Taking on Imperial Hubris
The book has an apt title: Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. And the author spells out "why." We are losing because of the misguided war on Iraq and the upsurge in terrorism it has engendered.
Sadly, that conclusion was validated last week by the widespread, coordinated attacks by the Iraqi resistance – attacks that brought Vietnam to mind and, specifically, the country-wide "Tet" offensive by Communist forces in early 1968 that made Walter Cronkite and many other Americans realize we had all been badly misled into thinking that that war was winnable.
The final week of formal U.S. occupation of Iraq was a bad one. And the last thing the Bush administration needed was publication of the challenging judgments of a CIA analyst who devoted 17 years to tracking Al Qaeda and other terrorists. That analyst (let's call him Mike) wrote that the Iraqi adventure was "an unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat." He emphasized, "There is nothing that bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq."
Mike added that the United States has "waged two failed half-wars and, in doing so, left Afghanistan and Iraq seething with anti-U.S. sentiment, fertile grounds for the expansion of Al Qaeda and kindred groups."
Asked yesterday to comment on these biting charges, National Security assistant Condoleezza Rice refused on grounds that she did not know who Anonymous is. Did she not think to ask the CIA? If I had no trouble finding out, certainly she should have none.
Worse still for the administration, during an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell on June 23, Mike rubbed salt in White House wounds, subjecting to ridicule the dumbed-down bromide that what motivates bin Laden and his Muslim followers is hatred of our "freedom," our "democracy."
It's the Policy, Stupid!
"It's not hatred of us as a society, it's hatred of our policies," Mike insisted. He gave pride of place to the neuralgic issue of Israel. With candor not often heard on American television, he emphasized "It's very hard in this country to debate policy regarding Israel," adding that bin Laden's "genius" is his ability to exploit those U.S. policies most offensive to Muslims – "Our support for Israel, our presence on the Arabian peninsula, in Afghanistan and Iraq, our support for governments that Muslims believe oppress Muslims."
Asked how bin Laden views the war in Iraq specifically, Mike said bin Laden looks on it as proof of America's hostility toward Muslims; that America "is willing to attack any Muslim country that dares defy it; that it is willing to do almost anything to defend Israel. The war is certainly viewed as an action meant to assist the Israeli state. It is...a godsend for those Muslims who believe as bin Laden does."
Mike drove home this general message again yesterday on ABC's "This Week." He argued that it is U.S. policies that "drive the terrorism," and said failure to change those policies could mean decades of war. Only if the American people learn the truth can more effective policies be fashioned and implemented, he added.
What Sets Mike's Teeth on Edge
Here is where Mike's understated outrage shows through most clearly. The undercurrent in both interviews is that his analysis was offered well before the war but, as he told NBC, "senior bureaucrats in the intelligence community (were unwilling) to take the full truth, an unvarnished truth to the president...Whatever danger was posed by Saddam...was almost irrelevant...the boost that (the war) would give to Al Qaeda was easily seen."
Many experienced intelligence analysts will find it easy to identify with Mike's frustration. Put on your analyst hat for a few minutes and put yourself in his place. You have studied the issue with painstaking professionalism for 17 years and have acquired an expert view of the forces at play and the likely result of this or that policy. You warn, you warn, and you warn, as Mike did. And yet, because of wooden-headedness, stupidity or sycophancy, your superiors disregard your views and you are reduced to looking on helplessly as a calamitous course is set for the country.
Adding insult to injury, you hear Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confess, as he did on June 6 in Singapore, that "The troubling unknown is whether the extremists...are turning out newly trained terrorists faster than the United States can capture or kill them. It is quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this."
For self-confident analysts, all this creates powerful incentive to publish their own analysis. Once published there is always a chance it might have some resonance – perhaps even influence. In any event, they will be able to tell their grandchildren: Don't blame me; this is what I tried to get them to understand.
Many of us have been there, done that – including me during the '60s when I had a ringside seat at the crafting of U.S. policy toward Vietnam, while serving as principal CIA analyst of Soviet policy toward Vietnam and China. As U.S. forces got bogged down in the quagmire of Vietnam, senior officials in Washington began to indulge the wishful thought that the Soviets could be pressured or cajoled into "using their influence" to help the United States find a graceful way out – and that, until then, we had to "stay the course."
