Tuesday, November 15, 2005

War [huh, good god, y'all]

Kevin Drum's ranting about Bush's use/abuse of prewar intelligence again, contending that the White House used its monopoly on the full corpus of relevant information to an unethical advantage in making the case for war against Iraq. Specifically, the power to withhold countervailing evidence and opinions from Congress and the American people allowed the president to set the terms of the debate and quickly cement a broad base of support for invasion. Bush really should have let the doubts out for the good of the nation:

In the debate on Iraq, Bush acted as both prosecutor and judge. He made his case as strongly as he could — which is fine — but he also withheld crucial information that would have allowed his opponents to make their case as strongly as they could — which isn't. In short, in order to further his own political aims, he abused his power to decide what information remains classified and what doesn't.

In a democracy, this is unacceptable. It's unacceptable for the president to decide that only information favorable to his own case can be part of the public discourse. But all too often, that's what happened in the runup to the Iraq war.

In an ideal world, we could reasonably expect our president to place the greater good above his own political priorities, but guess what we don't live in. Bush is at fault here, as Kevin suggests, but the greater problem appears to be systemic. Why is the guy who decides whether or not to commit troops to military action also the guy who controls outside access to all the intelligence? Why would any president pushing any initiative even think about giving his opponents additional ammo if he could avoid doing so? The whole setup is a textbook example of a moral hazard, and an excellent reason why Congress should think twice about handing any president a blank check to use force. We don't run prisons on the honor system, we don't let employees set their own salaries, and we shouldn't enable our presidents to "[act] as both prosecutor and judge." The entire collection of relevant national security data needs to be made available to Congress so that life/death decisions like these are never again left in the hands of a single person.