Monday, February 13, 2006

Iraq Policy Came before Facts

A story came out two days ago that is about three years old for many of us who watched the Bush Administration make its flawed case for war in Iraq. But as the story by Walter Pincus in The Washington Post shows, the pieces keep filling in on the history of one the sorriest and needless decisions ever made by an American president:
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

"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," Pillar wrote.
One thing I have always suspected is that the picture of Iraq just prior to the war was to some extent influenced by ten years of conventional wisdom that was carefully cultivated and to some extent swallowed by conservatives pushing for more action in Iraq during the nineties. We know, for example, that Ahmed Chalabi, one of the favorite Iraqis of the neoconservatives, said many things over the years that never turned out to be true.

What has become crystal clear in the last five years is that what passes for conventional wisdom among the media, think tanks and political classes in Washington these days just isn't worth much. We need major changes.

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