Some nonrevisionist history: On Oct. 8, 2002, Knight Ridder newspapers reported on intelligence officials who "charge that the administration squelches dissenting views, and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House's argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary." One official accused the administration of pressuring analysts to "cook the intelligence books"; none of the dozen other officials the reporters spoke to disagreed.
The skepticism of these officials has been vindicated. So have the concerns expressed before the war by military professionals like Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, about the resources required for postwar occupation. But as the bad news comes in, those who promoted this war have responded with a concerted effort to smear the messengers.
Issues of principle aside, the invasion of a country that hadn't attacked us and didn't pose an imminent threat has seriously weakened our military position. Of the Army's 33 combat brigades, 16 are in Iraq; this leaves us ill prepared to cope with genuine threats. Moreover, military experts say that with almost two-thirds of its brigades deployed overseas, mainly in Iraq, the Army's readiness is eroding: normal doctrine calls for only one brigade in three to be deployed abroad, while the other two retrain and refit.
And the war will have devastating effects on future recruiting by the reserves. A widely circulated photo from Iraq shows a sign in the windshield of a military truck that reads, "One weekend a month, my ass."
To top it all off, our insistence on launching a war without U.N. approval has deprived us of useful allies. George Bush claims to have a "huge coalition," but only 7 percent of the coalition soldiers in Iraq are non-American — and administration pleas for more help are sounding increasingly plaintive.
How serious is the strain on our military? The Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O'Hanlon, who describes our volunteer military as "one of the best military institutions in human history," warns that "the Bush administration will risk destroying that accomplishment if they keep on the current path."
But instead of explaining what happened to the Al Qaeda link and the nuclear program, in the last few days a series of hawkish pundits have accused those who ask such questions of aiding the enemy. Here's Frank Gaffney Jr. in The National Post: "Somewhere, probably in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gloating. He can only be gratified by the feeding frenzy of recriminations, second-guessing and political power plays. . . . Signs of declining popular appreciation of the legitimacy and necessity of the efforts of America's armed forces will erode their morale. Similarly, the enemy will be encouraged."
Well, if we're going to talk about aiding the enemy: By cooking intelligence to promote a war that wasn't urgent, the administration has squandered our military strength. This provides a lot of aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden — who really did attack America — and Kim Jong Il — who really is building nukes.
And while we're on the subject of patriotism, let's talk about the affair of Joseph Wilson's wife. Mr. Wilson is the former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the C.I.A. to investigate reports of attempted Iraqi uranium purchases and who recently went public with his findings. Since then administration allies have sought to discredit him — it's unpleasant stuff. But here's the kicker: both the columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine say that administration officials told them that they believed that Mr. Wilson had been chosen through the influence of his wife, whom they identified as a C.I.A. operative.
Think about that: if their characterization of Mr. Wilson's wife is true (he refuses to confirm or deny it), Bush administration officials have exposed the identity of a covert operative. That happens to be a criminal act; it's also definitely unpatriotic.
So why would they do such a thing? Partly, perhaps, to punish Mr. Wilson, but also to send a message.
And that should alarm us. We've just seen how politicized, cooked intelligence can damage our national interest. Yet the Wilson affair suggests that the administration intends to continue pressuring analysts to tell it what it wants to hear.
Originally published in The New York Times, 7.22.03