What we learned from Seymour Hersh 8.

Jeb Bush[1], Judith Miller[2], David Brooks[3], and—apparently—Bob Woodward[4] have all argued that the George W. Bush Administration did not lie us into a war in Iraq in 2003. Instead, they were themselves the victims of an intelligence failure. Paul Krugman has offered a furious response insisting that the Bush Administration did too lie us into a war.[5] Krugman’s position essentially is that of the Democratic Party.[6] Who is more nearly correct?

Saying today that there was an “intelligence failure” directs one’s attention to the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department. They are, after all, the long-standing and still-standing foreign intelligence analytical arms of the government. If an “intelligence failure” did occur, it occurred there, right?

In truth, the intelligence accepted by the Bush Administration was of a decidedly “iffy” quality. In this sense, the Bush Administration did fall victim to an “intelligence failure.” However, according to Seymour Hersh, the intelligence was “iffy” because the Administration did not like the intelligence produced by the CIA and the State Department. It created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) inside the Defense Department, staffed it with outsiders to get a non-consensus view of the intelligence, and by-passed the normal procedure for creating a National Intelligence Estimate. The OSP gave the Administration what it wanted and did not receive from CIA and State: a justification for war in Iraq. Today, OSP is no more.[7] A post-invasion investigation found many faults in US intelligence, but was explicitly barred from investigating Administration use of intelligence.[8]

The controversy over how we came to be in Iraq obscures several other questions. First, how did CIA and State come to be shouted down by OSP? Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were effective exponents for OSP. Did Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell defend their own analysts and espouse their views? What of National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice? In theory, the National Security Adviser’s chief function is to co-ordinate the different government agencies to make sure that the President receives the best advice. Did she make sure that alternative views were heard?

Second, asking for a justification for a war is one thing. Not asking for an assessment of what would happen as the result of such a war is another thing. General Anthony Zinni had warned that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would lead to the fragmentation of Iraq and that “the crazies” would take over. He can’t have been alone in this belief. He certainly wasn’t wrong. Did anyone in the Administration ask for an assessment? Or did they just accept that American forces would be met with parades and flowers, unicorns and crystals?

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/25/iraq-invasion-america-war-jeb-bush-us-election

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Miller

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/opinion/david-brooks-learning-from-mistakes.html

[4] http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/george-wbush-weapons-of-mass-destruction-iraq-war/2015/05/24/id/646530/ This one has me scratching my head.

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/opinion/paul-krugman-errors-and-lies.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=1

[6] Heading into an election year proclaiming that “Oh, we’re a bunch of dopes who got played by the other side, so vote for us” must be disheartening.

[7] OSP closed down in June 2003. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Special_Plans

[8] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Intelligence_Commission ; and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curveball_%28informant%29

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