Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Catch 23

Some have argued that the United States has an obligation to turn over to Hans Blix information the United States has concerning the location of weapons of mass destruction and other targets of the ongoing inspections. For example, Mickey Kaus has a thoughtful note on this point this morning in the form of a comment on a Washington Post article. Democrats in Congress - such as Senator Levin - have raised the same point, although in a manner less thoughtful and disinterested than Mickey's.

This is not an unreasonable approach - how else could it attract Mickey Kaus? But it is fatally flawed. The United States does not have an obligation to provide such intelligence to Mr. Blix, nor should it. There are a number of reasons:

1. Pointless. The inspection teams appear to be compromised, so that information given to them will reach the Iraqis before it can be acted upon by the inspectors. Colin Powell gave ample basis for this fear in his United Nations presentation. So much or most such disclosures cannot be expected to lead to inspector discoveries - but they will lead to removal of materials from the identified sites.

2. Dangerous to American Troops. Once the Iraqis move the materials which are the subject of an American disclosure to the inspectors, there is no guaranty that the United States will know where the materials are taken. Therefore, when American troops invade they will be more at risk than if the disclosures had not taken place. Even if such removal occurred in only a few cases, there is no way to justify endangering American troops. If the inspection "process" had a substantial chance of avoiding war, one might be able to do a cost-benefit calculation balancing the added risks from disclosure against the (discounted) benefits of not going to war at all. Even in that case such a calculation would be very tricky. But no such calculation is even needed, since the inspection "process" creates no substantial chance of avoiding war.

3. Compromise of Intelligence Sources and Methods. Most such intelligence signals its source, thereby endangering the Iraqi traitors (that is, those who will be, following the liberation of Iraq, "patriots") who provided the intelligence. Where intelligence is not obtained from Iraqis, matters as basic the secrecy of what American spy technology can accomplish may be threatened. (Even Senator Levin limits his position with this restriction: I hope that the U.S. intelligence community will provide all significant additional information in its possession on Iraqi suspect sites to the inspectors, without jeopardizing sources and methods.) But even the intelligence Mr. Powell has already disclosed has been described as "surprising and unprecendented" and worries some intelligence experts on this point - as with his disclosure that the United States had recorded communications between Iraqi officers, a disclosure that, at a minimum, probably caused Iraqi officers to be more careful.

4. No Legitimate Obligation. There is simply no such obligation in the first place. The United Nations resolutions require Iraq to disclose such information - not the United States.

And many, many more.

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