Archive for February, 2004

Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ

Sunday, February 29th, 2004

“Beyond every personal form of witness, I remain convinced that my Christian faith, in order to be faithful to itself needs the Jewish faith. From every Christianizing theology on Judaism and from every Jewishizing theology on Christianity, I tried to witness all that Martin Buber expressed so well: it is the Alliance of the same living God who makes us exist, Jews and Christians, and who creates a community beyond the breakage” — Cardinal Roger Etchegaray.

When I was growing up my Italian mother and grandmother would remain in prayerful silence on Good Friday marking the three hours Christ suffered on the cross. As a child, this sort of solemn piety seemed remote and almost incomprehensible. Of course, even then I knew the story of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, but it is easy for 2000-year old events to seem remote. However, after spending two hours watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ perhaps I can better understand at a deeper emotional level the piety my mother and grandmother appreciated without the crutch of state-of-the-art cinematography.

There is no way events portrayed in The Passion of the Christ could come as a surprise. Christians have told and re-told the story for two millennia. Catholics explicitly recall the Stations of the Cross every Easter. It is also true that the Scriptures from which we learned the story are not a screen play. Therefore, any movie maker, and Gibson is obviously a skilled one, must fill in the structure. After re-reading the relevant portions of the Gospels, despite small quibbles, most reasonable people would conclude that Gibson’s film remains faithful to the story as told in the Gospels. Indeed, a reading of the Gospels is a necessary pre-requisite to meaningfully comment on the movie.

What the film provides is authentic immediacy. The subtitled film is spoken in Latin and Aramaic, the languages of the time. Considerable effort was devoted to re-create the Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago using authentic costumes and actors who appear as Jews and Romans might have looked. There are no blue-eyed, Nordic-looking, carefully-coiffed Jews or Romans in this film. The realism of The Passion of the Christ confronts us with the depth of the sacrifice that Christ experienced and the love for us with which he embraced the suffering. It is just that simple. This is not a movie in the conventional sense with a tidy plot. It is really a scene pulled out of the entire Bible story.

More than one reviewer has written that this is the most violent film they have ever watched. I think that such comments, while honest, miss the true nature of the film’s graphic violence. There are other films with depictions as brutal. Indeed, the popular Lord of the Rings has scenes as violently graphic. Certainly, Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction exceed the violence in The Passion of the Christ.

However, it is also true that the violence in this film has far more emotional impact than the violence in other films. We are inured to conventional movie violence. In this film, we are reminded at the beginning that Christ’s suffering is a consequence of our sins. Therefore, with every stroke of the lash on Christ’s back, we not only see the immediate damage to Christ’s body, but feel the sting of our own guilt. Every time Christ falls under the weight of the cross, we understand that our own transgressions have added to the crushing weight. We recognize that the nails used to attach Christ to the cross were forged by our faults.

One of the tenets of deconstructionism is that artistic works have no absolute or fixed meaning. Rather the meaning of a work is dependent on the beliefs of the observer. While I am unwilling to allow artistic works to flail about unanchored with totally arbitrary meaning, it is clear the much of what people who view The Passion of the Christ walk away with will be dependent the viewpoint they walked in with.

Those for whom Scripture and Christ’s death and Resurrection are normative will have a heightened appreciation of the enormous suffering Christ willingly endured as recompense for our sins. For those whose Christian religiosity is latent or forgotten, the film may provide motivation to revisit their churches and re-read Scriptures. For others, it may provide an insight to the source of the faith of their Christian brothers. For those who seek to find fault in the film, fault will be found.

The most damning charge against The Passion of the Christ is that it is anti-Semitic. At present, anti-Semitism is very real and a growing threat. Without going in to personal details, I confess a passionate familial interest to speak out against anti-Semitism wherever it is.

There is real anti-Semitism at Harvard, when the school’s newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, was concerned that there were too many Jewish writers on its editorial page. There is real anti-Semitism in the rantings of Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. It is anti-Semitic when a Canadian Left-wing web site Adbusters finds it appropriate to list American neoconservatives highlighting those that are Jewish. There is a flaming anti-Semitism igniting synagogues in France and blowing them up in Turkey. The popular media in Muslim countries is filled with the vilest anti-Semitism imaginable since the Nazis. Reasonable viewers will not find The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic.

