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Cherry-Picking on the Road to War
February 10, 2006 7:49 AM   Subscribe

"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," writes former CIA official Paul Pillar, coordinator of U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until 2005, in an article soon to appear in Foreign Affairs, hardly a radical rag. More confirmation that Seymour Hersh was right about the administration "cherry-picking" intelligence to justify a foregone conclusion to go to war in Iraq.
posted by digaman (49 comments total)

 
Since Foreign Affairs is the publishing wing of the Trilateral Commission, maybe this will finally start getting some traction.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:02 AM on February 10, 2006


Wait, this is the first time I'm hearing anything like this.

The Bush administration may have based their decision to go to war on personal preference rather than strategic intelligence? But, but, but....that's outrageous!

The good part is that certainly such a deed will not be allowed to stand by Congress and Bush will no doubt be impeached with all speed.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:06 AM on February 10, 2006


Even a boulder of ignorance can eventually be melted by a steady trickle of rain, dipso. I'd rather keep trickling than hand my country over for the sake of congratulating myself on my finely-honed sense of irony.
posted by digaman at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2006


Foreign Affairs is the opposite of National Review. One is mainly liberal, the other is mainly conservative.
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 AM on February 10, 2006


Such irony is useful as an outlet for the outrage fatigue, however. Frankly, it's that or just give up on the US altogether. I don't understand how your government can be so obviously, wilfully blind to the shenanigans that the Bush administration has been pulling for the last 5 years.

The point of the post is that this latest will (again) almost certainly not change the minds of those who support Bush. There's a hard core there that simply cannot admit to themselves that the horse they backed is a loser.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:15 AM on February 10, 2006


OT: The European media uses the name "Saddam" almost exclusively while the US media prefer "Hussein" (after first mention, of course). So googling I found this explanation.

You can carry on now.
posted by magpie68 at 8:26 AM on February 10, 2006


My understanding of the government-intelligence relationship is as follows: Intelligence is gathered, and the government acts on that intelligence. I find the central argument that (as I understand it) "intelligence should not be politicized" to be flawed. It's always politicized. Intelligence isn't gathered for the public domain, to be released at regular intervals for debate - it's gathered to inform any administration as to the ideal course of action. In this case, the intelligence was provided, and the administration chose to ignore/minimize some portions of it and emphasize others that justified their chosen course of action. To the extent that it can be claimed that they "lied" to or "misled" the American public, they should be taken to task. They should not be taken to task for being selective in the intelligence they paid attention to. That's called decision making and prioritization. If the article is stating that the Bush administration inappropriately guided intelligence, I'm not sure I understand that problem either. It would be like criticizing the CEO of GM for ignoring opportunities in motorcycle manufacturing while focusing on less-profitable hatchback manufacturing. The shareholders should take him to task for the consequences of his decision making process, but not for the act of focusing resources where he believed they were necessary, despite evidence to the contrary.

As the article states, the decision to go to war was not motivated by WMD intelligence, but by other policy factors that had little to do with intelligence, and more to do with geopolitics. If that's the case, why should we be surprised that intelligence that ran contrary to the practical and long term (as opposed to stated and short term) objectives of the administration was ignored? During the cold war, how much intelligence was ignored or sidelined in the light of the long term ideological fight against the soviet union and communism?

I'm not defending the Bush administration for making the case for war on the basis on the existence of WMD, and I never have, but perhaps I'm missing some nuance in this article, and only getting the feeling that this has been written by someone in the intelligence community that feels slighted at being ignored by those that make the decisions.
posted by loquax at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, the intelligence community obviously isn't perfect, but they've developed systems to try to filter out the inevitable liars and people who are, simply, wrong about what they saw or what it meant. Intelligence is very much about opinion/contrasting opinion.

Bush didn't just ignore those systems, he actively tried to find ways to disable them, because the community was telling him things he didn't want to hear.

Look how badly they abuse scientists and the scientific method, an area based on hard evidence and testable prediction. They have repeatedly shown that they care little for facts. They make policy first, and then look for supporting evidence afterward. And this is an area based on hard facts.

