The critics seem to be assuming that we can somehow obtain intelligence that is 100 percent accurate. But that is not possible in the real world. Intelligence tries to get information that regimes are making great effort to conceal -- evil regimes, in the case of Saddam and the mullahs. Our leaders must make decisions based on incomplete and highly imperfect information. And that information can remain imperfect for a long time. We still don't know what Saddam did with the WMD he once had and never accounted for.
The second object lesson was the Defense Department Inspector General's report accusing former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith of "inappropriate" behavior in presenting a briefing critical of intelligence community consensus.
The IG conceded that Feith's briefing was legal and authorized by his superiors, and did not criticize them for authorizing it. But it was somehow "inappropriate" for Feith to question the conclusion that there was no significant cooperation between Saddam's regime and al-Qaida.
What Feith did was to point to the intelligence community's own evidence of such cooperation and to question the assumption made by analysts that there could be no cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites. As we now know, such cooperation is very common. If your job is to protect the United States, you cannot assume it can't happen. Britain and France paid a high price for assuming that Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union would never cooperate.
Again we encounter the idea that intelligence agencies' conclusions should be regarded as Holy Writ, not to be questioned or analyzed critically by high government officials -- that there can be an intelligence product that is 100 percent accurate, and that every intelligence community conclusion must be treated as if it is.
The Bush critics' position is that we must believe without reservation or criticism any intelligence that can be used to argue against military action and that we should never believe any intelligence, however plausible, that can be used to argue for it. That's not very intelligent.