liberal like Church to the investigative body.
The Bush experts will probably keep several things in mind. One is that the spying business is ordinarily as exact as predicting the weather: not very.
Another is that U.S. agencies were hardly alone in their estimates; throw in the best guesses of the United Nations, Britain and three nations that hardly stood with us in the attack — Russia, France and Germany. Sen. Joseph Biden is quoted as saying on TV: "America's credibility is at stake." Nope, senator. Yours is.
Another point t The experts should also keep in mind that even though the intelligence agencies almost certainly did get their information wrong, the forceful unseating of Saddam Hussein may in fact have spared the United States from a terrorist catastrophe in the future. David Kay, the forthright U.S. weapons inspector, says Saddam was prepared to start up his WMD programs in a blink, and that blink was hardly unimaginable. There were some Saddam pals out there — France, for instance — who were doing their money-making best to end sanctions against Iraq.
To the extent that an investigation is a genuine, empirically based examination by people who know what they are talking about and understand real threats to American security, it could be productive. It is not entirely clear that productivity is the main concern of some of those seeking an investigation. For ideological or partisan reasons or both, their objective is to embarrass Bush.