You can extrapolate just how bad that abuse is likely to be in a 'soft' area like intelligence. They can't tolerate opinions they don't like in science. What on earth makes you think these people care in the least about accurate intelligence or the subtleties involved in interpreting it?
posted by Malor at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2006


In other breaking news, it has become clear that the passive voice is eminently useful for distancing the writer or speaker from actual events in which he or she may or may not have had any involvement. Cf. "Mistakes were made."
posted by scratch at 8:45 AM on February 10, 2006


I don't buy that, Loquax. They presented to the American people that there was no chance tey were wrong when they *knew* significant evidence, probably more reliable and more of it, existed to the contrary.

I'm sorry, a decision this monumental should not be made on a sales job. That was this was, a sales job, not leadership. A used car salesman is not what we should expect from our government.
posted by JKevinKing at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2006


I need to spell check and proof read before I post!
posted by JKevinKing at 8:58 AM on February 10, 2006


If the article is stating that the Bush administration inappropriately guided intelligence, I'm not sure I understand that problem either. It would be like criticizing the CEO of GM for ignoring opportunities in motorcycle manufacturing while focusing on less-profitable hatchback manufacturing.

Wrong.

It would be more like the CEO of GM getting a report that says "This car tends to explode, killing all its passengers." He tells them to go back and write a report that says "Nope, it doesn't explode."
posted by papakwanz at 9:01 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, I might go along with your strategy of marginalizing the messenger for the sake of embracing a muddle of "it's always political... this just business as usual... it's another 'he said/she said' scenario... nothing to see here," but for the fact that so many messengers have been marginalized by this administration, including scientists, the intelligence community, and the press.

A couple of complaints from a couple of quarters might indeed be generated by miscellaneous "someones" with axes to grind. But this has become a chorus of people who have trained their whole lives to be experts in their fields, drowned out by the loudly amplified and thinly justified claims from the right, and from tools like former NASA employee George Deutsch, that each of these messengers is pursuing a partisan or personal agenda.

If your spouse hit you once or twice, you might be prone to forgive a temporary loss of temper. If each time they hit you and you objected, they insisted that you were a whiny hypersensitive neurotic, you might begin to suspect that the problem was deeper than your own sensitivity. If they battered you for years, and each time a neighbor came by to ask you why your face was so puffy, your spouse insisted on you never talking to that neighbor again, you might begin to suspect that you were in a terrible relationship.

It has been years now, and thousands of people are dying and being maimed by these people. It's time for a divorce and a restraining order.
posted by digaman at 9:03 AM on February 10, 2006


written by someone in the intelligence community that feels slighted at being ignored by those that make the decisions

I'm surprised by how often critics of stuff these days are depicted as merely petty and resentful. That counter-argument seems like a highly successful meme in the current environment. Maybe it always has been. I wonder if people use it because it is efficient as an argument tool or because it accurately reflects the reality. Not that it has to be one or the other.
posted by eighth_excerpt at 9:05 AM on February 10, 2006


What on earth makes you think these people care in the least about accurate intelligence or the subtleties involved in interpreting it?

I don't think anybody involved in decision making, anywhere cares about this beyond a certain point. "Intelligence" in a broad sense, is useful to a point, in giving decision makers an idea of the playing field. It's not useful for dictating particular decisions. What if all the intelligence now shows that Iran has nuclear weapons, and intends to use them against, say, Qatar. What does a decision maker do with that information? There is still an unlimited number of responses, from nuking Tehran to bribing Tehran to not caring about the fate of Qatar. In looking at the decision to invade Iraq, we have to look at the whole picture of intelligence provided. Hussein was a bad guy. He threatened his neighbours. Killed his opponents. Promoted instability in the region. Had WMD programs at one point. And so on. Given that scenario, plus the intelligence that there was no current WMD program to speak of, and that occupation and liberalization would be costly and difficult, the administration still decided to go forward with their plan to further their policy objectives. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as the policy is successful. If it's not they should be held accountable for the consequences of their decisions, however they were made. That's the role of the decision maker. Following intelligence blindly, without a broader purpose results in decision making by committee on the basis of opinion polls and market research. There is a role for those things, just not the central role that I think the article contends it should have in the policy process (as opposed to the mission or tactical level). Otherwise, Porter Goss should be made commander-in-chief immediately.

