Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraq Policy from the Inside

Carne Ross, who worked on Iraq at the British mission to the UN, published a fascinating account of the process of persuasion and policy-making before the Gulf War in today's FT magazine.
There may be the biggest misperception of all, though not a lie, since it is hardly conscious. This is a misperception - a fiction, if you like - in which governments and governed collaborate alike, for to believe otherwise is too uncomfortable. And this is that governments, politicians and civil servants are able to observe the world without bias and disinterestedly interpret its myriad signs into facts and judgments (indeed, in the Foreign Office, telegrams are divided into these two very categories: “Detail” and “Comment”) with an objective, almost scientific rigour. The story of what these two governments observed, believed and then told their populations about Iraq suggests an altogether more imperfect reality.
One solution might be to institutionalise the process of the politicians and the intelligence apparatus failed miserably in interpreting Arab intentions, by including a special unit within military intelligence to act as Devil's Advocate and argue against the conclusions presented to the leadership.

Another, more idiosyncratic suggestion occurs to me - staff the relevant Foreign Office desks with either experts in ancient history, royal gossip correspondents or bond traders, who are equiped to make decisions based on conditional inferences supported by only limited evidence.

The article may not remain outside the subscription firewall for long, so please email me if you would like a copy.