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War stories (continued)

Q: Last week, it was reported that Porter Goss, Bushís new appointee to head the CIA, may be mulling a partisan purge of the agency. Are we witnessing the end of a technocratic, nonpartisan national intelligence apparatus?

A: Are you kidding? Itís not that the intelligence apparatus is the worst itís been; itís that the leadership is worse. Thereís only a certain amount that you can fight. This is what Iím told secondhand. This isnít about the CIA failing the White House, despite what the Senate Intelligence Committee report said. This is about a White House wanting only certain things from the CIA, and a huge price being paid by people that have the integrity to do other things.

Q: Has the administration learned any lessons from Iraq?

A: An American government learning from history? Learning from past mistakes? And maybe actually firing somebody who does wrong? Are you kidding? Excuse me, am I talking to somebody from the middle of Platoís cave? Learn from Vietnam? Learn from what happened to the British who tried to occupy Afghanistan in the 19th century? Learn from what happened 1000 years ago when the infidels tried to take over Baghdad? Come on. Nobody learns.

Q: So this administration is no worse than any other, in terms of not learning from past mistakes?

A: This administration is noticeably worse in the sense that they managed to get us into a completely stupid, useless war. The thing that makes this different from what Johnson and Kennedy and Nixon did is, at least there they thought they were fighting a Cold War. There was some vague semblance of some crazy thinking ó domino theory, you know, whatever it was. Here, this is taking it to an extreme.

Q: But doesnít the administration have a reverse domino theory here? That weíll create, by force, a model Middle Eastern democracy, and that itís going to result in the spread of democracy throughout the region?

A: Oh, absolutely. And not only that; itíll also make the oil safer, and Israel safer too, in the long run. But they didnít do it for Israel or for oil. They did it for sheer ideology. Utopianism. Iíve also called it Trotskyist. Bush doesnít understand this sort of concept, but Wolfowitz would. Theyíre all Trotskyites in terms of wanting permanent revolution, because thatís the way to get what they want.

Q: Will the 9/11 Commission Report be remembered as a heroic effort or an embarrassing whitewash?

A: Some good things came out of it. But they took Bush at his word, and thatís a disaster. We still donít really know what the president knew and really understood before 9/11. I donít think the president could have stopped it. But I think he certainly got away with fudging about how he ignored what he did. The lack of attention to terrorism was acute in this administration, because these are all idée fixe people, and they werenít thinking that way. And the solution of a national intelligence director is just a cop-out. The real issue is, you had a bunch of guys in the White House that drove the policy, and you had a president who came holding hands with [Vice-President Dick] Cheney and testified, and they took at face value everything he said. My brothers in the press donít want to tell us that. To have the 9/11 Commission be viewed as a good, positive thing is important for the press corps, just like I think many elements of the press corps really supported the war before the war. Why do you think the war took place? A lot of guys thought, "Letís do it, letís get embedded, itís a great story." Much better story to go to Iraq than not. Donít ever be surprised about how enthusiastic the press can be to play footsie with the government.

Weíre stuck. Three years ago, when 9/11 broke out and we were mistreating John Walker Lindh so horribly, one of the things that came out is, gee, if a kid like that can penetrate, why canít we? Weíre going to go penetrate the Taliban. And whatís Gossís big thesis in his confirmation hearings? "I promise that within five years, Iíll have people on the ground inside." Not a chance. Weíre never gonna do it. Itís the old cliché ó nobody wants to be assigned to stations where diarrhea is a staple of daily life.

Q: And thereís the point you make in Chain of Command about how in the Cold War, if you were an undercover agent and you were exposed, maybe youíd be expelled from the country, whereas here ó

A: Beheading. Itís hopeless. So all the more reason why you really think long and hard before you tango. Nobody thought through the consequences. I feel sorry for Kerry if he wins. Itís gonna be hell on wheels to get hold of this one.

Q: How do you do it?

A: Obviously, you have to internationalize it. And you have to come to terms with the reality that youíre never going to get an independent police or national military there ó theyíre penetrated. You know what you have to do? Duh. Instead of dealing with puppets like Iyad Allawi, you have to start talking to the insurgents. You have to find them and talk to them. And since we canít do that, the one thing you have to do is realize that the 200-octane fuel that drives this war is us, and the faster you can figure out a way to disengage, the better off everybodyíll be. The way to defuse it is to get us out of the way and bring in some other people to get involved. Donít forget, youíve got one viable commodity in that country that everybody should want to have work normally and well, and thatís the oil. Oil makes everybody rich. I donít know what you do about balkanization ó I think thatís inevitable, but I donít know. Look, itís so intractable.

Q: If Bush wins, the kind of solution youíre talking about seems antithetical to the way he views the world.

A: Yeah. Bushíll bomb it. Heíll do the old cliché about Vietnam ó heíll destroy Iraq in order to save it.

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Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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