On its surface, the final report of the presidential commission on intelligence is another whitewash and rehash of previous investigations into pre-war intelligence debacles. The president appointed the commission reluctantly, delayed its final report calculatingly and “did not authorize it to investigate how policy makers had used the intelligence they received.” Yet a close read and a cursory knowledge of modern political events still confirms the President’s role in deliberate deception.
The commission outwardly concluded that, “in no instance did political pressure cause them [intelligence officials] to skew or alter any of their analytical judgment.” The very next sentence contradicts this assessment. “That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence agencies worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”
This conventional wisdom was sought, crafted and manipulated by the administration. Since dissenting opinion did not compliment the administration’s presupposed ideological assumptions of American foreign pre-eminence, it was conventionally expunged.
A quick reminder for the forgetful: In January of 2004, George W. Bush’s former treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill disclosed that the Bush administration had been planning an Iraqi regime change “from the very beginning.” According to O’Neill, “Saddam was topic ‘A’ ten days after the inauguration.” O’Neill’s remarks are consistent with the ideological outlook of the President’s closest advisors.
Back in 2000, as members of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (the brains of the Iraqi invasion), signed onto a “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for A New Century” memo, counseling America to “play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security.” The document suggested that, “while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” In 1998, Wolfowitz urged President Clinton to brand removal of Saddam “the aim of American foreign policy.”
The election of George W. Bush in 2000 brought regime change advocates to power. That the ideologically blinded neoconservatives eagerly manipulated the “group think” consensus of the intelligence community -- the assumption that Saddam Hussein had re-started his WMD programs after inspectors left in 1998 -- to compliment their agenda of global hegemony is non negotiable. Neither is the administration’s policy of extending American global dominance.
Consider the following assertion found in our nation’s National Security Strategy (released on September 17, 2002). “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling the power of the United States.”
The President’s ambitions and the intelligence community’s conclusions were conveniently complimentary. Even the commission admits this. “Some analysts were affected by this conventional wisdom and the sense that challenges to it -- or even refusals to find its confirmation -- would not be welcome.”
The commission’s report details the reaction of former CIA Director George Tenet to news that the centerpiece of Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation (the existence of mobile biological labs) was of dubious origin. According to the report, Tenet dismissed the senior intelligence analyst raising doubts with “yea, yea” and told him that he was personally “exhausted.”
And while the sleeping patterns of our former CIA chief are certainly noteworthy, Tenet’s quick dismissal of dissent is indicative of the former chief’s low tolerance for unorthodox opinion. Reportedly it was this trait that later earned him the presidential Medal of Freedom.
Nonconformist conclusions were also shelved by the President. The new intelligence report indicates that since the Iraqi inspectors had tested and disproved almost “every piece of fresh evidence,” their conclusions were routinely dismissed by the White House.
For three months, between November 2002 and March 2003, the inspectors served as the verifiers of weapon claims -- the eyes on the ground. During that time period they raised serious doubts of a supposed Iraqi nuclear program, questioned Bush’s claims that Saddam purchased uranium from Niger, disputed CIA charges that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes for use in centrifuges and found no evidence of mobile biological laboratories. U.S. intelligence dissenters had reached similar conclusions, only to find their concerns dismissed.
Such dismissals were made in the interest of efficiency. The administration’s pre-war theatrical performance was a thin veneer to appease the moderates’ (Powell’s?) insistence on cosmetic public debate of policy. The decision to invade Iraq was made by the neocons in the 1990s. September 11th provided the opportunity for attack.
That this ideological bend sustained an environment in which “pro regime-change” assertions were encouraged is the finding of the presidential commission (once one is able to read past the report’s paradoxical and contradictory language this point becomes clear.).
President Bush’s aura of political impunity is disingenuous. For if a groupthink mentality was able to effectively squash analytic defectors, the administration’s positions only encouraged this practice. More importantly, for a president to outright dismiss contradictory opinion on intelligence undermines his commitment to protecting Americans and securing the well being of our armed forces. President Bush’s illegal and reckless extension of American military might undermines both responsibilities.
To take these responsibilities seriously is to ensure that war is of last resort. To flaunt them is to enforce a conventional and convenient wisdom. The Bush administration stuck to the latter.
Igor Volsky is the host of the Luske-Volsky Show (with Dr. Bruce Luske) and Political Thought, two public affairs programs airing every Monday and Friday from 4-6 pm on WMAR 1630AM. Both shows can be streamed at: www.politicalthought.net. Igor can be reached at Igor.Volsky@marist.edu.
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