These are the first and last paragraphs of the New York Times review (by Thomas Powers) of former spook Paul Pillar’s new book. Pillar worked for 28 years at the CIA and the National Intelligence Council, often on Middle East issues (link at bottom).
Every attentive reader of “Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Paul R. Pillar’s long-needed examination of just what the Central Intelligence Agency got right or wrong before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, will find one observation or another that seems more disquieting than the rest. I haven’t quite decided which of two deserves pride of place on my own list: The fact that the Bush administration never formally debated whether it was “a good idea” to invade Iraq? Or that Pillar, who ran the National Intelligence Council’s shop for the Middle East during both events, cannot tell us “the true reasons the Bush administration invaded”?
…This brings us back to the troubling remarks Pillar makes early in this rich, useful and important book. First is the fact that the administration never formally debated “whether the war was a good idea.” The implication is clear: a small group of officials made the decision on their own, without leaving any record. “It was never on any meeting’s agenda,” Pillar notes. What, then, was the purpose of the war? What did President Bush and his advisers hope to achieve? Who did they think would benefit? I would say that I am about as interested in this question as anyone, but any answer I offered would be only a guess. Bush and his friends have never really been clear about their reasons, and the magnitude of their failure suggests they will carry the secret to their graves.
This is shocking, of course. It recalls Thomas Friedman’s commentary to Avi Shavit in Haaretz that if you had abducted 25 neocons to a desert island before the Iraq war it would never have happened. It recalls Colin Powell’s reported belief, in Karen DeYoung’s biography, that a “gang” from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs pushed the Iraq war as a means of guaranteeing Israel’s security. It recalls Jacob Heilbrunn’s use of the word “cabal” in his book on the neocons, They Knew They Were Right. It recalls Joe Klein’s statement, in a Time blog a couple years ago, that the neocons pushed the Iraq war to set off a “benign domino theory” across the Middle East to make Israel safe. It recalls George Packer’s keen report, in Assassin’s Gate, that the neocons harbored a “move over one” theory of the Iraq war: that Jordan would get Iraq, the Palestinians would get Jordan, and Israel would get greater Israel, that my father bought for two zuzim.