This controversy is reminiscent, on a much smaller scale, of the arguments that periodically crop out about the use of the n-word in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. There can be no doubt that the n-word has been deliberately used to degrade and insult the black population. Where the n-word is used, racism is often found. If one focuses only on the use of the n-word with out considering the anti-slavery theme of Huckleberry Finn, it is possible to foolishly conclude that the book is “racist.”

Similarly, Passion plays, particularly in Europe have been the occasion of violence and against Jews and synagogues. Of course, such a reaction is based on a deliberate misreading of the entire Gospels. All humanity is culpable in the suffering of Christ. Blaming all Jews for the death of Christ is like blaming all Germans for the Holocaust based on the movie Schindler’s List, or all whites for the slavery after watching the mini-series Roots. There are both positive and negative portrayals of Jews in The Passion of the Christ and there are positive and negative portrayals of Romans. Indeed, the Roman soldiers are perhaps the most egregiously cruel, taking obvious sporting pleasure in whipping Christ with various implements.

Nonetheless, movies are not made in a vacuum. It is possible there are cultures anxious to willfully misinterpret Gibson’s movie as an excuse for anti-Semitic behavior. Even with positive intentions, a work can foster anti-Semitism. Part of the film maker’s art is calibrating how images will likely effect people. If the showing of The Passion of the Christ were accompanied by a significant up tick in anti-Semitic words or actions by people leaving theaters, then we could rightly concern ourselves with the effect of The Passion of the Christ. The meaning of the Gospels is not anti-Semitic, yet it is possible for clumsy or insensitive re-telling of the Passion story to exacerbate negative emotions.

By all accounts, certainly consistent with my observations of the audience at the showing I attended, the collective mood created by viewing the film was not anger or hatred. Rather the mood was somber and reverent. By this measure, accusations of anti-Semitism seemed thus far to have been empirically proven incorrect.

Given the charitable frame of mind the movie has, at least temporarily, put me in I am disinclined to address some of the more vitriolic criticism of the movie. If anything, the criticism has been so angry and personal against Gibson, that not to address it would be allow animosity to linger in the air unchallenged.

To be sure the most hateful aspect of the movie has been the criticism leveled against Mel Gibson. Gibson’s father appears to be a clearly anti-Semitic Holocaust denier (or at least Holocaust mitigater). While not subscribing to his father’s beliefs, in an act of filial loyalty, Gibson is unwilling to criticize his father. Gibson’s father had no part in the making of this movie, yet he is used to call indirectly Gibson’s motives in to question. The sins of the father should not be placed on the shoulders of the son.

Andy Rooney of CBS, without the benefit of viewing the movie snidely asked of Mel Gibson, “How many million dollars does it look as if you’re going to make off the crucifixion of Christ?” To compound his insensitivity, Rooney told Don Imus in a radio interview he was not going to see the movie. After all, Rooney explained, “I’m not going to spend $9 just for a few laughs.” Does anyone else see an androgynous hooded character slinky behind at least one office at CBS? However, it is difficult to summon too much ire since Rooney has ceased to be a serious commentator. Few take him seriously.

It was much more disappointing to read the review of Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic. That periodical is usually so much more responsible. Wieseltier establishes his snooty credentials by criticizing Jim Caviezel, who played Christ. According to Wieseltier, Caviezel’s “Aramaic, like everybody else’s in the film, is grammatically correct and risibly enunciated.” How relevant is this to the appreciation of the film by Americans who are surely reading the subtitles during the Aramaic speaking? No. The remark was a smug way of saying: I know Aramaic. I am really smart. You should submit to by judgment about the film.

Unfortunately, intellectuals are often the last people to recognize the obvious. He asserts that “The viewing of The Passion of the Christ is a profoundly brutalizing experience.” Collectively recent movie viewers have testified to the intensity of the violence, but not to its brutalization. It is not often, Wieseltier can be proven so empirically wrong so shortly after making an incorrect assertion. I believe Wieseltier when he says, “I see only pious pornography in The Passion of the Christ.” However, the remark probably says more about Wieseltier’s limited vision than it does about The Passion of the Christ.

