I think unfairly so. And a story in the Daily Mail illustrated why.
John Nixon was the CIA man brought in to interrogate Saddam Hussein after the Army captured him. In Nixon's new book, Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein, Nixon revealed we got Hussein all wrong. Our intelligence was dumb.
Had we let the sleeping dog lie, we may have had an ally in our war on terrorists.
I have not read the book, but the Daily Mail excerpted a very pertinent passage.
Thirteen years after invading Iraq again, America finds the Islamic State taking parts of Iraq and Syria, Iran having nukes, Muslim refugees and terrorists overrunning Europe, and thousands of soldiers dead or wounded -- and hundreds of thousands of civilians dead or wounded as well.
The last four presidents from the Gulf War to the wrecking of Libya and the arming of Islamic State "rebels" in Aleppo have been waging wars that do not make us or our allies safer.
But I was part of that, wasn't I? The lessons of Vietnam went unheeded, as the lessons of Queen Victoria's wars went unheeded by the architects of World War I.
From John Nixon via the Daily Mail:
Capturing Saddam was all very well, but now we had to get to the truth about his regime, and in particular the weapons of mass destruction that had been the pretext for the invasion. His response was simply to mock us.
‘You found a traitor who led you to Saddam Hussein. Isn’t there one traitor who can tell you where the WMDs are?’ He warmed to the subject, saying Americans were a bunch of ignorant hooligans who did not understand Iraq and were intent on its destruction.
‘Iraq is not a terrorist nation,’ he said. ‘We did not have a relationship with (Osama) bin Laden, and did not have weapons of mass destruction... and were not a threat to our neighbours. But the American President [George W Bush] said Iraq wanted to attack his daddy and said we had ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
Ignoring his goading, we asked Saddam if he’d ever considered using WMDs pre-emptively against US troops in Saudi Arabia. ‘We never thought about using weapons of mass destruction. It was not discussed. Use chemical weapons against the world? Is there anyone with full faculties who would do this? Who would use these weapons when they had not been used against us?’
This was not what we had expected to hear. How, then, had America got it so wrong?
Saddam had an answer: ‘The spirit of listening and understanding was not there – I don’t exclude myself from this blame.’ It was a rare acknowledgment that he could have done more to create a clearer picture of Iraq’s intentions.Listening. Neither side listened.
FDR was pretty good at it. Eisenhower and Reagan too.
Nixon revealed a problem:
...in my years studying Saddam, I never doubted the received wisdom that his stepfather in Tikrit beat him. Many eminent psychiatrists who had analyzed him from afar said this was why Saddam was so cruel and why he wanted nuclear weapons.
Yet, in the course of my further interrogations, Saddam turned our assumptions upside down, saying his stepfather was the kindest man he had ever known: ‘Ibrahim Hasan – God bless him. If he had a secret, he would entrust me with it. I was more dear to him than his son, Idham.’
I asked about the CIA’s belief that Saddam suffered great pain from a bad back and had given up red meat and cigars. He said he didn’t know where I was getting my intelligence, but it was wrong. He told me he smoked four cigars every day and loved red meat. He was also surprisingly fit.
The CIA profile of Saddam suggested he was a chronic liar, yet he could be quite candid. Our perception that he ruled with an iron grip was also mistaken. It became clear from our interrogations that in his final years, Saddam seemed clueless about what had been happening inside Iraq. He was inattentive to what his government was doing, had no real plan for the defense of Iraq and could not comprehend the immensity of the approaching storm.So despite the bravery of Mike Spann and others, the CIA failed. Maybe it is too bureaucratic. Maybe it is too reliant on technology. Maybe it should get more human beings on the ground who speak the language. I don't know. But I know we must do better.
Surprisingly to me, Bush 43 was not helpful.
Nixon had to brief him on another matter:
Several months later, I was asked to go back to the White House. This time, the President looked annoyed and distracted and asked for a briefing on the Shia cleric called Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, then engaged in dangerous insurgency against the coalition. This was not on the agenda.
Trying to gain a few seconds, I said: ‘Well, that is the $64,000 question’ Bush looked at me and said: ‘Why don’t you make it the $74,000 question, or whatever your salary is, and answer?’ What an a***hole!
In his 2010 memoir, Bush wrote: ‘I decided I would not criticize the hardworking patriots of the CIA for the faulty intelligence on Iraq.’ But that is exactly what he did. He blamed the agency for everything that went wrong and called its analysis ‘guesswork’ while hearing only what he wanted to hear.Bush 43 only listened to what he wanted to hear, and so this is what they told him.
I am hoping President Trump will be different. Military power must be used judiciously. Blowing off intelligent briefings is not a good start, even if you know what they are telling you is tilted. Trump should work on gaining the trust of the CIA, something Obama did not do, which is why they are telling him what he wants to hear and not what he needs to know.
Trump must do better.
The CIA is depressed. Why try? Presidents don't listen. You don't have the right resources. Covers are blown, and here comes a new president who is flipping the bird at the CIA. Encouraging them may lead to better work.
They call the CIA "The Company." Treat it as such.
Trump needs to turn around that agency or dump it, because right now a lot of good people are risking their lives just to be scorned. If the nation needs a Department That Nobody Listens To, outsource it to CNN, and save money.
Please read "Trump the Press," in which I skewer media experts who wrongly predicted Trump would lose the Republican nomination. "Trump the Press" is available as a paperback, and on Kindle.
For an autographed copy, email me at DonSurber@GMail.com
Follow me on Twitter.