Nearly 2,300 American GIs and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in a war in Iraq that has wounded many more, cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions, tarnished the image of the United States throughout the world and strengthened the hand of violent anti-American jihadists. George W. Bush repeatedly denies having misled the nation while blaming others or trying to redefine the primary motivation for the invasion. But with such results, he cannot escape scrutiny of how he prepped the country by declaring over and over that an Iraq loaded with WMDs and in cahoots with Al Qaeda posed an urgent and direct threat.
Now Paul Pillar, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, reminds us, in a Foreign Affairs article, that in the run-up to the war “intelligence was misused publicly [by the Bush White House] to justify decisions already made”–that is, Administration officials selectively cited intelligence to bolster the case for war. Worse, Pillar says, the “intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive [the] decision to go to war.” Bush and his aides did not study the intelligence to determine if a pressing danger existed; they decided to invade for reasons of their own and viewed intelligence only as material from which they could pluck spin-worthy nuggets to sell the war. They showed little interest in the full analysis assembled by the intelligence agencies (which contained significant ambiguities and generally concluded that Iraq was not an immediate threat), and they created a “poisonous atmosphere” in which intelligence analysts were disinclined to challenge the consensus position and “policymaker self-deception” flourished. “The Iraq case,” Pillar writes, “needs further examination.” That’s why the Senate Intelligence Committee should finish up the Phase II investigation, which is supposed to examine how the Administration handled the prewar intelligence. But the report isn’t necessary to reach the obvious verdict: Bush & Co. had no use for reality-based policy-making. In that circle, intelligence was no match for assumption.