THE fog that surrounds the purported Israeli air attack in Syria last month is an example of what happens when governments fall into the habit of politicizing, withholding from their people, and just plain lying about events.
The governments in question include Syria, Israel, North Korea, and the United States.
What appeared to have occurred was that Israeli warplanes carried out a raid in Syria on a site that reportedly housed a nascent nuclear weapons facility that the Syrians were developing with the North Koreans. Israel at first denied that a raid had taken place, although politician Benjamin Netanyahu then talked about one. Syria at first squawked at what could be portrayed as an act of blatant, unprovoked aggression against it, then toned down its indignation to almost denying the raid had taken place.
North Korea flatly said it had not been involved in nuclear cooperation with Syria, although its policy has been to sell technology to almost anyone willing to pay for it.
The Bush Administration almost immediately took the event and the intelligence it was allegedly based on as grounds on which to stage yet another battle between Vice President Dick Cheney's war-hawk group in the country's leadership and more restrained elements personified by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The "attack someone" group wanted to do something to Syria and also discard the agreement with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The more cautious, diplomatic group wanted to preserve the possibility that Syria would participate in next month's Middle East peace talks in Washington and not scrap the North Korea enterprise, one of the Bush Administration's few possible foreign policy successes.
All in all, this one probably falls into the category of events to be ignored for lack of clarity. If Syrians were pursuing a nuclear-weapons program and if North Korea were helping them, there might be grounds for some U.S. response. Yet the cautious Israeli public response to the affair indicates that some Israelis believe there might be some useful business to be done with the Syrians on the Golan Heights or other matters. Ditching the hard-won progress with North Korea on such questionable intelligence doesn't make sense.
Israeli intelligence that was provided to the United States before the Iraq war deserved a much more critical look than it received at the time.
What the Bush Administration - and the United States - does with so-called intelligence, bending it and using it in internal domestic political wars, requires great caution at the least and, in this case, no action.