Friday, October 7, 2011

Paul R. Pillar's "Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy"

Paul R. Pillar is visiting professor and director of studies in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. 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.

Pillar applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy addresses the Cuban Missile Crisis, the dramatic Cold War showdown in 1962 in which the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war. The question at hand, and a central question that the book applies to the making of all U.S foreign and security policy, is: where did American decision-makers get the images—of the adversary and of the situation they were confronting—that guided their decisions? The usual answer for foreign policy is that the images come from an intelligence service. But intelligence played almost no role in how President Kennedy and his advisers handled the crisis. They were guided instead by their own conceptions of human behavior and by historical analogies. For Kennedy, the most important analogy was how European powers stumbled into World War I—the subject of Barbara Tuchman's then-new book on the subject, The Guns of August.

My book, elsewhere in the same chapter, reviews how intelligence similarly was largely irrelevant to other great decisions in U.S. foreign policy, including ones that came out well, such as the missile crisis, and ones that did not, such as the Vietnam War. And yet, a recurring theme in American discourse about foreign and security policy is that when bad things happen to the United States, such as woebegone wars or terrorist attacks, the problem is misinformation from a broken intelligence service and the solution is to “reform” intelligence. This belief functions as a national myth, serving to reassure Americans that the right fix to a broken bureaucracy will prevent bad things from recurring. The myth has several harmful effects, including misunderstanding of the real sources of images that matter and adoption of policies that overreach the inherent limits of our understanding of the outside world.

As the subtitle indicates, the Iraq War and 9/11 receive the most attention in the book, both because they have heavily shaped current popular attitudes about intelligence and because I have direct personal experience with both. The war was launched in spite of, not because of, most of what U.S. intelligence said about Iraq. And the terrorist attack occurred despite strong strategic warning from intelligence about the threat.
Learn more about Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue