Fareed Zakaria has an important article this week that provides needed context for the Bush administration’s claims of Iraq’s capabilities (and the threat Iraq posed) in the run up to the war. The bottom line is that the people who told us how dangerous Iraq was this time have a long and pathetic history of exaggerating the threat posed by our enemies in order to goad us into the action they desire. Here’s a snippet:

It all started with the now famous “Team B” exercise. During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B–which included Paul Wolfowitz–produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated.

In retrospect, Team B’s conclusions were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having “a large and expanding Gross National Product,” it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber “probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984.” In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.

The article goes on to describe similar estimates about the Russians and the Chinese (when they were the enemy de jour). Needless to say, the pattern is repeated with Iraq quite perfectly.