Can We Now Finally Bury the “Bad Intelligence” Myth?

By continuing to blame “bad intelligence” for the Iraq War, Western leaders are shirking their responsibility.

British prime minister Tony Blair listens as American president George W. Bush answers a question from a reporter in Buckinghamshire, England, July 19, 2001
British prime minister Tony Blair listens as American president George W. Bush answers a question from a reporter in Buckinghamshire, England, July 19, 2001 (Getty Images)

The idea that “bad intelligence” informed the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 is one that has been so thoroughly debunked it’s hard to believe politicians still manage to get away with it.

When Republican presidential contenders in the United States were peddling this myth again last year, I argued they were rewriting history.

This week’s release of John Chilcot’s report in the United Kingdom should finally put it to rest.

“Ample warning”

I haven’t read the report. Apparently it’s something like a million pages long. But Zack Beauchamp did and he reports for Vox that its findings are damning.

The British government “had ample warning that Iraq would collapse after the invasion and make the problem of terrorism worse,” he writes — “but it went to war anyway.”

A year before the invasion, British intelligence analysts considered what might be the consequences of war and predicted all the things that would happen: Sunnis, Shia and Kurds would fall out, anti-Western sentiment would not evaporate overnight. Rebuilding Iraq would require an enormous Western investment and, they estimated, at least a decade of occupation.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet ignored those warnings and figured they had to go along with the invasion for the sake of preserving the “special relationship” with the United States.


American leaders had no such excuse.

Chilcot reports that the State Department also warned that rebuilding Iraq would require an “enormous” commitment over several years.

But Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department disagreed.

The military anticipated that coalition troops would be “greeted as liberators” and “would be able to leave Iraq within months,” Chilcot writes. There was apparently no expectation that it would have to administer the functions of Iraqi government.

Which is more than a little naive if you are going to dislodge a regime, disband its army and purge every last member of the ruling party from political office. Just who do they expect to take over then?


The fact that George W. Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration could go to war without a serious plan for what to do next is damning enough. Hundreds of thousands of coalition troops and Iraqi civilians died after Saddam Hussein was defeated. If American leaders had listened to their State Department or listened to their allies (it wasn’t just the British; the French also warned that Iraq was going to fall apart post-Saddam) and done some planning, perhaps some of those deaths might have been prevented.

But on top of that, there is the maddening refusal on the part of Blair, Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest to own up to their responsibility.

By continuing to blame “bad intelligence” about weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there, they’re not only insulting their own spies, many of whom, we now know, argued against acting on the basis of flimsy information; they expect us to forget that they wanted to go to war no matter what.

It doesn’t matter, as Blair said on Wednesday, that their intentions were right. Of course they were. But we expect more than good intentions from our leaders. We expect them to think through the consequences of their decisions. The fact that neither Blair nor Bush nor Rumsfeld did when they decided to go to war is hard to forgive — and impossible to forget.

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