Define “Intelligence”

Over at Alternet, an article by Steven Rosenfeld claims that the report released by the Trump administration included faked information, information not actually reviewed by or known to Trump when the decision to strike Syria was made, and otherwise misleading crap meant to help Trump politically, but not actually representing Trumps actual reasons for bombing human beings. Contextualizing the information for us, Rosenfeld reminds us this isn’t the first time something like this has happened:

President George W. Bush’s White House fabricated intelligence concerning Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction before his April 2003 invasion of Iraq. What seems to be unfolding at the top ranks of the Trump administration is similar to Bush’s pronouncements and evidence following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

The primary difference between the two situations is that the fake facts of Bush were released in advance of the attack on Iraq while the fake facts of Trump are being released after the attack on Syria.

I think that Trump certainly deserves scrutiny, and almost certainly does not deserve any credit that others would grant for empathizing with the victims of Assad’s brutality. However, I find Rosenfeld’s questioning of sources to be a bit extreme. Consider this passage:

Which poison gas was used, how it was delivered and who was behind the incident remain unanswered questions, said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, though United Nations scientists and Turkish doctors who did autopsies have pointed to sarin.

“The Syrian government may well be responsible for the attack, or others may have been involved,” she said. “But without an independent, international investigation, we simply don’t know. That means the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) [an international body with 192 member countries] must be given a full and complete and open mandate to follow all leads and report fully.”

“Similarly, we have reports from Turkey that autopsies on some of the bodies indicated the gas was sarin; reportedly OPCW and/or U.N. scientists were present,” Bennis continued. “But the reports come only from the official Turkish medical/forensic authorities. Again, without a full and thorough independent investigation, all of the unknowns remain just that.”

While I think it’s fine to consider the use of sarin to be a tentative and not a final conclusion, “all of the unknowns remain just that” appears to be hyper skeptical when the source of the sarin report is a government lab from a country not directly involved in the conflict and observed by scientists beholden to international organizations charged with protecting people from these weapons.

So I’m not as willing to state there was no information available because what information we had was provided by Turkish labs in reports where the fact finding and subsequent analysis was performed in collaboration with OPCW and not, as might be ideal, performed entirely outside of the region and entirely by the OPCW or similarly credentialed investigators with no possible personal interest in the Syrian conflict.

We have enough bases to criticize Trump, after all. I see no need for hyperskepticism.

On the other hand, I find myself agreeing entirely with the summation by Rosenfeld that Trump was “acting without any intelligence”.

To be fair, I don’t think the international community can do anything to fix that.



  1. says

    Parts of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident were retconned and other parts were made up. And the Lusitania was carrying ammunition. Politicians lie; that why it matters when they’re caught lying. Unfortunately the US appears to be in the frame of handing out blanket excuses for political lying.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Hmm. Marcus, do you think it’s worse if they lie about attacks that have already happened? Or is it worse if they lie about attacks they are contemplating?

    In one case, they’re attempting to hide their motives for killing people. In the other they are frequently hiding their level of competence at killing people. Trump is an interesting case because he appears to be lying after the fact about his motives.

    I have to say that I tend to think less of the Presidents who lie about why they killed / are killing people. I get things wrong, everyone gets things wrong. Lying to hide your embarrassment is wrong, but not horribly so. Also, although I oppose nearly every one of the US’s military attacks that are well-known enough to reach my ears, I do believe that there at least is such a thing as justifiable use of force. I am not a total pacifist in the cartoonish sense where I would criticize someone for fighting off an assailant. I also recognize that there’s obviously information available to US Presidents that I lack. Therefor I tend to reserve a bit of judgement on many attacks, recognizing that I don’t know the whole story.

    But when they themselves don’t feel comfortable enough with their case for killing people to use the actual facts in their possession, I can’t escape the fact that, by definition, they are trying to get public support killing people that they cannot justify killing – even to themselves.

    So, I guess I’m reading quite a lot into these situations. Theoretically, I suppose, the US government could have a good case that a specific military action is somehow protective of some group of people and that, if taken, would result in both a net reduction in violence and a shift of the consequences of violence toward instigators of violence. Theoretically that case could be based on some intel they can’t release. Theoretically they would then make shit up.

    I just don’t think that’s at all likely.

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