February 03, 2004


A truly awful piece in Slate today, about poor intelligence leading into previous American wars. The worst error (that the Zimmermann telegram was a fake) has now been corrected, but it's still first rate hackery.

The premise is that problems with intelligence have frequently "led America into war." That thesis is not significantly proven by writer Matthew Wall, who doesn't seem particularly familiar with his own subject matter.

Wall starts with Grenada, saying the whole reason Reagan invaded in 1983 was mistaken intelligence gathered from fearful med school students. It should go without saying that that was not the real reason for Reagan's involvement, only the purported reason (as with Iraq).

Then Wall goes to the Mayaguez in 1975, a case where faulty intelligence led to American forces attacking the wrong location, not that it somehow "led them into war." The crew of the Mayaguez WAS being held hostage after all.

Back to the Tonkin Gulf we go, which Wall gets totally wrong: he's clearly confusing the First Tonkin Attack (where the USS Maddox fought off a torpedo attack) and the Second Attack the next night (which the Vietnamese claim never happened.) No serious historian has ever suggested the First Attack didn't happen, to my knowledge; there are photos.

Pearl Harbour is another intelligence failure, says Wall: but surely it's pointless to lump in failures where you underestimate an enemy's intentions with those where you've overestimated them. Not knowing what the Japanese were up to didn't "lead" the U.S. into war. It was the Japanese blowing up Americans that did that.

Likewise the Maine, Wall's final example. Where is the intelligence failure there? Like Grenada, there were other reasons the U.S. chose to go to war with Spain. The Maine was just a handy pretext. If that's an "intelligence failure" too, then so are the beginnings of the Mexican War, the Civil War, and indeed all other wars ever fought, which also began in states of imperfect knowledge.

Several military theorists have said this in fact, that in a state of perfect knowledge on both sides war will not occur, because the potential loser will know it will be defeated. If Wall is attempting to establish this truism, then bully for him, I suppose. But that insight has nothing to do with people's legitimate concerns over how Iraq intelligence was or was not manipulated. In not a single one of his examples does an American overestimation of the threat facing it "lead to" a war. So his thesis falls apart of its own weight.

Posted by BruceR at 08:14 PM


Zeyad, the Iraqi blogger who Jeff Jarvis and Instapundit promoted as the best thing to ever happen to to journalism, has about had it with his pro-American commenters, it seems, because, despite mounting evidence, they refuse to accept his series of articles suggests that something seems to have gone a little awry at Samarra.

Interestingly, neither Jarvis nor Insta has yet made reference to either the Slate story that backed Zeyad up, or any of his more recent postings on the finding of his cousin's body, etc. They must not have had time to read him lately. Yeah, that's probably what it is.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out by a couple people that Glenn Reynolds did, in fact, link to the Slate piece. My error, entirely.

Posted by BruceR at 02:47 PM