TCS Daily

The Moor of Crawford

By Ken Adelman - September 18, 2002 12:00 AM

Members of Congress and the UN Security Council seek to base their votes to liberate Iraq strictly on the facts. Senators and key Representatives now gripe they're not getting all the facts or new facts or enough facts or the right facts, etc.

Well, facts are hard to come by - especially when they're needed most, as on matters of war and peace.

In Shakespeare's profound tragedy, Othello is summoned by political leaders to dispatch his army that night to stop an attack by Turkey. Key leaders gathered in an emergency session - much like the National Security Council in the White House - are briefed on the threat. One Senator reports that Turkey has launched precisely 107 ships - not between 105 and 110 - but exactly 107. That sure sounds factual.

Then the Duke reads his report, which describes 140 ships. Leaders wonder which report is right when another Senator give his official report of 200 enemy ships.

As the confusion mounts, a messenger rushes in from the field and breathlessly describes the attack. When asked the enemy's strength, he responds with certainty - "thirty sail."

What's a fellow to do? What's Othello to do? It matters enormously to his war plans, and prospects for victory, whether he's about to confront 107, 140, 200, or 30 enemy ships.

These officials don't lack facts. They have lots of them - too many, in fact, and many are contradictory. Like today with Iraq, they lack the time and the means to uncover more facts, or even sort out right from wrong facts.

I've personally seen this scene replayed many times, while sitting in White House sessions in the 1980s. We all presumed that the President had the best information in the world - from spies, diplomats, and modern gadgetry of intelligence-gathering.

True, he receives lots of facts but they're often - if not usually - all over the lot. That's why Colin Powell told me, more than 20 years ago, never to believe the first intelligence report that comes into the White House in a crisis. It's invariably wrong.

So what's a Senator or UN Security Council Ambassador, or even President, to do? Just what Othello and his colleagues did.

One Senator in Shakespeare's play says that such reports are "oft with difference - yet they all do confirm a Turkish fleet bearing up..." They thus got the big picture and passed over the contradictory "facts."

Today, responsible officials must act likewise when considering the liberation of Iraq to protect the world against Saddam's chemical, biological, and nuclear programs.

Current intelligence reports are "oft with difference" on Saddam's precise ties with terrorism and the exact size and nature of his chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons arsenals.

"Yet," in Shakespeare's words, "they all do confirm" the main thing - that he's the number one threat facing all civilized, freedom-loving nations today.

Critics of our acting promptly to protect ourselves say we need more and more facts. Ex-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has been one such critic, saying that if he were shown Saddam with weapons of mass destruction about to be launched against America, then he'd support President Bush's preemption.

Mr. Eagleburger's standard of evidence could never be met. Mrs. Saddam Hussein won't sit there and see the moment when he orders a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack against us, or a friend or ally. But Larry Eagleburger will? Of all the ex-officials of the first Bush Administration carping at the second Bush Administration, Mr. Eagleburger has been the most irresponsible.

Other critics want more and more and more evidence on the exact nature of Saddam's weapons programs, precise ties to Al-Qaeda, relations with 9/11, the size and composition of his Republican Guard, and so forth.

The Administration could try to gather and reconcile these "facts" over the coming days, weeks, and months - and put America at dire risk while doing so.

Or it can do what Othello and his colleagues did during their crisis - get the big picture, push the details aside, and use force to confront the danger and protect our people.

I'm for Othello's approach, myself.



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