How do we explain the movie’s obvious popularity and the profound reverential impact it is having on many viewers despite some critical reviews? There are only a couple of choices: There are millions of easily led Christian religious zealots who eagerly gobble up any brutality. Or the movie speaks to some deeply held religiosity and some of the critics represent narrow minded individuals who see brutality where most see sacrifice. Is Wieseltier right when he argues that The Passion of the Christ “without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film?” Or are people who blindly cling to such a belief about the movie, despite its obvious effect on audiences, mired in cynical distrust of their brothers?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin has lamented that the unrelenting criticism of Gibson and the movie by some will do far more damage to Christian-Jewish relations than the movie itself could. After all the issue of how responsible Christians and Jews deal with the story of the Passion has been settled for a while. Most modern American Christians feel sympathy and genuine brotherhood with the Jews they know. According to Lapin, Christians are left wondering whether Jewish neighbors could really believe that “…exposure to the Gospels in visual form will instantly transform the most philo-Semitic gentiles of history into snarling, Jew-hating predators.” Such a negative reaction has not happened and should there turn out to be isolated pockets of anti-Semites who exploit the movie, Christians who embrace the Gospels should be the first to realize that the sin of anti-Semitism adds to the weight of the cross Christ carried.

Same Sex Unions and the Political Process

Sunday, February 22nd, 2004

Much of modern Conservatism vigorously sprouted from the fecund mind of William F. Buckley. In 1955 he succinctly expressed, for many, the role of modern Conservatism to “stand athwart history, yelling STOP, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who do.” That was almost 50 years ago. Not even Buckley’s inventive mind could have predicted the social and cultural changes that have reshaped our lives in the intervening time.

Given the congenital libertarianism of most Americans and the concerted effort by the entertainment industry to favorably portray homosexual behavior, it is politically inevitable that we will in some way grant legal recognition to same-sex partners, despite the loudest protests of “STOP.” One important concern now is of process. We are at a point where we may repeat the same mistakes with respect to same-sex unions that we made with regard to abortion law.

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 forbade states from regulating abortion (at least in the first trimester). At that time, 17 states were already permitting abortions and the trend was in the direction of further liberalization. In 1972, the year before the Supreme Court acted, there were nearly 600,000 legal abortions so the procedure was not rare. If the Supreme Court had allowed individual states to come to grips with the issue, it is likely that virtually all states would now have some form of legal abortion. Some would be more liberal than others. Different states would have regulated abortion during different periods of pregnancy. Different states would have written different laws concerning parental notification and the age when a young woman (girl?) could opt for an abortion. There would have been different rules concerning counseling requirements and waiting periods. These laws would have reflected different solutions and approaches and we could have empirically observed which were the most effective.

Importantly, everyone would realize that the laws represent the collective wisdom of the polity as opposed to the social preference of judges who succumb to the temptation of the law and conjure up rights that do not exist in the Constitution to create the outcome they want. The level of political animosity would have been reduced. The selection of judges for the higher courts would not involve the same rancor and political combat they do now. Major changes in social policy would not depend on the decision of a few judges or the president that might appoint them, but rather by the democratic process. Changes would arrive through political persuasion, not through endless infighting to produce judges that will rule a particular way on one particular issue — a corruption of the judge appointment process introduced in the last couple of decades of the twentieth century.

Are we now on the verge on making the same mistake with respect to same-sex unions, the Supreme Court inflicted upon us 30 years ago? The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution has been twisted like a pretzel recently. During the last Supreme Court session, the Court found that selecting students dominantly by race was consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment despite its plain wording that “No state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This is a clear demonstration that there is no limit to the wreckage possible by fertile legal minds on a crusade. If the US Supreme Court stretches the equal protection clause to compel states to recognize same-sex marriage, as the Massachusetts Supreme Court did with the Massachusetts state constitution, it will have unforeseen and undesirable consequences. By unnecessarily wielding the sledge hammer of the Fourteenth Amendment, there would be no principled way to prohibit marriages of more than two or among closely related people. What are we to do if groups of three people show up in San Francisco demanding a marriage license? If we institutionalize individual sovereignty in demanding formal legal recognition for private choices, there would be no principled way to deny such recognition.

Certainly, no law prevents any two or more people from making private legal arrangements that largely mimic marital rights in financial and some legal matters. If some states wish to codify such relationships as civil unions or marriages, there is no constitutional impediment at the federal level, though we may have to deal with the issue of recognition across state lines at the Federal level.

