There is no question that the sudden emergence of the Arab Revolution caught the Obama Administration flatfooted. While it is easy to blame President Obama for being asleep at the switch, he is dependent on the professional government for information about the world — specifically, that provided by the $80 billion a year intelligence services.
The American intelligence apparat – CIA, DIA, NSA, NRO, etc. — has missed just about every important international development/opportunity in the last 30+ years: The Iranian Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, 9-11, WMDs in Iraq, the Taliban’s tentative overtures with respect to dumping Osama bin Ladin, and now the Arab Revolt. Given this history, Obama is not entirely blameless for being caught napping. To date has not even attempted to correct what is a horrendous problem that clearly threatened to capture him and distort his decision making.
Why are the $80 billion a year intelligence activities so blind to important events and so resistant to reform?
The central reason is that US intelligence activities have been corrupted by the exigencies of domestic politics. This causes analysts to see what their masters want them to see rather than what is. Courageous analysts who try to tell the truth are driven out while sycophants rise through the ranks of these agencies. Politicization occurs in all spheres of intelligence operations. The degree to which domestics politics shapes our bias toward Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict may be the most notorious case in point, but it is highly the only one. During the Cold War, for example, the intelligence community deliberately inflated estimates of Soviet strength to justify the large and increasing defense budgets needed to keep the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) afloat. The fact that the Soviet Union went into terminal decline beginning in the mid-1970s was an inconvenient truth that was ignored for reasons of domestic politics. Today, for the same reason, the same kind of threat inflation is occurring in the so-call long war on terror, as I explained in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War. The inward focus on domestic politics biases our leaders’ decision cycles, or their Observation – Orientation – Decision Action (OODA) Loops, by corrupting the crucial Orientation function. Orientation should be the filter thru which they make sense out of and interpret observations, not a mirror to reflect and amplify preconceived ideas.
This well-intrenched, corrupting process of politicization feeds on itself, because, without a forceful intervention, it steadily weakens resistance to further corruption. An extremely important part of this larger mosaic is the CIA’s renewed enthusiasm for torture, reminiscent of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, that came into vogue since 9-11, and exploded into our consciousness but certainly did not end with the revelations of Abu Graib. As Scott Horton demonstrates below, Abu Graib was just the tip of torture’s iceberg.
Horton describes how this happened in the CIA and why it has caused the US to pay a huge price — essentially to be on the wrong side of history once again. The important thing to remember is that torture is a seamless part of and made more likely by a much larger pattern of corruption. Ending torture is a necessary, but not sufficient detergent for cleaning the Augean Stables.
By Scott Horton
Did the Bush Doctrine help provoke the Arab Revolution of 2011? Yes. But not in the way that Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer think. My remarks to a conference at Duke University are available as a PDF here.
Phi Beta Iota: Emphasis added above. Unfortunately, systemic corruption means that incremental reforms perpetuate the corruption rather than reduce it. The replacement of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) with someone of proven integrity, absolutely loyal to the Constitution and the Republic, with the deep broad knowledge to make truth the sole criterion for governance and give the White House the lever it needs to restore integrity to governance in America, is the ONE THING the President could do to save himself, his legacy, and the Republic.