Matters of Evidence

"Evidence" was the common theme connecting several meetings I attended last week.

 "Evidence" was the common theme connecting several meetings I attended last week. On Thursday, David Gamkrelidze, a member of the Georgian parliament, questioned the veracity of evidence that purports to link senior Georgian officials with terrorists in Chechnya. On Friday, Dimitry Rogozin, the chairman of the Russian Duma's International Affairs Committee, requested evidence to substantiate American claims that Iraq is pursuing weapons of mass destruction. (Both gentlemen, by the way, are authors for this week's issue of In the National Interest.)

Evidence, of course, is a problematic matter. Evidence can be tampered with, falsified, or simply manufactured. It can be assessed in different ways, depending on one's point of view or one's interests. It is often weighed (or simply discarded) depending on its provenance.

Charles Krauthammer raised an interesting point in his contribution to In the National Interest's symposium on Iraq and the War on Terrorism. He pointed out that while the United States may lack the "smoking gun" at this time, "we are going to have retroactive evidence" to answer doubts now raised. (http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol1Issue14/Vol1Issue14Krauthammer.html).

"Retroactive evidence", however, is a tricky concept. No doubt some of the Russian generals who urged a pre-emptive strike on camps in the Pankisi Gorge also insisted that conclusive proof of Chechen malfeasance could be obtained that would retroactively justify a cross-border incursion into Georgia. This is not a precedent that the United States should want to set. Suspicions must have some credible basis in fact so that other observers would also conclude that action is warranted or justified.

On the other hand, Krauthammer's point reminds us that the level of evidence needed to act in international affairs need not rise to the level of standards employed in a domestic courtroom. "Retroactive evidence", however, works best as part of an overall case, to substantiate items that other pieces of evidence point to, for example, in confirming items contained in the dossier released by the British government some months ago.

This is why I think that the Bush Administration should heed L. Paul Bremer's advice. Ambassador Bremer suggested that sensitive evidence obtained from intelligence sources does need to be shared, not with the general public, but with the key decision-makers-the other permanent members of the UN Security Council and America's principal military allies in Europe and the Middle East who would be asked to provide personnel, equipment or bases. (http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol1Issue14/Vol1Issue4Symposium.html ) Sharing the intelligence-to the degree that this can be done prudently, without risking sensitive assets-helps to allay fears that the United States has no real evidence, only assumptions and estimates, or that the Bush Administration is seizing any pretext to implement "regime change" in Iraq. It strengthens the administration's position (that Iraq is engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction).

This is not to suggest that the United States must run its foreign policy by seeking the consent of other powers before acting. CIA Director George Tenet, the keynote speaker at The Nixon Center's annual dinner (December 11, 2002) made this point clear: "Of course, with the safety of our country in the balance, there are times when dialogue and engagement are not enough. In intelligence, as in other fields of national security, the principle that guides our actions is a bit less elegant, but no less practical: with others if possible, alone if necessary." But consultation is not a sign of weakness or lack of will. Harvey Sicherman's distillation of the lessons Winston Churchill might have for the administration (in the Winter 2002/03 issue of The National Interest), are worth repeating here: "If Churchill opposed a crippling multilateralism, he was nevertheless no great fan of fighting alone. As he once said, 'When one has reached the summit of power … there is a danger of being convinced that one can do anything one likes.' To which he would add, 'The only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.'"

The passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 notwithstanding, a significant "trust deficit" remains between the United States and other major powers over the question of Iraq. The administration must openly deal with this problem, not ignore its existence. A willingness to engage our partners and assuage their concerns is a pragmatic gesture worth making. We, after all, would expect no less of others in comparable situations.

Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.