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Churchill, Bush, and the role of intelligence

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Intelligence is the meat and drink of a nation's foreign policy.

Good intelligence, especially the breaking of enemy codes, helped the United States and Great Britain win World War II. Conversely, the lack of accurate intelligence at critical moments was devastating to Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.

President Bush stepped before a joint session of Congress in January and uttered what the White House now admits was bad intelligence. His failure to confirm his facts may have misled the country and Congress. How serious this error will be for the nation, still taking casualties in Iraq, and for the president's political future, remains to be seen.

The vital nature of intelligence to a nation's security can hardly be overstated. Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister in the 1940s, was so keen on intelligence that he spent hours every day poring over secret reports.

Churchill had seen the devastating effects of not getting it right. In 1934, while a Member of Parliament, he used private sources to assemble his own intelligence survey of German military rearmament. He warned Members that Germany, in violation of the World War I Versailles Treaty, had already "created a military air force which is now nearly two-thirds as strong as our present home defenSe air force." Further, by 1936 Germany would exceed British power in the air, he said.

Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the coalition government, immediately rose in Parliament to contradict Churchill. He quoted British intelligence that said even a year hence, Great Britain's air power would exceed Germany's by "nearly 50 percent."

To his horror, Baldwin later discovered that Churchill was right. The eventual delay in expanding British air strength encouraged Hitler's aggression in Europe, and worsened Germany's bombing campaign against Britons.

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