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Pillar Post

February 16, 2006

I’ve lost this post a couple of times, so it’s not as eloquent as I’d like…

Much is being made of this piece by Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000-2005, called "Intelligence, Policy and the War in Iraq".

Pillar also appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s "Situation Room" over the weekend,  which is good for a summarized version of his criticism of the  Bush administration.

Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff is actually an  old friend of Pillar, and vouches for his decency etc., but also has I think a fair critique of Pillar’s interview at "Paul Pillar speaks", and is a further distillation of what he has to say.

What’s interesting to me is how much more subtle Pillar’s points are than what was advertised in this Washington Post piece. What immediately jumps out to me is the fact that Pillar affirms the overall unity on the assessment that Saddaam possessed WMD.

In this regard, the Bush administration was quite right: its perception
of Saddam’s weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats,
and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the
White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs
did not drive its decision to go to war. A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas
was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best
way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement
the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution
indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors — namely, the desire
to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal
politics and economics in the region.

He says that like it’s a bad thing!

This article reveals several things to me, the most important being the emphatic reassertion that there was broad consensus outside the administration that a) Sadaam posessed WMD and b) the best thing to do was continue UN sactions because Sadaam was "boxed in".

I think I can understand a little bit what it must be like to dedicate yourself to a specialty, only to have a non-specialist that out-ranks you refute and pervert your findings for their own political ends. But with all due respect, I think Pillar represents that kind of wisdom that only a specialist or an academic could believe. I think it was noble and even necessary – I’m glad this approach was tried for many years – but after 9/11, I think it became extremely unwise. I’m glad the President bucked the conventional wisdom and tried to get better results by doing something different. Stability is not peace. The fact that people like Pillar cling to the idea that the UN is an effective enforcer of anything except it’s own corruption continues to amaze me.

Pillar seems to dispute the President on policy grounds, not necessarily evidence. The disagreement always has and always will be not about the existence of WMD, but what to do about it. That policy should properly be decided by the President, not someone like Pillar, even with all his experience.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken permalink
    February 19, 2006 10:13 pm

    I think what is important is that if the President had said to Congress, and the American people, that he wanted to invade Iraq to “to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region,” (not that he could have constructing such a sentence himself), he would have mustered little or no support. This wasn’t a strong enough selling point. So, in his now all-too-familiar ends-justify-the-means sort of way, he insisted that there were WMD, and he was wrong. How many “specialists and academics” can we continue to ingore before questioning the President’s judgment?

    I really do hope I’m wrong. I wish the Iraqi people the best in their endeavor to build a democracy. But for now, it’s still looking like a quagmire to me.

  2. February 22, 2006 12:28 am

    Ken-
    Actually, I’m quite sure the President “could have constructing such a sentence himself”, but that really besides the point. Please, let this sink in: Pillar admits that the issue was not and never has been about the existence of WMD, but rather what to do about it. It’s not that “Bush insisted there was WMD, and he was wrong”. There was widespread agreement on this point, if much dispute about the particulars.

    Moreover, Sadaam had been in violation of multiple UN resolutions ever since the end of the first Gulf war. Sanctions may have kept him boxed in, but they also were responsible for half a million deaths of Iraqi children. Sadaam’s sons were even more nuts than he was; if Sadaam was never able to restart his weapons programs- and we know that he would have ASAP, his sons would finda away later. Iraq was considered a state sponsor of terror for what, decades? And regime change was the policy of our government since the Clinton era?

    We could have continued the status quo indefinitely, but eventually, Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. Dealing with it militarily sooner rather than later was not the only answer to be sure, but certainly a reasonable one given everything we knew at the time. We tried peaceful means for more than a decade. It was time to cut the crap.

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