Paul Pillar is the author of a new book on 9/11 and the Iraq War entitled, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform. In an appearance recently on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, Pillar said that the “the most important point to make is, that war decision was not driven by intelligence…if you look at what intelligence was saying to the Bush administration, they were not talking up Iraq as a threat before the decision was made. The infamous intelligence estimate about Weapons of Mass Destruction didn’t even exist when the President had made his decision and the selling of that decision to the American public by late summer 2002 moved into high gear, the President didn’t even read the estimate.”
Pillar was a CIA agent for 28 years, and from 2000 to 2005 was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia. When he left the CIA he went public as a critic of the Bush Administration and the lead up to the war in Iraq.
I wrote about Pillar’s appearances and articles at that time, back in 2006, including criticism he received from Guillermo Christensen, a fellow CIA agent. Christensen accused Pillar of “violating his confidences” and causing damage to the CIA. “For a CIA officer to discard this neutral role and to inject himself in the political realm is plain wrong,” wrote Christensen. “It will end up making the CIA even less relevant than it is today, if that is possible.”
Despite Pillar’s criticism of the Bush administration, he acknowledged to Wolf Blitzer that “There was a strong consensus, not only here in the United States but overseas, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Iraq wasn’t a new story in 2002. There had been 16 UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Iraq come clean on its Weapons of Mass Destruction. President Clinton in September of 1998 had signed the Iraq Liberation Act making regime change official U.S. policy. A couple of months later, on December 16, Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq explaining the mission of the armed forces with these comments:
“Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons…Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference. He has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. Unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade long war. Not only against soldiers, but against civilians, firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iran. And not only against a foreign enemy, but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq…The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.”
It is not as if Pillar isn’t familiar with these facts, but he has a book to sell, and he knows there is still a market out there and a media platform, MSNBC, willing to help promote the notion that Bush knowingly lied and misled America into the Iraq War.