Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy by Paul Pillar Reviewed in the New York Times

Paul Pillar

Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Thomas Powers calls Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform, by Paul Pillar, a “rich, useful and important book.”

Paul Pillar’s examination of the politicization of intelligence, particularly by the Bush administration during the lead up to the war with Iraq offers several disquieting revelations. While Powers acknowledges that there might be some who criticize the book for being “a special pleading of an insider.” Power continues:

But [Pillar] is a lucid writer drawing on long experience and wide reading. At stake is our ability as a nation to think clearly about what intelligence services can do and for whom they should do it. Standing in the way of getting this straight has been deep public reluctance to recognize two facts — the Bush administration’s role in turning a blind eye to the dangers of terrorist attack before 9/11, and its determination to whip up fears of Iraqi W.M.D.’s, which allowed the president to send an American army into the heart of the Middle East.

In the book Pillar sheds new light on the Bush administration’s failures during the Summer of 2001 to respond to intelligence that warned of a terrorist attack and the ways in which the CIA went along with the administration’s desire to use W.M.D’s as the pretext for war in Iraq. In describing Pillar’s understanding of the politicization of intelligence, Powers writes:

The C.I.A. works for the president, Pillar notes, which means that politicization — direction, not always subtle, about what to look at and what to say about it — is a fact of life. But it was worst, in his experience, during the “anti-Soviet slant” of President Reagan, especially during his first term, and under George W. Bush, when “the politicization of intelligence tested new depths.” In the run-up to the Iraq war, he says, such politicization was “blatant and extensive,” involving “misleading rhetorical artifice” and “duplicity” through “tenuous and unverified reports” from “unproven sources.” That the administration was determined to invade Iraq is now well established; W.M.D.’s were the excuse for war, not the reason. What Pillar adds to the story is clear confirmation that everyone in the C.I.A. understood this at an early date: “The pro-war wind that the Bush administration policy makers had generated . . . was strong, unrelenting and inescapable.”

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