I'm sorry, a decision this monumental should not be made on a sales job.


I agree with you. They should not have misrepresented the WMD justification for war they way they did. They should be taken to task for that, not for what I understand their relationship to the intelligence community to be.


It would be more like the CEO of GM getting a report that says "This car tends to explode, killing all its passengers." He tells them to go back and write a report that says "Nope, it doesn't explode."

No, that would be intelligence at a tactical level. Like battlefield intelligence that showed that the enemy had amassed forces wherever, and a general's decision to go ahead anyways massacring his troops for political objectives. My example was at a policy level (at least, that's the distinction I was going for).

It has been years now, and thousands of people are dying and being maimed by these people. It's time for a divorce and a restraining order.


I'm not saying don't be furious with Bush. Go ahead, just be furious with the outcomes of his decisions. The claims of the intelligence community today sound like the sour grapes of the military in the days of Kennedy, or Johnson, with respect to Vietnam, Cuba and the USSR. The ultimate responsibility falls on the President. If the president has objectives that supercede the intelligence that is being provided, that's fine - he's the one that has to deal with the broad ramifications of the actions of the US, and domestic support, and so on, not the generals, not the spooks, and not the analysts at the CIA.

I'm surprised by how often critics of stuff these days are depicted as merely petty and resentful.


I agree in general, but then I look at my workplace, where most complaints about direction come from those that have the most to lose from it. When it comes to the administration, many "insider" opponents become instant celebrities and start pushing books. I'm not saying that I believe this person is being disingenuous, only that he doesn't have a lot to gain by saying that the administration was justified in their relationship with the intelligence community.
posted by loquax at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2006


I'm surprised by how often critics of stuff these days are depicted as merely petty and resentful.

I'm not. It's a truism that it's easier to counter your critics with personal attacks than facts.

When the Bush administration is criticized for the mishandling of Iraq, or for invading on false pretences in the first place, their first reaction is to go after the critic rather than addressing the criticism. Add to that the tendency of the hard-core Bush supporters to view criticism of the president as a direct personal attack on Bush AND Bush's supporters and you have the situation where any critic's views are immediately lost in the noise of the personal attacks being flung his/her way.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:16 AM on February 10, 2006


Nah, loquax. You're working too hard to ignore too much.
posted by digaman at 9:21 AM on February 10, 2006


It was interesting to see my last post there appear below loquax's, where in his last paragraph he's actually got a weak version of the personal attack that I was writing about.

That tactic isn't limited to Bush supporters, of course. I'm pretty sure every side has people who do it. But I don't think that a tu quoque fallacy is very productive here.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:29 AM on February 10, 2006


Dipsomaniac, I agree that automatically attacking a source is not productive, however it's also reasonable to look at a source's motivations and biases when analyzing their perspectives on a given issue. I think it's fair to ask whether or not there's a turf war going on between the DOD, the President and the CIA (or DHS), and too dismissive to simply call any such question attacking the messanger.
posted by loquax at 9:34 AM on February 10, 2006


I guess this qualifies as outrage fatigue, but I'm over the discussion of this issue. Nothing new really comes of these 'revelations' - everyone who was at all on the fence about this has by now gotten all the information they needed to make a decision. The vast majority had toed-up on their partisan line the moment the first bits showed up.
posted by phearlez at 9:37 AM on February 10, 2006


Until FOX breaks in on a NASCAR event to explain to Republicans in small, simple words how their chosen President and his cronies have fucked them over, I don't see how this will help.