State regulations will reflect varying judgments about justice and efficacy, but in manner consistent with the workings of a representative republic. If legislative mistakes are made, it is relatively easy to pull back and modify legislation. If we make dramatic errors in Constitutional interpretation, it may require decades to pull back or force otherwise unnecessary modifications to the Constitution. The legislative process among the different states permits experimentation before we lock in long term social changes. Perhaps we will even be able to avoid national acrimonious fights over judges into the middle of the century.

When Buckley was shouting “STOP” to inexorable change, those on the cultural Left were arguing that marriage was only a “piece of paper,” that love was the true binding force that was somehow diminished by the necessity for a “license” and the approbation of society. Now those on the far side of the cultural divide have come to appreciate the importance of marriage and the necessity for societal support of the institution, ideas that Conservatives insisted upon and the Left disparaged, perhaps the Left will now listen to Conservatives before irreparable damage is done to the culture and the Constitution.


Sunday, February 15th, 2004

“Benefits are acceptable, while the receiver thinks he may return them; but once exceeding that, hatred is given instead of thanks.” — Tacitus.

Sympathetic, yet critical friends, can sometimes help us look at ourselves in enlightening ways. In 1831, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States with a view toward explaining American democracy to his countrymen. The result was the seminal book Democracy in America, a remarkably prescient work. The French failure with popular sovereignty during the French Revolution made the French naturally curious as to how the American experiment was proceeding. In retrospect, the Americans may have simply been the beneficiaries of the fortunate circumstance of having a George Washington; a leader strong enough to unite disparate states, yet unwilling to become an American emperor. De Tocqueville found many reasons for the success of the American republic including a free press, the discretion for inheritances to pass to all children rather than just the eldest, and even “the superiority of their woman.”

Modern communications have made it much easier for the French to understand Americans and the Americans to understand the French. This does not mean, however, that we have availed ourselves of the capacity. Recently in Anti-Americanism, Jean-Francois Revel, philosopher and member of the French academy, has endeavored to explain the anti-American animosity that has increased recently, but has been a continuing theme during the entire post World War II era. Revel is writing primarily about the French to the French and unfortunately the English translation can be a little stilted in places. Reading the book is like eavesdropping on a family argument. Yet, with each page one is more grateful that the book has become a bestseller in France.

Among Europeans, the French suffer the most virulent form of the anti-American pathology. The British share a common language and culture and are far more pleasantly disposed toward the United States. The Germans underwent such a culture-wrenching experience with the Nazis, the post Cold War era, and difficulties with reunification with East Germany that they are ill-positioned to be too critical of anyone.

While acknowledging that there is a “big difference between being anti-American and being critical of the United States,” Revel explains how, “Europe in general and the Left in particular absolve themselves of their own moral failings and their grotesque intellectual errors by heaping them upon the United States.” Much anti-Americanism is reflexive and warmed-over rhetoric from Socialists and Communists still simmering from the Cold War. It is still hard for the Left to accept that they were so wrong about the economic advantages of socialism or even the evil nature of Soviet Communism. During the Cold War they habitually repeated the insanity of proclaiming the advantages of socialism, while at the same time urging aid for the Soviet Union from the West. This makes it easy to now criticize the US’s economic system while at the same time bemoaning American economic hegemony. Apparently, skill at repeating arguments that are contradictory improves with perpetual practice, until mendacity becomes a comfortable frame of mind.

America, especially in the European media, is continually stereotyped as a capitalist jungle, populated by uncultured Yahoos. According to Revel, anti-Americanism is primarily a consequence of American success. Some loathe America because “for over half a century she has been the most prosperous and creative capitalist society on Earth.” Americans are viewed like the rich uncle who wears loud and unfashionable suits, drives a large garish car, and whose idea of high culture is anything that can fit into a large screen television. It is comfortable for Europeans to assuage feelings of inadequacy with notions of cultural and moral superiority. However, it must be frustrating to adhere to this mythology while seeing ubiquitous American movies dominating the free choices of Europeans, despite heavy government subsidies for European-made movies.

What is most disheartening is the European willingness to believe the worst about America based on scant or even conjured evidence, revealing an eagerness to be deceived. In March 2002, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Thierry Meyssan published L’Effroyable Imposture (The Frightening Fraud), a grotesque and insulting book that asserted that no plane struck the Pentagon. One wing of the Pentagon was supposedly struck with a missile as part of a US plot. This fabrication is reminiscent of a small-scale Holocaust denial. It is not so bad that this book was published, but that so many of the French were sufficiently convinced of its veracity to make it a bestseller there.

