Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Iraq intelligence failures


There certainly has been a lot of buzz about how the intelligence on Iraq was wrong. My view is that the critics are trying to have it both ways. on one hand, people are after the intelligence community for failing to pick up the signals about 9/11. There is a mountain of ambiguous intelligence data they sort through all the time. Pre-9/11 they probably were less aggressive about the analysis and didn't assume the worst case scenario.

Post 9/11, now the analysis tends to be different. They may assume more danger from data that is less clear. I knew that was going to happen when they announced the whole red/orange/yellow alert system post 9/11. No government official would hold back on releasing possible threat data. Nobody wants to have another 9.11 incident while the country is on "yellow" alert.

So in regards to Iraq, there were piles of ambigous data and pre-9.11 the intelligence community might not have assumed the worst possible scenarios. But after 9/11 there was no way in the world these intelligence people were going to risk getting caught off guard again.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is whether the Iraqis are better off without the Baathist regime or not? On the basis of their oppression of the people, would critics prefer that Hussein remain in power right now?

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Back from Botswana


I was away in Botswana for a Habitat for Humanity project from June 26 to July 13. I hope to have a web travelogue up at my home page in August.

There are so many thoughts that run through my mind but all center around the question: how is my life different having gone through this experience?

Ironically, the question was posed directly by our safari guide on the last night of safari on July 10. He said, he takes Westerners out into the wilderness all the time and certainly they are excited to see the unique animals that make Africa special. But he often wonders: do they take home anything more from their visit to his country than just memories of wildlife? Have their lives been changed as a result?

I've been pondering that question since that night and it gnaws at me like a name I can't remember or an itch that I can't seem to scratch. If forced to, I suppose I could take some tentative cracks at answering it. And in the end, maybe as I think them over those tentative thoughts will be the legacy of my journey there.

My first thought was the dissonance I felt at building the home. On one hand, there was great satisfaction from watching an empty plot of land turn into a home in a period of eight days. The labor of our hands is honorable and serves a useful purpose for someone: the person and family that will occupy that home. But on the other hand, as we drove day in and day out to the work site, we could see so many ramshackle mud huts with thatched roofs that were in disrepair. It will take a long time and many more volunteers to make a dent in the housing problem in Serowe.

This will always be the core emotional struggle of those who open their eyes and see the world's ills: the realization that as one person or one group of people, we can only do so much and the temptation is to dispair and to decide to ignore to ameliorate our despair.

I hope as a result of this trip I will never choose that path.

Our team leader put it this way in one of our heart-to-heart talks at night: yes, we are one group and we built one house, and so now there is one more house and we keep going and hope that more people will come alongside and maybe over time as more people care then maybe a tide will build and a difference will be made.