Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform

Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform

by Paul R. Pillar
     
 

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A career of nearly three decades with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council showed Paul R. Pillar that intelligence reforms, especially measures enacted since 9/11, can be deeply misguided. They often miss the sources that underwrite failed policy and misperceive our ability to read outside influences. They also misconceive the intelligence-policy

Overview

A career of nearly three decades with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council showed Paul R. Pillar that intelligence reforms, especially measures enacted since 9/11, can be deeply misguided. They often miss the sources that underwrite failed policy and misperceive our ability to read outside influences. They also misconceive the intelligence-policy relationship and promote changes that weaken intelligence-gathering operations.

In this book, Pillar confronts the intelligence myths Americans have come to rely on to explain national tragedies, including the belief that intelligence drives major national security decisions and can be fixed to avoid future failures. Pillar believes these assumptions waste critical resources and create harmful policies, diverting attention away from smarter reform, and they keep Americans from recognizing the limits of obtainable knowledge.

Pillar revisits U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and highlights the small role intelligence played in those decisions, and he demonstrates the negligible effect that America's most notorious intelligence failures had on U.S. policy and interests. He then reviews in detail the events of 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, condemning the 9/11 commission and the George W. Bush administration for their portrayals of the role of intelligence. Pillar offers an original approach to better informing U.S. policy, which involves insulating intelligence management from politicization and reducing the politically appointed layer in the executive branch to combat slanted perceptions of foreign threats. Pillar concludes with principles for adapting foreign policy to inevitable uncertainties.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

...rich, useful, and important book.

— Thomas Powers

Military Review - James M. Burcalow

Pillar's book is extremely detailed and informative, providing a better understanding of just how hard it is to be an intelligence professional in a world where all that matters is being wrong... once.

Choice

This is a well-written effort by a former intelligence offer and academician. Hopefully, members of the national security community and their staffs will read and benefit from it.

Foreign Affairs
A vigorous and hard-hitting insider's account,

— Lawrence D. Freedman

New York Review of Books
Pillar provides a telling and comprehensive new perspective from the inside.

— Steve Coll

Richard K. Betts

Pillar's combination of qualifications as a high-level practitioner and careful scholar is unmatched. He weaves together general analysis of the role of intelligence with insights from his own involvement in the most important foreign policy issues over many years.

Mark M. Lowenthal

The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq WMD estimate are both encumbered by erroneous legends. Paul R. Pillar, a senior intelligence analyst deeply involved in both issues, offers crucial correctives, also applicable to the overly-esteemed 9/11 Commission Report. These alone make this an important book. Pillar goes further, offering a unique history of U.S. intelligence and the issue of 'intelligence reform.' Not all will agree with his observations, but they come from substantial experience and deep thought and need to be seriously considered.

Robert Jervis

Paul R. Pillar brings to his study of intelligence and foreign policy the skills of an accomplished scholar and a wealth of experience as an intelligence officer. A brief endorsement cannot do justice to the richness and power of his arguments, which are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what intelligence can and cannot do; why the appeal of reforms is often greater than their value; and how we can avoid repeating our past mistakes.

Martha Crenshaw

Writing with the authority of a distinguished practitioner and scholar, Paul R. Pillar presents a blunt and candid assessment of the profound disconnect between intelligence and American national security policy. His pointed reflections expose the reality of the politicization and misuse of intelligence as well as the importance of the images of the world that policy makers bring to the table. His book is an invaluable corrective to the assumption that policy blunders and the inability to predict can be blamed simply on 'intelligence failure.'

Richard A. Posner

Paul R. Pillar has written a brilliant, lucid analysis of the evolution of U.S. national security intelligence in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. He shows how the intelligence agencies have been made scapegoats for the failures of our political leaders, how intelligence reform has become confused with bureaucratic reorganization, and how our foreign policy is driven by a psychological as well as political incapacity to accept the limitations of our knowledge about the plans and motivations of actual and potential adversaries. Pillar's book is erudite, thorough, and authoritative, yet accessible to anyone concerned with the gravest issues of national and global security.

New York Times Book Review - Thomas Powers

[A] rich, useful, and important book.

Foreign Affairs - Lawrence D. Freedman

A vigorous and hard-hitting insider's account,

New York Review of Books - Steve Coll

Pillar provides a telling and comprehensive new perspective from the inside.