Much of this anti-Americanism is intellectually incoherent and contradictory, unified only by reflexive and blind animosity. Revel provides several examples. At one point, the US was criticized as being “isolationist” for not engaging sufficiently in the Middle East. Just months later, the US was criticized for imperialistically insisting the Palestinians hold elections to choose a successor to Arafat. It is possible to be isolationist or imperialist, but difficult to be both.

On one hand, the French whine about free trade and globalization bulldozing French culture. Yet they complain just as fervently if the US erects trade barriers inhibiting free trade? Are American critics for free trade or not. American self-confidence in the universal applicability of its founding principles and in economic freedom are labeled as arrogant, while the French celebrate France’s “universal radiance” as the “country of human rights.” French culture has made many contributions, but modesty has never been one of them. It is more than disingenuous for the French to call Americans arrogant.

In many ways, there is little that Americans can do about anti-Americanism. Indeed Revel concedes that anti-Americanism is self perpetuating. Revel explains that “By criticizing the Americans whatever they do, and on every occasion — even when they are in the right — we Europeans compel them to disregard our objections — even when we are in the right.” By always opting out of leadership and always choosing complaint and pique, Europeans compel Americans to believe that Europeans are not really serious.

Until Europeans manage to free their culture and economy from the stifling state and until they are willing to embrace freedom and free trade, they will fall further behind the US economically, militarily, and even culturally. Unfortunately, the larger the gap the greater the animosity will likely be. Moreover as Revel concludes, “The fallacies of anti-American bias encourage American unilateralism. The tendentious blindness and systematic hostility of most of the governments that deal with the United States can only lead to their own weakness … condemning themselves to impotence … [and] strengthen the country they claim to fear.”

Intrusive Boob Tube

Sunday, February 8th, 2004

By and large, the country is imbued with a libertarian ethos. We may applaud or criticize what other people do and how they act, but generally we recognize that tolerance of differences is just one price we pay for a free society. However, prickly individuality and rough-hewn differences, that might otherwise chafe social interactions, are soothed by a general recognition of social conventions. Do pretty much what you want to, but do it at appropriate times and places. Intrusiveness in an open society consists of “in your face inappropriateness,” forcing others to confront or accept behavior they would prefer not to.

Examples of intrusiveness abound. For example, we all recognize the unhealthful aspects of smoking, but trying to ban smoking in bars, where people anticipate it, is intrusive bullying. We all recognize the importance of familial warmth, yet excessive displays of affection can be intrusive making others feel awkward. We all recognize the importance of spirituality and faith, but aggressive proselytizing when quiet witness would be more persuasive is intrusive. No one wishes to inadvertently insult anyone, but the exquisite sensitivity of political correctness when used as an implement of thought control is intrusive.

Intrusiveness may be hard to unequivocally define and some behaviors straddle the borders, but the half-time show at Superbowl XXXVIII in Houston clearly qualifies as intrusive. It is easy to poke fun of puritanical Americans scandalized by a bare breast, but such analysis misses the entire point. If anyone wants to glare at female breasts, there are many web sites just a few clicks away, freely available magazines everywhere, and cable TV channels that will provide more than a fragmentary glimpse. The problem with the halftime show has to do with its bullying intrusiveness.

The Superbowl is more than a football game. It is a collective celebration. It is a time when many Americans of all ages and social groups gather together, party, and watch the game and especially the commercials. The brief exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast was actually one of the least offensive parts the MTV-produced half-time show. The US-flag-poncho-wearing, crotch-grabbing, bump-and-grind spectacular could be expected on the MTV cable network, but not at the presumably G-rated Superbowl half-time show. What most found objectionable was not the fact that such shows exist and are in some quarters popular, but that it was foisted unexpectedly on a Superbowl half-time audience. It was pushy behavior at its most obnoxious; bringing the unexpected and unwanted into people’s living rooms. The exposed breast was only a symbol of the poor-taste of much of the show.

It is not clear who is to blame. CBS booked MTV to produce the show, so they might have expected the sort of show they got. Maybe they got the show they largely wanted (perhaps minus the breast.) Janet Jackson has accepted responsibility saying, “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention.” While she may not have wanted to “offend” anyone, it is a safe bet she wanted to garner attention. In that effort, she succeeded.