But then, I'm a lot more cynical than I was in 1999.
posted by Foosnark at 9:40 AM on February 10, 2006


"I think it's fair to ask whether or not there's a turf war going on between the DOD, the President and the CIA (or DHS), and too dismissive to simply call any such question attacking the messanger."

I might agree if this was the first time such criticisms had been made by a member of the intelligence community, but with so many people in a position to know making essentially the same allegations over quite a timespan, the likelihood of those allegations having substance does go up.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2006


You guys who are over discussing this issue are free to stop clicking on FPPs related to it. I'm serious. I don't make it a habit of dropping in on conversations related to, say, rap music or knitting or Sudoku to make the point that I don't care about these things. Why bother?
posted by digaman at 9:55 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, these statements:

Intelligence isn't gathered for the public domain, to be released at regular intervals for debate - it's gathered to inform any administration as to the ideal course of action.

In this case, the intelligence was provided, and the administration chose to ignore/minimize some portions of it and emphasize others that justified their chosen course of action.

are essentially contradictory. In the first case, the Ideal Government uses intelligence ias one critical factor in its decision-making process. Intelligence is first gathered and analyzed and then a decision is made in light of the intelligence. In the second case, the Bush Government has already decided on a course of action. It then deliberately ignores intelligence that goes against its decision and it devotes massive resources to collecting only intelligence that supports its decision. Do you not see the difference between using intelligence in good faith to make a decision and turning intelligence into propaganda to support an already-made decision?

It would be like criticizing the CEO of GM for ignoring opportunities in motorcycle manufacturing while focusing on less-profitable hatchback manufacturing.

Again, this doesn't make sense. This situation is not analagous in any way. The Bush Government didn't misinterpret the intelligence. This wasn't a problem of incompetence. The decision was made prior to the intelligence evaluation. Intelligence was then used as propaganda to support the already-made decision.

As the article states, the decision to go to war was not motivated by WMD intelligence, but by other policy factors that had little to do with intelligence, and more to do with geopolitics. If that's the case, why should we be surprised that intelligence that ran contrary to the practical and long term (as opposed to stated and short term) objectives of the administration was ignored?

It's interesting that you previously reached for an analogy in the corporate world. The corporate world has developed several strategies and concepts to prevent exactly this sort of "tunnel vision." An essential concept here is that of "due dilligence." If what the official in the article asserts is true and the Bush administration deliberately ignored and failed to collect intelligence that wouldn't support its pre-selected path then, by any reasonable understanding, this would constitute a massive case of negligence. Negligence isn't the same incompetence. So, regardless of the fact that the Bush administration may have incorporated other factors into their decision making process (e.g. Bush claims to have a direct line to God and might've gotten the thumbs-up from the Almighty Himself), it's clear that they didn't do everything in their power to ensure that their decision was the right one.
posted by nixerman at 9:56 AM on February 10, 2006


Porter Goss should be made commander-in-chief immediately.

Allah forbid.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:59 AM on February 10, 2006


Loquax,

Are you suggesting the intelligence community is manufacturing the evidence that the intelligence at the time indicated that Saddam did not WMDs and was a threat?

Well, I guess conservatives have had plenty of time weaving sopistry and twisting logic in their religious apologetics!!!

(Meant to be humorous and lighthearted ... but true!)
posted by JKevinKing at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2006


was *not* a threat? (Sorry about the typo)
posted by JKevinKing at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2006


I think it's fair to ask whether or not there's a turf war going on between the DOD, the President and the CIA

Yeah, the White House has consistently been on the attack in regards to the CIA and sound intelligence.
There's outing covert operatives, establishing Rummy's personal DOD clowns, Cheney "taking over" the CIA, ad infinitum.
Are veterans of the CIA discussing this attack openly?
Damn straight!
As they should!
But "sour grapes?"
Get real!
It's called being a concerned and patriotic citizen.
Unlike the partisan Dubya sycophants who struggle to justify any turd Bush excretes as a lovely smelling loaf of bread.
posted by nofundy at 10:16 AM on February 10, 2006


Loquax,

I think that the conservatives and other defenders of teh president are discounting the impact on liberals and others who dislike the president of the notion that the public would *never* have approved the war if the intellegence was dealth with honestly.