Kirkus Reviews

A career intelligence officer reflects on the uses and abuses of intelligence and the agencies that gather it.

Contrary to general belief, Pillar (Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2003, etc.) declares that "however important the contributions of intelligence in executing policy at the tactical and operational levels have been, its contribution to major strategic decisions has been almost nil." If only policy were made according to an ideal model under which leaders come to an issue with open minds, digest apolitical intelligence reports and decide what best serves the national interest. Instead, decisions are made by senior policy makers on the basis of untested mental images "reflecting their sense of history, their personal experiences, and the political and strategic perspectives that they had brought with them into office." The leaders later seek justification for their policies in intelligence reports, which may first be distorted by political expectations and then used more to generate public support for a predetermined policy than to shape that policy. Pillar deplores such "politicization" of intelligence and presents examples of its deleterious effects going back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, with special emphasis on the Vietnam and Iraq wars. When policies fail, the intelligence agencies then become convenient scapegoats, ripe for "reform." The author briefly describes why Congress and the press are poorly situated to expose or counteract these problems. Finally, he offers some forlorn suggestions for effective intelligence reform, which he concedes have almost no chance of enactment, and some worthwhile recommendations for adapting our foreign policies to accept the inevitability of uncertainty. Along with this thoughtful analysis, however, much of the book is given over to two additional topics: in-depth denunciations of how intelligence was first ignored and then misused in the run-up to the Iraq war, and of the reorganization of the intelligence agencies that came out of the deliberations of the so-called "9/11 Commission." Pillar's disgust with the Bush administration and the Commission is palpable, and he goes into more detail than necessary to make his case in these sections; the noise of axe-grinding sometimes overpowers his generally well-supported positions.

A thoroughly documented, cogently argued work by an author with vast personal experience of his topic, but perhaps too wide-ranging to be effectively pulled together into a single volume.

The Manhattan Mercury - Richard Harris
Important and highly readable.... This is a book that should be widely read by both the public and policymakers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231157926
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/06/2011
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Robert Jervis
Paul R. Pillar brings to his study of intelligence and foreign policy the skills of an accomplished scholar and a wealth of experience as an intelligence officer. A brief endorsement cannot do justice to the richness and power of his arguments, which are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what intelligence can and cannot do; why the appeal of reforms is often greater than their value; and how we can avoid repeating our past mistakes.

Mark M. Lowenthal
The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq WMD estimate are both encumbered by erroneous legends. Paul R. Pillar, a senior intelligence analyst deeply involved in both issues, offers crucial correctives, also applicable to the overly-esteemed 9/11 Commission Report. These alone make this an important book. Pillar goes further, offering a unique history of U.S. intelligence and the issue of 'intelligence reform.' Not all will agree with his observations, but they come from substantial experience and deep thought and need to be seriously considered.

Richard A. Posner
Paul R. Pillar has written a brilliant, lucid analysis of the evolution of U.S. national security intelligence in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. He shows how the intelligence agencies have been made scapegoats for the failures of our political leaders, how intelligence reform has become confused with bureaucratic reorganization, and how our foreign policy is driven by a psychological as well as political incapacity to accept the limitations of our knowledge about the plans and motivations of actual and potential adversaries. Pillar's book is erudite, thorough, and authoritative, yet accessible to anyone concerned with the gravest issues of national and global security.

Martha Crenshaw
Writing with the authority of a distinguished practitioner and scholar, Paul R. Pillar presents a blunt and candid assessment of the profound disconnect between intelligence and American national security policy. His pointed reflections expose the reality of the politicization and misuse of intelligence as well as the importance of the images of the world that policy makers bring to the table. His book is an invaluable corrective to the assumption that policy blunders and the inability to predict can be blamed simply on 'intelligence failure.'

Richard K. Betts
Pillar's combination of qualifications as a high-level practitioner and careful scholar is unmatched. He weaves together general analysis of the role of intelligence with insights from his own involvement in the most important foreign policy issues over many years.

Meet the Author

Paul R. Pillar is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and at the Brookings Institution. He served in several senior positions with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council and is a retired army reserve officer. He is the author of Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy and Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process.

Columbia University Press

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