Last week, we had a couple of object lessons in how to use -- or misuse -- foreign intelligence.
The first emerges from reports by U.S. military authorities in Iraq that weapons have been used there against American forces which seem highly likely to have come from Iran. To many of us, these reports seem unremarkable. There is every reason to believe that the mullah regime in Iran wishes us ill, and the border between Iraq and Iran, much of it highly mountainous, is surely porous. Yet from many critics of the administration emanate cries that these reports are not to be given credence -- they are just a ploy to justify military action against Iran.
To be sure, it appears that our military has been given orders to take action against Iranian agents in Iraq and that those orders have been followed. One wonders why such orders weren't given long ago. And there is certainly a case to be made -- I'd make it myself -- against a land war in Iran. But why should the reports be treated with suspicion?
The mullah regime has been making war against the United States since 1979. It committed an act of war against us by imprisoning our diplomats for 444 days. It sponsored Hezbollah, whose suicide bomber killed 240 Marines in Lebanon in 1983. It was behind the attack on the U.S. barracks in Khobar Towers in 1996. It calls the United States the Great Satan, and its current president has called for the eradication of the United States and Israel. The New York Times laments that America is "bullying" Iran. Actually, the mullah regime has been bullying the United States for 28 years.
So why the suspicion? The answer seems to be that because intelligence erred in its judgment that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction it could be erring here, too: All intelligence that could be used to justify military action is inherently dubious.
But the conclusion of our intelligence community -- and that of every other nation with serious intelligence capacity -- that Saddam had WMD was eminently justifiable. Saddam had possessed and used WMD in the past; he had resisted and evaded WMD inspections; and, as we have learned from Charles Duelfer, he retained the capacity to produce WMD in the future.
We found in 1991 that his nuclear program was further along than our intelligence agencies thought. No responsible American leader could have given Saddam the presumption of innocence and assumed he had no WMD until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. George W. Bush didn't. Neither did Bill Clinton.