Basically, he is a cheater. He lies when he wants something, if necessary, and when the shit hits the fan because a decision is based on a fantasty, he says, "Oh well, you have to live with it now!" And because of teh lies, information that would have led to his accoutnability is delayed until after an election.

He is a weazle, and is a representative of everything nasty in movement conservatism. The movement is fundumentally dishonest, because if the public realized what the *real* agenda was, they would never vote them into office. See what happended to Goldwater?

So what has to happen is that they have to pretend that they merely offer a more effective agent of governmental action, when they really want to discredit the government so it becomes an unattractive alternative. They believe more in their ideology than they do about anything else, including the health of the nation. America did well under Clinton.

Liberals hate Bush because we see him harming our country. Conservatives hated Clinton because he beat them.
posted by JKevinKing at 10:24 AM on February 10, 2006


This conservative hated Clinton because of his lies and poor domestic and foreign policy.

The same reasons I hate Bush. But Bush's screw-ups are even more egregious.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:28 AM on February 10, 2006


Do you not see the difference between using intelligence in good faith to make a decision and turning intelligence into propaganda to support an already-made decision?

Of course, and like I said, I objected to the misrepresentation of intelligence wrt WMD. On the other hand, I have no objective problem with a course of action being decided upon without a full assessment of all intelligence, or being made while ignoring some intelligence. I just don't see intelligence (in the context we're discussing here) as being the determining factor, or even necessarily a very critical factor, when considering policy.

This situation is not analogous in any way.

The article linked discusses the role of intelligence in policy analysis and states both that misleading intelligence was used improperly (which I agree with) and that intelligence was improperly politicized, ignored and not used in making policy decisions (which I don't necessarily think is a problem). I think it is analogous to a business decision maker deciding on a course of action before consulting marketing or R&D based on other criteria. I would not agree with that decision maker justifying that decision to shareholders on the basis on misrepresented research.

If what the official in the article asserts is true and the Bush administration deliberately ignored and failed to collect intelligence that wouldn't support its pre-selected path then, by any reasonable understanding, this would constitute a massive case of negligence.

Actually, I'd say it's closer to misrepresentation within the context of the "selling" of the policy to the US public. Beyond that, a lot of this comes down to whether or not you believe that the broad policy in Iraq is wrong. I don't and would have supported it without any mention of WMD. I still support broad US and international involvement, and think that, generally speaking, things are heading in the right direction (which is neither here nor there, only demonstrating my perspective). Given that, I have no problem with the administration taking a course of action that certain pieces of intelligence *indicated* was difficult, or unlikely to succeed, because the payoff was worth the risk. For me, the question of good faith comes down to that. Did the administration make the choices they made with respect to intelligence out of the genuine belief that their chosen course of action was beneficial given the criteria they had to satisfy, or did they make those choices out of laziness, incompetence, hatred for the intelligence regime or personal gain? The question of negligence would have to be answered within the broader scope of objectives, and conflicting priorities. One would have to *prove* that acting a different way would have been "better" in whatever sense of the word. I don't know how one could that, as well as proving that a reasonable person would have *known* that it was better. Intelligence data alone is not good enough to justify or criticize policy.

None of which is meant to excuse the misrepresentation of intelligence, as JKevinKing mentions.

Are you suggesting the intelligence community is manufacturing the evidence that the intelligence at the time indicated that Saddam did not WMDs and was a threat?


Not at all, where did you get that idea? I'm saying it's not necessarily surprising, and not necessarily correct, for an intelligence official to insist that intelligence play a central role in policy making.
posted by loquax at 10:32 AM on February 10, 2006


This conservative hated Clinton because of his lies and poor domestic and foreign policy.

The same reasons I hate Bush. But Bush's screw-ups are even more egregious.


Lies about his sex life? So what? I guess the peace and prosperity of the '90's was due to poor policy. Right.

