Intelligence policy discussions have recently centered on failures that have presumably occurred because there was a lack of operatives "on the ground" in foreign - particularly, Middle Eastern - countries. That argument seems to have merit, until one considers it from the perspective of history. There was certainly no shortage of available, trained operatives at the CIA, when the decisions were being made that committed us to the disaster that was Vietnam. In fact, the CIA was flush with manpower in the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. So how can we conclude that the current disaster that is Iraq has anything to do with staffing, manpower or even competence at the CIA? The Iraq War is quite simply and quite completely the result of a total failure in judgment by senior members (including the president and vice president) of this administration.
Given the extent to which both the president and vice president went to avoid personal service in Vietnam, it is sadly ironic that they would rush to repeat the same mistakes that got us into that mess 50 years ago. At the time our administrations were focused on Soviet expansion and their scenarios, plans and actions were all intended to counter that threat. Yet even the casual reader of a university survey text on East Asian History would have understood that the people of Viet Nam were fiercely independent. Beginning with Eisenhower and continuing through the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, our so-called best and brightest in Washington focused on ideology to the exclusion of any real understanding of the people of Viet Nam. After all, our best and brightest knew what those people really needed - never mind what they wanted.
Now our current best and brightest - the neo-Conservatives - are running this Administration. (Doubts about best and brightest? Just ask them.) And again ideology, not understanding, has pushed our men and women in uniform into harm's way. The decision to invade Iraq had nothing to do with mistaken "intelligence" or errors by the CIA. That decision was made long before this Administration seriously considered any WMD intelligence. And "intelligence operatives on the ground" would have made no difference. Besides, there were ample other sources if the Administration really wanted to understand Iraq, e.g., the Middle East Studies faculty at any major university.
Certainly, strengthening our ability to proactively deal with international terrorists will make all Americans safer. And strengthening our intelligence capabilities will do that. But tying the attack on Iraq to "bad intelligence" is as dishonest as was arguing that Iraq was part of the 9/11 terror attack. We must realize that making Americans truly safe will also require the public to understand and to objectively evaluate our leaders. When our leaders make incompetent decisions, we need to be able to recognize that. Men (and women) do make mistakes. But part of being a man (or woman) is owning up to those mistakes and taking corrective action - not looking for someone else to blame.
This Administration needs to make better decisions. Deciding to be honest with the American public would be a nice start. And Americans need to take a realistic - very skeptical - look at this Administration's future decisions. They do, after all, act on our business and in our names.