Friday, February 10, 2006

Won't Get Fooled Again

There's nothing like a prolonged war and its concomitant carnage to spark truth-telling. As The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports, the former top U.S. intelligence officer in the Middle East now admits the White House carefully selected the intelligence it wanted to justify going to war.

Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, writes in Foreign Affairs magazine that it was the "cherry-picking," not the CIA's flawed intelligence data, that fueled the Bush administration's drumbeat to war.

"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.

The Post reports that Pillar said the White House's manipulation of intelligence data was nuanced (a word not often used in connection with this administration, natch):

"... Pillar said he believes that the 'politicization' of intelligence on Iraq occurred 'subtly' and in many forms, but almost never resulted from a policymaker directly asking an analyst to reshape his or her results ...

"Instead, he describes a process in which the White House helped frame intelligence results by repeatedly posing questions aimed at bolstering its arguments about Iraq.

"The Bush administration, Pillar wrote, 'repeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war,' including information on the 'supposed connection' between Hussein and al Qaeda, which analysts had discounted. 'Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for material on the Saddam-al Qaeda link consumed an enormous amount of time and attention.'


"They thus knew, he wrote, that senior policymakers 'would frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision. . . . [They] felt a strong wind consistently blowing in one direction. The desire to bend with such a wind is natural and strong, even if unconscious.'"

Then this capper:

"'If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication,' Pillar wrote, 'it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath.'"

Expect the White House to trash Paul Pillar's reputation alongside Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill and every other former administration official who dared violate the code of omerta to voice dissent.

Still, the hand-wringing over Iraq and how we got there is largely immaterial -- at least in the short term.

The fact is that intelligence on Iraq was faulty on numerous accounts, from the WMDs to alleged ties with al Qaeda operative Mohammed Atta.

The fact is, too, that the U.S. is stuck there and the immediate focus needs to be how American troops can make a graceful exit without spurring further instability to the region.

But in the long term, the revelations by Paul Pillar and others need to serve as a stark reminder for all of us, and particularly the news media: Be skeptical.


At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Unfortunately, I have to admit this reminds me of the best and brightest (like McNamara) who got us into Vietnam, even when their own reports told them it would fail. I hate to make that comparison, as a supporter of the need to go into Iraq. And I do believe the Middle East can become a more enlightened, democratic place over time. But the parallels to McNamara and LBJ can't be helped in this instance. This could have been avoided if the White House had done more to prepare the nation for a long and bloody fight -- just as they could have used the months after 9/11 to call for more national sacrifice in terms of energy independence. A long, hard slog is what I always expected, as Chase can attest to, even before Rumsfeld used the term.


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