The conservatives said his first budget would mire us in a recession! Wrong. The conservatives said Bosnia would be a quagmire (what a joke)! Wrong. The conservatives said Iraq would be a cakewalk! Wrong. How does it feel to be consistently wrong!
posted by JKevinKing at 10:36 AM on February 10, 2006


DMCA, currency devaluation, NAFTA, I didn't like how he handled Bosnia or Milosovic, and by my lights, the economy only looked that good on paper.

There was enough to dislike for me, on the main issues I care about. But I got no dog in the Clinton fight anymore, unless the warmongering H.Clinton ever moves any further up the ladder.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:42 AM on February 10, 2006


The article linked discusses the role of intelligence in policy analysis and states both that misleading intelligence was used improperly (which I agree with) and that intelligence was improperly politicized, ignored and not used in making policy decisions (which I don't necessarily think is a problem). I think it is analogous to a business decision maker deciding on a course of action before consulting marketing or R&D based on other criteria. I would not agree with that decision maker justifying that decision to shareholders on the basis on misrepresented research.

One more time! The public would not have approved us doing what has turned out to be a tremendous mistake if they had not had lied, and they are counting us uncounted billions of dollars, not to metnion tens of thousands of deaths and injuries. They had information to the effect that this would probably happen, but the did it anyway. They did it either because of blind adherence to ideology or in a cynical grab of power, and they hid that they knew this until after the election, which ran based on national security.

They are not fit to be in power. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney must be impeached. On this alone, not to mention domestic spying and the Abramoff connection.
posted by JKevinKing at 10:44 AM on February 10, 2006


sonofsamiam,

Fair enough ... peace.
posted by JKevinKing at 10:46 AM on February 10, 2006


I am writing like a 5th grader!!! Sorry, I guess I'm in a hurry to post!
posted by JKevinKing at 10:47 AM on February 10, 2006


The public would not have approved

Agreed. Probably, unless they had been more convincing in their non-WMD arguments. Which they didn't have to be because of the WMD arguments.

doing what has turned out to be a tremendous mistake


That's your opinion, not a fact.

They had information to the effect that this would probably happen, but the did it anyway.


Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Entering into any conflict comes with the knowledge that there will be a cost. Whether or not the cost was worth it is another matter.

They are not fit to be in power. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney must be impeached.

Maybe, on the basis of their actions, not, as I assert, on their treatment of the intelligence community.
posted by loquax at 10:51 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, you should really talk to some senior officers over there fighting this war sometime. They will disabuse you of several of your naive notions.
posted by digaman at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2006


digaman, I'm speaking broadly from a policy perspective. I think there are a lot of problems with what's happening in Iraq, some inexcusable.
posted by loquax at 10:58 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, not it seems like you're doing your own cherry-picking. Let's try this again.

Of course, and like I said, I objected to the misrepresentation of intelligence wrt WMD. On the other hand, I have no objective problem with a course of action being decided upon without a full assessment of all intelligence, or being made while ignoring some intelligence. I just don't see intelligence (in the context we're discussing here) as being the determining factor, or even necessarily a very critical factor, when considering policy.

You have missed the point. It is not simply the case that the Bush administration ignored some intelligence or failed to collect some element of intelligence. What happened here is very clear: the Bush administration had a pre-selected path and then sought out only that intelligence which supported their pre-selected path. This is a clear abuse of the intelligence agency as a tool to inform an administration's decision making.

I'll also note that you appear to be backpedalling quite furiously. In the model you posted above the intelligence is presented to the administration who use it to construct their policy; now you say intelligence isn't necessary to construct such policy? I'll also take a moment to note that the administration, in trying so hard to find evidence that supported its decision, obviously disagrees with you about the importance of intelligence. Your "it's only intelligence" position is clearly not held by the administration and doesn't serve as a justification for their actions.

