Juan Cole – how the Israelis got it wrong and helped us do likewise

Juan Cole’s Informed Comment link

“A subcommittee of the Israeli Parliament has issued a report sharply critical of Israeli intelligence failures concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It notes that Mossad thought Iraq’s programs and stockpiles were a threat, which they were not, and yet seemed unaware of how much progress Libya had made on nukes.

The fact is that Israeli intelligence failures in Iraq contributed to drawing the United States into the war (pace the Knesset report). Undersecretary of Defense for Planning Douglas Feith, a representative of the American branch of the Likud Party, met repeatedly with Israeli generals at the Pentagon (who were not properly signed in, contrary to post-9/11 regulations), and they gave him fodder for his pre-determined insistence on ginning up a war against Iraq, reinforcing what was being said by liars like Ahmad Chalabi. They were conveying Israeli intelligence to a key American policy maker, and it was wrong…”

Cole theorises that something similar to the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and the White House Iraq Group must have existed in the Israeli security establishment – hence the dodgy information passed to the Americans. It is a feature of psychology that we are more likely to accept information that appears to come from multiple sources. This is rational enough, but it is also true that we seem to rate information from sources close to us (or better still, first-hand information) far above even the most massive evidence from less familiar sources. People tend to generalise from these first-priority sources in forming their images of the world – given just a little external support, especially from a familiar source, we can become extremely resistant to even overwhelming refutation. It’s all part of our evolutionary heritage, I suppose – a useful way of organising the flood of data pouring in – but it can easily be toxic. It seems plausible that the neo-conservatives’ image of policy was reinforced by the fact that their information came from their closest allies – Israel, Chalabi, and Britain. From a British perspective, the fact that the Americans and Australians were so convinced must have had a similarly powerful effect. The exchange of information across the Atlantic was then doomed to be a self-confirming dialogue.

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