Most of us have heard of false negatives and false positives in the context of medical diagnoses. Diagnostic tests are never fool proof and determining which side a test should err on is often the most crucial factor. For instance a false negative in an HIV test can have devastating consequences. If the test is negative, but is wrong, the patient goes on to infect potentially countless others. On the other hand a false positive no doubt will leave the patient terrified for awhile, but the consequences pale in comparison.
Now consider “diagnosing” international threats to the US based on the best available intelligence. The discourse from the left following the Iraq war was focused exclusively on Bush being “wrong” about Saddam posessing WMDs at the time of the invasion. Forget for the moment the argument that Jack the Ripper isn’t any less dangerous simply because he tosses his dagger in the trash bin. Blinded by partisan politics and comforted by the wisdom of hindsight, the left has completely ignored the dangers of the false negative Bush was forced to confront before he decided to attack. The false negative results in the unthinkable. So the left chose not to think about it.
Rather than engaging in meaningful debate regarding the degree to which we should err on the side of the false positive and the level of proof required to make the decision to use force, the left was content to sit back and accuse Bush of dishonesty. The left also dipped into their trusty bag of utopian tricks and side stepped the issue by creating the UN magic bullet. As for how much evidence the Democrats say we would have needed to make the tough call we will never know. We only know that whatever evidence Bush (and Clinton, Putin and the rest of the world’s intelligence community for that matter) had, it wasn’t enough.
Why is this relevant now? After all, that’s water under the bridge. Unfortunately the dangerous waters keep flowing and again we’re faced with the very real potential of a terrorist-sponsoring state – Iran – developing nuclear weapons. No matter how much the intelligence gathering is improved it will never be fool proof. It will be wrong again. For now Bush appears willing to acquiesce to calls for the UN magic bullet. However, the time may once again come when a tough decision must be made. Should the left again engage in partisan hackery instead of serious, meaninful debate and Bush is forced to make the decision alone, at least we can take comfort in the fact that he will err the right way.