The good news is that major league baseball pitchers report for spring training in a couple of weeks so we can soon retreat to the bucolic and sublime joys of a pastime that does not require half-time shows. And unlike football, where the time ran out on a great Superbowl game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, a baseball World Series would never have ended just because of a lack of time.

The one thing that football has managed to copy from baseball properly is the tradition of beginning games with the national anthem. At the Superbowl a classy and beautiful Beyonce, who knows when to dress conservatively and when not to, belted out a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. In many ways, it was a highlight of the day.

Assessment of Intelligence

Sunday, February 1st, 2004

It seems that in the last two years and indeed over the last few decades, we have suffered from intelligence shortcomings. Though we suspected Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were involved in bombings of American Embassies in Africa, the suicide attack on the USS Cole, and perhaps in the 1993 bombings of the World Center, the attacks of September 11, 2001 still surprised us. Key indicators were missed and 19 terrorists hijacked four planes and managed to crash three of them into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. There had not been such a deadly intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.

There have been other miscalculations partially based on incorrect or incomplete intelligence. The US was caught unawares by the Soviet Attack on Afghanistan in 1979. Before the first Gulf War, US intelligence radically underestimated the extent of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons development in Iraq. In 1998, US intelligence failed to foresee India’s test of nuclear weapons. The list is much longer, but the point is made.

It is unfortunate and not entirely fair that it is difficult to weigh successful intelligence efforts against intelligence snafus since successful operations rarely come to light. For example, it was not until decades later that we learned that British intelligence broke the codes produced by the Nazi Enigma Machine or the fact that US submarines had secretly placed listening devices on Soviet underwater communications cables.

After the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq by Coalition Forces, the expected large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were not found. There were facilities designed to ramp up production and illegal development of long range missile, but so far no stockpiles have been found. And the former leader of the effort to find such weapons, David Kay, does not believe that is likely that we will. We need an accounting of where the problems in intelligence were.

Kay has concluded that was Iraq indeed very dangerous to the US but in a different way than anticipated. Kay found a society ruled with ruthlessness, but nonetheless collapsing. Kay now believes that in such chaos the matching of WMD production capability and the terrorist need for such weapons was becoming more likely. Not appreciating this danger also represents an intelligence failure.

Although we should still pursue a thorough look at intelligence gathering, it is hard to believe that intelligence can be fairly faulted. If British, German, and French intelligence services also came to the wrong conclusion, it is seems unlikely that US intelligence agencies exhibited any gross negligence. It is difficult to penetrate any totalitarian regime, especially one that may have even been fooling itself with regard to WMD. If people were deceiving Saddam, if different commanders have said they did not have WMD but they believed other commanders did, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that we, as a foreign intelligence service, could tally military capabilities with better accuracy than Iraqi commanders.

In a different context, “malpractice” is defined as “a dereliction of professional duty or a failure to exercise an accepted degree of professional skill or learning …” If many doctors make a similar diagnosis, it is harder to argue malpractice. In the case before us, the diagnosis of the Iraq, by all major intelligence services was similar, the arguments were over the prescriptions for remedy.

Even in retrospect, David Kay concludes, “if you read the total body of intelligence in the last 12 to 15 years that flowed on Iraq, I quite frankly think it would be hard to come to a conclusion other than Iraq was a gathering, serious threat to the world with regard to WMD.”

Nonetheless, we often learn far more from difficult failures than we do from easy successes. An independent commission should be established to determine what about our Iraq intelligence worked and what did not. One possible positive outcome would be to place error bars on just how good optimum intelligence can be.

Unfortunately, the country is politically polarized and in an election year many Democrats would view such a commission less as an opportunity to improve intelligence gathering and more as a chance to play “gotcha” with the Bush Administration. The natural response of the Bush Administration would be to become defensive rather than open. Indeed, there is a dangerous possibility that the outcome of such a commission would be to place restrictions on the intelligence services that could reduce their effectiveness even more. A careful review may find that the intelligence services were hobbled by restrictions on using unsavory characters as informants and operatives.

Three years ago, the Bush Administration, enunciated a pre-emption doctrine holding that the United States could take military action against threats that were growing but had not yet become imminent. For countries that care little for their people and terrorist organizations willing to engage in suicide, deterrence was no longer adequate. However, anyone will concede that such a policy relies on high-quality and reliable intelligence. It is incumbent on the President and Congress to do what is necessary improve intelligence.