Though a relatively junior analyst at the time, I had already become convinced that the Soviet Union, in fact, had precious little influence with the Vietnamese Communists, mostly because it had sold them down the river at the Geneva Conference in 1954. If U.S. policymakers thought differently, it was important to send them our own analysis and try to dialogue with them. My conclusions, however, were thought to be unwelcome among policymakers, and so an earlier generation of "senior bureaucrats" refused to send those judgments downtown.
In early 1967, I drafted an article in which I documented my case for the judgment that "the USSR's voice counts for little in Hanoi...when it comes to North Vietnam's conduct of the war." After receiving clearance from CIA's Publications Review Board (PRB), the article was published in the scholarly journal, "Problems of Communism." Like me, Anonymous Mike received PRB clearance with no changes required.
While understandable, speculation that clearance of Mike's book betokens an intent by senior CIA officials to take a swipe a those responsible for U.S. mistakes on Iraq and terrorism does not ring true. It is not as unusual as press reports suggest for a serving CIA official to publish a book, although Mike's was, because of the subject, bound to be highly controversial.
In my view, there is good news in the approval he obtained. It is a sign that there remain pockets of professionals at the CIA who are determined to honor their responsibility to protect First Amendment and other Constitutional rights of CIA employees.
I regret to admit that I was not certain this was still a sure thing, in view of the way senior CIA officials have played fast and loose with the Constitution on more consequential matters. Two summers ago, CIA Director George Tenet was a willing co-conspirator in the successful effort by the Bush administration to use counterfeit "intelligence" – including a known forgery – to deceive Congress into ceding its Constitutional power to declare war.
It is a safe assumption, though, that serious CIA analysts are glad to see Mike's book out on the street. His judgments are congruent with what substantive analysts there have been saying for years about Iraq and terrorism – without much sign that policymakers were listening. Perhaps Dr. Rice and other senior officials will get the book and read it. That might help someone like Secretary Rumsfeld, for example, who often refers to the fact that some key factors are "unknown" and/or "unknowable" and complains that he frequently encounters a lack of "situational awareness."
I was embarrassed for Rumsfeld when he was on ABC's "This Week" months ago and tried to field a question about how to reduce the number of terrorists. "How do you persuade people not to become suicide bombers; how do you reduce the number of people attracted to terrorism? No one knows how to reduce that," he complained.
Again, it's the policy. Well before the war in Iraq, CIA analysts provided an assessment intended to educate senior policymakers to the fact that "the forces fueling hatred of the U.S. and fueling Al Qaeda recruiting are not being addressed," and that "the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist." The assessment cited a Gallup poll of almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which respondents described the United States as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased." Again, that was before the attack on Iraq.
Too Little, Too Late?
Over the weekend former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke echoed many of the points made in Mike's book. Clarke said the invasion of Iraq was an "enormous mistake" that is costing untold lives, strengthening Al Qaeda, and breeding a new generation of terrorists. "The hatred that has been engendered by this invasion will last for generations," he added.
Which reminded me: With all due respect – and respect is indeed due the likes of Clarke, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil, and Anonymous Mike, who broke fraternity rules in speaking truth – why did they not do so before the war? One of the most depressing facts of the whole experience is the dearth of serving officials who were willing to speak out about the lies while it might have done some good.
Is it legitimate to ask Clarke, O'Neil, and Mike why they waited so long, when – just conceivably – their belated candor might have made a difference? Surely they did not choose to put their publishers preferences as to timing before the cost of "untold lives."
As for intelligence officers, the only ones to blow the whistle publicly before the war are Katherine Gunn of the United Kingdom and Australian intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie. It is a sad commentary that of the hundreds of U.S. intelligence officers with inside knowledge regarding the abuse of intelligence and other indignities regarding Iraq, not one – serving or retired – not one proved willing to risk his/her neck, career, friendships or serene retirement to stave off our country's first war of aggression.