Our Leaders Weren't Honest About Iraq
Were George W. Bush, John Howard and Tony Blair honest and forthcoming concerting the intelligence they received about Iraq?
And that's a good
For a national leader to be open and forthcoming about most intelligence information would be stupid
, because it would destroy the source of that information.
Worse than that: our leaders usually cannot even tell us about anything their intelligence services accomplish. Why? Well, if you or I know about it, so do the people involved, and the accomplishment is much
less useful. In fact, public disclosure often turns a success into a failure!
Thus the normal political processes in a democracy do not function well with regard to intelligence matters, because the people who know what they're talking about cannot say much, leaving the arena to people who (1) don't know what they they're talking about or (2) don't care whether the things they are saying have any basis in reality (or both!)
(Most democracies handle this problem by delegating oversight to a parliamentary committee of some sort. This solution has some serious problems, but seems better than all the alternatives ... like democracy itself.)
The moral: set your skepticism level to "ultra-high" when politicians and commentators talk about intelligence matters.
The End of an Era?
Since the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia, international politics has been governed by the principle of national sovereignty as the "prime directive". (That Treaty arose out of the horrors of the Thirty Years War. There is a science fiction novel, "1633" by Eric Flint, which conveys those monstrosities quite well.) This developed into the idea that moral principles that might apply to national politics do not
apply to international politics. In fact, professional diplomats often believe fervently that applying "domestic morals" to international affairs is itself immoral! (They would also call it naive and stupid.) Hence the tendency for dictatorships of all stripes to claim that critics who report their misdeeds are "infringing their national sovereignty": any such infringment is an international
problem, and therefore more important to many senior diplomats than domestic
incidents in third-world nations (though, of course, those diplomats will privately regret such incidents).
I hope you can tell that I find this attitude revolting and deplorable.
Now this Westphalian consensus seems to be breaking down. Bill Clinton gravely wounded it when the US intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kofi Annan (of all people!) has criticised it as outdated. The current US administration is battering it in two ways.
(1) Creating (or even just trying to create) a democracy via "regime change" is a clear breach of the most fundamental Westphalian principle.
(2) The "Bush Doctrine" (of pre-emptive action whenever the US sees no other good way to protect itself) is also counter to orthodox Westphalianism.
Of course, this raises a big question: what will replace the current "system". (One proposal: a United Nations in which only
democracies get first-class membership.)
I strongly recommend the writings of Professor Martin Shaw
, an English academic on these issues.
is also good, especially his attacks on Kissengerian