April 18, 2012

On Capability vs. Intent, Part II

I have written about the difference between capability and intent before, but in my World Politics Review column this week, I tackle the intelligence problems related to intent, which are normally much more difficult than those related to capability. Specifically, I tackle the (understandable) failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to determine whether or not Israel will attack Iran -- a failure that matches my own inability to do so.

My column was inspired by both a book I read and a conversation I had last week. On the way to and from my incredible, kick-ass hometown for a short trip, I read Bob Jervis's Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War. Jervis provided me with much of the framework through which I examined the problem. I then followed that book up with a lengthy lunch conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, who has written extensively about what might be going through the heads of Israel's leaders regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program. I first fleshed out the thesis of my column over lunch and was grateful for the pointed questions he asked.

(Goldberg noted, though, that it is problematic to call Israel, as I do, "by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid since the end of World War II." I referenced and hyperlinked a report by the Congressional Research Service (.pdf) that itself noted Israel is "the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II." But Goldberg noted that South Korea or Germany have received a lot more overall aid when you count U.S. military posture, and he has a good point. My sense is that most U.S. Congressmen and Americans do not count this as aid. But maybe they should. Also, we have never actually gone to war for Israel -- no matter what some loons say -- but we have gone to war for South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others. That surely counts for something too, yes?)