Actually, I'd say it's closer to misrepresentation within the context of the "selling" of the policy to the US public. Beyond that, a lot of this comes down to whether or not you believe that the broad policy in Iraq is wrong. I don't and would have supported it without any mention of WMD. I still support broad US and international involvement, and think that, generally speaking, things are heading in the right direction (which is neither here nor there, only demonstrating my perspective).

Regardless of whether an invasion of Iraq is the "right" thing to do, the case for massive negligence remains. By treating the intelligence agencies as little more than propaganda machines whose only job was to tell them what they wanted to hear, Bush's cronies deliberately impaired their own ability to wage war. Again, the dissonance in your position is palpable. If you really believe that the Iraq war was necessary (if you hold the case the war was unnecessary but was still a good idea I'll have to dismiss you as a psychopath), then Bush's decision to ignore and manipulate intelligence should be doubly unacceptable since it completely ruined what otherwise could've been a successful operation if, for example, intelligence on the likelihood of a violent insurgency had been given the due consideration it deserved. Again, in the model you proposed earlier, by administration remains negligent.
posted by nixerman at 10:58 AM on February 10, 2006


loquax, from a policy perspective:

Though Pillar himself was responsible for coordinating intelligence assessments on Iraq, "the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war," he wrote.

That's not a description of some sensible weighing of policy objectives and intelligence. That's a description of, at best, extreme incompetence on the part of the administration -- i.e., if Pillar was the guy in that job, they should have listened to him earlier; and if Bush didn't think Pillar was the right guy for the job, he should have been fired earlier. (As for the "at worst" possibilities, they are legion.) Unless you're willing to argue that coordinating intelligence for the Middle East -- as we're going to war there -- was a negligible post.
posted by digaman at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2006


doing what has turned out to be a tremendous mistake

That's your opinion, not a fact.


You are only kidding yourself.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:10 AM on February 10, 2006


I just lost a big response, as well as some steam when mefi went down for a bit. Also, you all make good points. Just to clarify my points:

- Intelligence in any form serves to advise the administration, not to dictate its actions. I have no idea what the particular machinations of the US intelligence bureaucracy are, but I find it difficult to believe that the decision makers in the administration were not at all aware of prognostications of difficulty in post-liberation Iraq. Their success in dealing with it is arguable, but thus far, Hussein has not been returned to power, Al Qaeda has not succeeded in achieving their goals, and civil war has not broken out. Time will tell.

- The misrepresentation of certain pieces of intelligence relating to WMD in particular to the American public on the part of the administration was wrong, and Bush should be held accountable, and he will be, in part, at the polling stations in November.

- Choosing a course of action despite (or even before consulting) intelligence that indicates difficulty or high cost is not in and of itself a bad thing - the consequences are. Unless, that is, one can *prove* that an alternative course of action would have accomplished the same goals with less cost.

- The existence of negligence cannot be judged solely by the administration's actions with respect to the advice they were provided, but in concert with all other information at their disposal, what they *knew* or should have known, and the result of their actions, all of which I believe are very arguable and leave more than enough room for defending a charge of negligence.

I do believe a lot of this comes down to whether or not one believes that what is happening in Iraq was a totally foreseeable, unmitigated disaster from every perspective. If that is what one believes, everything that the Bush administration has done in this regard is criminal, impeachable and abhorrent. The further one moves from that opinion, the less clear cut their fault and liability become (obviously, at the other end of the spectrum, they deserve great praise). I believe that (from a policy perspective) going into Iraq was necessary, and should have been done in 1991. Therefore I think it would have been a tragedy if this intelligence had dissuaded the administration from doing what they did in 2003. I think that all things considered, the outcome of the war could have been much much worse, and has the potential to do great things for Iraq, the US, the region and the world, and I believe some of that has started despite problems (some very major, and some that are the direct result and responsibility of the administration). I don't say this to argue the point, only to indicate that there is a great deal of nuance between criticizing the process and the outcome. Or, in other words, I think the criticism in this thread is misdirected. Would there be no outrage on your part if the administration had very openly and formally acknowledged the intelligence in question, analyzed it, and gone ahead anyways (assuming that they didn't)? If not, then your problem is really with the outcome of the decision, not with the process.
posted by loquax at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2006


You guys who are over discussing this issue are free to stop clicking on FPPs related to it. I'm serious. I don't make it a habit of dropping in on conversations related to, say, rap music or knitting or Sudoku to make the point that I don't care about these things. Why bother?

