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The Ballad of Colin Powell

This week the CIA source codenamed "Curveball" (Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi) [admitted that he fabricated his account of chemical weapons production in Iraq.][] Given that eight years of searching has led to the discovery of zero weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, this should not really come as a surprise to anyone.

I think this is nonetheless a crucial moment to reflect on the lies and mistakes which lead to the Iraq war. How did the testimony of a person that US Intelligence had never actually interviewed face-to-face come to form the core of the case for the Iraq war? Why was Curveball's testimony believed, when other conflicting testimony from more reliable sources was available (as reported in Ron Suskind's The Way of the World)? This man's lies lead to the invasion of Iraq, unleashing a civil war with its attending death, civil strife, and displacement. Yet I did not see this story cropping up in the "mainstream" US media when it was first released.

Thankfully an interview given by Colin Powell on the subject is bringing the topic of Curveball into the public consciousness. He is calling for an investigation into the intelligence apparatus which believed the false claims. That is a good and necessary step. Powell has been quietly working to retool his image after presenting the (false) case for the attack on Iraq before the whole world. He went from being a highly-respected American figure to being a out of the spotlight fairly quickly. No doubt he was deeply embarrassed in retrospect.

Now Powell can bank on the fact that he was hoodwinked by Curveball, the CIA, and anyone else into making that case for war. It really wasn't his fault, was it? He was just doing his best with the information he had available.

But I think the false intelligence is rather beside the point. Intelligence good or bad is not an excuse for the aggressive act of invading another country. Being tricked by unreliable sources and botching the execution of the war do not diminish the responsibility for waging it.

I feel bad for Powell. I really respected him as a public figure. He is right to point out the rather disturbing failure of intelligence and the even more disturbing trust that our leaders were willing to place in it. But rather than saying "I was lied to," I would really like to hear Powell say "I was wrong to advocate for attacking Iraq, period."

[admitted that he fabricated his account of chemical weapons production in Iraq.]: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

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Category: politics

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