Coming to terms with the WMD scandal

So it begins. The White House has approved an independent commission to investigate intelligence failures leading up to the war. Bush feigning surprise and a little bit of wounded betrayal over how the CIA could get it so terribly wrong is an act of political opera buffo the likes of which come along only once in a great while. But rest assured even that will be put to shame by the spectacle of watching George Tenet resign while Bush stands by with an "I cleaned house good" look on his face.

And no, of course the details haven't been finalized yet about whether the commission will be limited to the CIA or whether it will include the White House too. They will wait for a while, then announce the fact that the White House will be exempt from submitting various innocuous sounding materials on a Friday afternoon in the vaguest language possible. Every high profile investigation that has requested documents from this White House has come up with nothing or met with stiff resistance. They're still fighting over those stupid energy task force meeting notes, for the love of god. Does anyone think they're going to start embracing fearless honesty now?

Indeed, the fact that they even qualified the announcement today is a travesty. It seemed like there was no confusion about whose integrity was on the line here. Congress and many other government officials have raised serious accusations not against CIA analysts, but against the White House, and that is where credibility needs to be restored. Even suggesting that this inquiry might be excluded from the White House when the inquiry is prompted by an action so intimately conceived and managed by the White House is absurd.

And yes, it is awfully convenient that this is coming at the same time as Richard Kerr's report saying CIA analysts didn't feel pressured by the White House to shape the reports. What Josh Marshall calls the 'CIA sold us a bill of goods' defense in his excellent rundown is already running at full steam, if everything works out correctly, the intelligence inquiry will be completely undermined before it even gets started. The expectation is that they will magically make everyone forget that the glaring contradiction that arose between what the administration was saying and the CIA evidence that existed was actually the start of the whole thing. No one has every accused the administration of putting direct pressure on the CIA...the problem has always been the administration 'cherry-picking' and developing independent intelligence sources loyal to it like Douglas Feith's Pentagon shop.

And finally, yes, this does still matter. This refrain is perhaps the most insulting yet. To suggest that there is some kind of statute of limitations on willfully misleading the country into a war that is still the roiling centerpiece of the national debate is such a transparent ploy to use schoolyard tactics, i.e., "Dude, are you still hung up on that? You have to chill, man" for policy gain. I think Congress has made it clear that it is capable of separating the work that needs to be done in Iraq from the President's intelligence scandal at home. Pushing the intelligence scandal through to its logical conclusion will have no bearing on what we do in Iraq, in fact it may even be beneficial, as the looming political crisis has always skewed postwar planning and timetables.


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