What the Silberman-Robb commission found

Now that President Bush is finally reponding to claims that he lied about the pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq, attention has focused on the report by the Silberman-Robb Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. The president has pointed to its findings as supporting the integrity of his pre-war statements about WMD. His critics respond that the commission was not charged with determining whether the administration exaggerated or distorted the intelligence it received.

This argument is true at one level, but quite misleading at others. The commission was asked to determine, among other things, whether the administration pressured analysts to slant their intelligence findings. This issue was critical because it represented the only plausible basis for suggesting that the administration engaged in misconduct. There wasn’t much mystery about what the intelligence said — it was well understood that the intelligence supported what the administration had said about Saddam and WMD. The only opening the Democrats thought might be available to them was that, perhaps, the administration pressured analysts to paint a false or misleading picture.

Now that this door is closed, the Dems want to try the other door. They realize that the intelligence (now determined not to have been coerced) overwhelmingly supported what the president told Congress and the American people (even Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post admit this). But they are hoping to paint a different picture — one they know to be false.

But let’s consider what the Silberman-Robb commission did find. The very first pages of its report inform us that

The United States government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, had biological weapons and mobile biological weapon production facilities, and had stockpiled and was producing chemical weapons. All of this was based on the assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

So the core assertions about which Bush is said to have lied “all” were based on the assessments of our intelligence community.

Moreover,

[Our intelligence agencies] collected precious little intelligence for the analysts to analyze, and much of what they did collect was either worthless or misleading. [And there] was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers; the Intelligence Community didn’t adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had–or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence.

So the administration not only received poor intelligence, it was misled into thinking the intelligence was not poor.

President Bush, then, is absolutely correct when he cites the Silberman-Robb commission as supporting the view that he did not intentionally mislead the public. The commission’s report shows that he was not in a position to provide the public with accurate information about Iraqi WMD, and not in a position to realize that the information he did provide was dubious.

Those who downplay the significance of the commission’s findings are wide of the mark.

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