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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Getting it wrong, one war at a time”

    Another day, another damning critique of the Bush administration.

    “”As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community’s assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war.”” So wrote Paul R. Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.

    The fact that the Bush administration “”stretched”” intelligence to make its case for war on Iraq is not news. But Pillar’s account of just how badly this administration obliterated the intelligence-policymaking relationship is.

    For all the focus the government has placed on faulty intelligence, there was more to it than that. The Bush White House disturbingly and comprehensively hijacked the intelligence process.

    Pillar likens intelligence gathering to a field of rocks. One can never overturn all the rocks, but based upon historical patterns and personal judgments, intelligence analysts choose certain ones to upend and then construct a comprehensive picture of who or what threatens us most. But when an administration dictates that only certain rocks be overturned, the intelligence community obeys, providing a misconstrued and unreliable picture of the greatest threat.

    As Pillar argued, the inordinate focus on one arena – Iraq – “”consumed an enormous amount of time and attention at multiple levels. … It is fair to ask how much other counterterrorism work was left undone as a result.””

    This argument has a logical conclusion: America is less secure today than before the invasion of Iraq. The politicization of intelligence gathering left far too much other vital information undiscovered.

    This stinks of reckless priorities, careless governance and a perverted relationship between policy and intelligence.

    The proper correlation between intelligence and policymaking should be a disinterested one – intelligence informs new policy but does not formulate it. The Bush administration tainted that process. As Pillar wrote, “”The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.””

    The Bush administration defends itself from accusations that it manipulated intelligence to justify war by claiming that many Democrats had reached the same conclusions with the same intelligence. This view is generally correct. But, as Pillar contends, “”in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: Intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war.””

    The Clinton administration also thought that Saddam might be pursuing nonconventional weapons, but the intelligence did not spell out any kind of imminent threat.

    The Bush White House disturbingly and comprehensively hijacked the intelligence process.

    We now know, as the intelligence community argued all along, this was the case. Strategic sufficiency – keeping Saddam “”in his box”” and focusing our energies elsewhere – was working rather effectively.

    Saddam’s Iraq, while a nuisance, was not the “”threat”” that this administration deliberately made it out to be. And, meanwhile, precious resources and time were spent unnecessarily on the president’s grand escapade, while other real threats took advantage of our inattention to solidify their positions. Osama bin Laden, Iran and North Korea come to mind immediately.

    Pillar’s account makes it strikingly clear that the Bush administration abused the intelligence community to procure an unwarranted justification for war. Without a reason for a premeditated decision, the next best thing was a shakedown of an agency getting it right all along.

    The White House will argue that Iraq was never about weapons of mass destruction, but rather the value of democracy. That, sadly, is yet another red herring for a more fundamental issue: how this administration rides roughshod over anything that stands in its way, from the CIA and the Geneva Convention to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act and our global allies.

    And as for that supposed Saddam-Osama “”alliance,”” “”The intelligence community never offered any analysis that supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and al-Qaida.””

    Ladies and gentlemen, that is from the top dog on Middle Eastern intelligence. Case closed.

    Matt Stone is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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