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December 06, 2007

Keeping The Propaganda Image Intact

Today John Bolton explains in the Washington Post why the NIE on Iran is so so wrong:

[W]e not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis...[Bush] would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

In his memoir, Robert Gates described the hatred of the CIA he witnessed while working there at the beginning of the Reagan administration:

That the Reaganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover was apparent in the most extraordinary transition period of my career...[Reagan] orchestrated a comprehensive battle plan to seize control of city long believed to be in enemy hands. Main force political units, flanking maneuvers, feints, sappers, and psychological warfare all played their part as Reagan and company between November [1980] and January [1981] deployed their forces for a political blitzkreig...

CIA had had political transition teams before, but the Reagan transition at CIA was something else again...The range of views on what need to be done to "fix" intelligence was radical...

In the view of many incoming Reaganites, and not just the radicals on the transition team, CIA had badly underestimated Soviet military capabilities and political intentions for years...Like Nixon in 1969, Reagan's men in early 1981 believed deeply that CIA was dominated by political liberals very much out of touch with the real world...

Finally, this is from Hannah Arendt's famous essay "Truth and Politics":

The main effort of both the deceived group and the deceivers themselves is likely to be directed towards keeping the propaganda image intact, and this image is threatened less by the enemy and by real hostile interests than by those inside the group itself who have managed to escape its spell and insist on talking about facts or events that do not fit the image. Contemporary history is full of instances in which tellers of factual truth were felt to be more dangerous, and even more hostile, than the real opponents.

It's hard to understand all this right-wing fury at the friggin' CIA, for god's sake. But throughout history, crazy leaders have reacted to just these kinds of impediments with just this kind of bizarre anger.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 6, 2007 11:39 AM

Why, you ask, the Reaganite, right-wing hate for the CIA?
OK, clue: because some in the CIA were predicting the collapse of the Soviet empire at the height of the Reagan/Weinberger military build-up of billions and, that was not acceptable.

Posted by: donescobar at December 6, 2007 12:32 PM

I can see how the right wingers can hate the CIA, what with ALL the shit that organization has pulled and the troubles WE have caused the world because of them and their games. APARRENTLY WE PAY them to act in such a manner and have for a long, long time. The KEY word here is OVERSIGHT. You catch one doing a crime, you arrest and try, that works. BUT OUTING A CIA AGENT IN TIME OF WAR, THAT'S TREASON AGAINST ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The CIA may well be assholes, but they are OUR assholes. OUR= WE THE PEOPLE.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 6, 2007 12:39 PM

Faith is believing in something one knows is untrue, and truth is therefore unwelcome. The US faith-based anti-Islamic foreign policy has no room for unbelievers who deal in something as irrelevant as truth.

Regarding the CIA, I suspect it's not so much evil as mis-managed, with the firing of 800 covert operatives by Admiral Turner in 1977 as one example. Half the CIA is typically involved in black operations, not intelligence, just doing what the president tells it to do, secretly overthrowing governments and stuff like that. The US criticizes China and Iran for "lack of transparency"--Hah!

Anything coming our of a secret organization is suspect, even this latest NIE, and I don't quarrel with Bolton for suspecting it. Are the Iranians too stupid to have a dis-information program? Are we suddenly to trust the CIA (and 15 other agencies)? Kow-towing to Israel gets so complicated.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 6, 2007 12:46 PM

if they hate the CIA so much, why did Bush the first get elected?

Posted by: almostinfamous at December 6, 2007 01:31 PM

"Contemporary history is full of instances in which tellers of factual truth were felt to be more dangerous, and even more hostile, than the real opponents."

This immediately reminded me of a quote by W.H. Auden I ran across in the current Harpers:

Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe in it against those who still do.

I find this observation useful in distinguishing the loathsome but commonplace liar from the more calculating and considerably more odious propagandist.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at December 6, 2007 03:03 PM

Thanks for weighing in on Bolton. I was dismayed but not surprised late last night to see Fred Hiatt had Bolton sounding off in an op-ed.

Posted by: Batocchio at December 6, 2007 03:46 PM

Here's my unsolicited advice for Pres. Bush on how to handle the apparent contradictions at the next press conference:

Bush: "Now you see, a lotta people think there's some kinda disagreement between the intelligence agencies and my administration, but that's just not true. I have never said -- and you can even go back and look at the 2000 campaign tapes -- that Iran was pursuing new-clear weapons. I agree with the NIE that they aren't.

"However, it is clear to me that Iran continues to pursue something far more dangerous: newk-you-lur weapons.

"Just pronounce it out loud and you can see why this is dangerous. New-clear -- sounds fresh and clean. America's got lots of new-clear weapons; they just bring peace and good things; it's kinda like Santa Claus coming over the north pole, just like an ICBM. But newk-you-lur weapons are something the axis of evil wants. You see how it sounds like 'killer' or 'jugular,' like 'the Iranian killer went for the jugular with his newk-you-lure weapons.'"

Posted by: Whistler Blue at December 6, 2007 05:22 PM
I find this observation useful in distinguishing the loathsome but commonplace liar from the more calculating and considerably more odious propagandist.

Odious and loathsome. Those are interesting, but who's more dangerous: the liar or the ideological believer?

Is Bolton a liar or an ideologue? He could be both, but I don't think he is.

Posted by: Ted at December 6, 2007 08:03 PM

I remember the first big thing I ever learned in my Soviet politics course at university, back in '88: the system is constructed so that the Party, the military, and the KGB are all balanced against each other in a stasis of mutual distrust. The CIA is certainly not the first instance in history of an intelligence agency at odds with political ideologues who are otherwise on the same "side"...

Posted by: Ian G. Mason at December 6, 2007 10:05 PM

"Odious and loathsome. Those are interesting, but who's more dangerous: the liar or the ideological believer?"

Bearing in mind the obvious semantic potholes inherent in a discussion of this nature, I'd say the latter is the most dangerous of the two.

The Liar lies to effect a situational outcome - one which may or may not have far-reaching consequences - typically, in the pursuit of personal gain, whether material or abstract. Here, the manipulation of people is incidental to the objective.

The Ideological Believer is indifferent to the veracity of the lie propagated in the service of the ideology. He or she endeavors to effect the thought processes of others in a manner which replicates the ideology. The manipulation of people is the primary objective - a kind of evangelism intended to be expansive and enduring, regardless of the potentially horrific consequences which, once manifest, can always be justified by its enablers. (Nagasaki and Hiroshima spring to mind.)

The Liar is more likely to tango with a powerful mitigating force which rarely touches the Ideological Believer: conscience. I seriously doubt John Bolton ever grapples with his, assuming he has one.

Posted by: Arvin Hill at December 7, 2007 01:12 AM

ah i know what's bugging me about the auden quote. there are many layers and ways of believing in magic.

Posted by: hapa at December 7, 2007 01:31 AM