Because I'd be interested in having a more meta-discussion on how to actually accomplish something. However it's become brutally clear that scandal after scandal (are they scandals if nobody is scandalized?) can continue to come out and it's not going to accomplish anything. The black spy can continue to blow up the white spy and vice versa in the discussion boards but the public doesn't seem to shift.

I think the question of "why not?" would be interesting to discuss, assuming it's in a less patronizing way than "Until FOX breaks in on a NASCAR event to explain to Republicans in small, simple words how their chosen President and his cronies have fucked them over, I don't see how this will help."
posted by phearlez at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2006


“I'm saying it's not necessarily surprising, and not necessarily correct, for an intelligence official to insist that intelligence play a central role in policy making.” - posted by loquax
“ Intelligence in any form serves to advise the administration, not to dictate its actions.” -
posted by loquax

I couldn’t disagree more with your characterization of intelligence. In some sense it’s accurate to say intelligence should not influence policy making. The problem is you cannot have a political agenda or political considerations giving weight to one set of data over another. All intelligence is not equal.

To place it in banal terms - we could have a majority of city aldermen arguing that the public works division head’s assertion that there is a major water line burst is wrong because spending resources and focus on a pipe that is only 10 years old is a waste because the pipe is designed to last 50 years.

Intelligence, and analysis, is best left to professionals.
Certainly the policy makers are free to ignore it or vary their policy based on it, but clear feedback is a requirement of good decision making. It’s why it’s vetted. It’s why it’s analyzed and weighed and contrasted with other data streams. And that analysis must be made without regard to and without serving any other hierarchy. It must be the truth or as close to it as humanly possible whether it’s what the administration wants to hear or not.

If your public works boss tells you the pipes are sound, and you go ahead and replace every pipe in the infrastructure - your residents have a right to bitch that you didn’t listen to what your own people were telling you and that you spent all kinds of money based on a poor policy of complete infrastructure change.

It’s little wonder that there is a mass exodus of talent from the intelligence community.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2006


loquax, if policymakers don't pay attention to reality, it's not surprising that they'll come up with bad policy. (Even if you still believe going to war was the correct decision, I hope you agree that planning for the occupation was largely based on wishful thinking.) Listening carefully to what the intelligence agencies are saying isn't the only possible way to stay in touch with reality, but it's pretty important.
posted by russilwvong at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2006


If it were only intelligence agencies of the US that the Bushies ignored then loquax might have a semi-valid argument but we know they ignored senior defense officials, foreign intelligence, former intelligence and defense officials, and anything that did not support their intentions to invade Iraq.

Also, even the White House now admits this invasion is a mistake, so we have that "opinion."
posted by nofundy at 6:36 AM on February 11, 2006


What amazes me the most is that anyone with even a hint of intelligence would realize that invading and occupying Iraq would be an invitation to and breeding ground for increasing the very terrorism the Administration says they're fighting to reduce.

Given the Adminstration's actual reasons for invasion, is anyone actually surprised by the reaction of radicals? There's a reason why knowing your history and understanding it are important. Not only was intelligence ignored and cherry picked, so was common sense. The insanity in all of this is incredibly disturbing.
posted by juiceCake at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2006


even the White House now admits this invasion is a mistake--

Really? When did that happen?

One point that hasn't been made in this thread yet: Cheney was defense secretary during Gulf War I, when the CIA's assessment that Iraq was several years away from a nuclear bomb turned out to be spectacularly wrong (they were only six months away). So it's not that surprising that Cheney would have been inclined to ignore the CIA and believe the most alarmist assessments of Iraq's WMD capability.
posted by russilwvong at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2006


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