Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Don’t Ignore the Experts

The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) recently retired top expert on radical Islamists has strongly denounced the conduct of U.S. President...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) recently retired top expert on radical Islamists has strongly denounced the conduct of U.S. President George W. Bush’s global war on terrorism and the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, which he said is “contributing to the violence.”

In an interview published last week by the online edition of Harper’s Magazine, Emile Nakhleh, who retired at the end of June as director of the agency’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, said that the Bush administration’s tactics had “lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world” and its Middle East democratization program “has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric.”

Nakhleh, who taught Mideast politics for 25 years before working for the CIA, also called for Washington to “begin to explore creative ways to engage Iran and bring Iran and Shiite politics to the forefront of our policy in the region.”

“The growing influence of Hezbollah, and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, across the region and within the Sunni street, and the growing regional influence and reach of Iran, are two new realities that we should recognize and engage,” he told Harper‘s Washington editor Ken Silverstein.

The interview, Nakhleh’s first since his retirement, echoed the views of a number of former intelligence officials and career diplomats who have criticized the administration for ignoring their analyses of the dynamics of Mideast politics, particularly their warnings of the challenges Washington would face if it invaded Iraq.

Last February, for example, Paul Pillar, the intelligence community’s top Mideast analyst from 2000 until his retirement in late 2005, disclosed in Foreign Affairs magazine that the community had warned policymakers before the Iraq invasion that a war and occupation would “boost political Islam and increase sympathy for terrorists’ objectives” and that a “deeply divided Iraqi society” would likely erupt into violent conflict unless the occupation authority “established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the first few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam [Hussein].”

Pillar, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency’s former top Mideast analyst, Pat Lang, also accused the administration of distorting and politicizing intelligence in order to build its case for going to war. In Pillar’s words, “The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.”

The most flagrant example of such manipulation was the administration’s efforts, eagerly promoted by right-leaning media, such as the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Weekly Standard, to establish a link between Hussein and al-Qaida-a link that, according to the conclusions of a report released earlier this month by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, never existed.

In his Harper‘s interview, Nakhleh, the author of more than half a dozen books on Mideast politics and strategy, also denounced these efforts, stressing that the intelligence community found “no evidence that there was a Saddam-[Osama] bin Laden axis.”

“The source for much of the information of that sort was [Iraqi expatriate Ahmed] Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, and their positions jibed with the positions of those in the administration who wanted to wage war in Iraq- [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Douglas] Feith, people in the vice president’s office. So [the administration] relied heavily on that reporting, but there was never any evidence to support that link,” Nakhleh said.

Nakhleh also stressed that the intelligence community had warned before the invasion that “just because the Iraqis hated Saddam, that didn’t mean they would like our occupation.”

“Iraq was more complex than just Saddam. We should have learned from the experience of the British in the 1920s, when modern Iraq was created-namely, that bringing in outside leaders would not work,” he said. “People expressed views about the need to plan for a post-Saddam Iraq, about the potential for sectarian violence and the rise of militias, about the fact that the Shiites would want to rise politically. These were not minority views in the intelligence community, but the administration ended up listening to other voices. The focus was on invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam, and after that everything would be fine and dandy.”

As for what Washington can do to clean up its mess in Iraq, Nakhleh echoed some of the administration’s strongest critics, such as former National Security Agency director Gen. William Odom and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), although he did not explicitly endorse an immediate withdrawal or redeployment.

“I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy,” he said. “There’s a civil war in Iraq, and our presence is contributing to the violence. We’ve become a lightning rod-we’re not restricting the violence, we’re contributing to it. Iraq has galvanized jihadists; our presence is what is attracting them. We need to get out of there.”

As to the future, “the only question is whether Iraq will become a haven for sectarianism, or follow either the Iranian model or the standard Arab authoritarian model,” Nakhleh said. “The once-touted model of a secular, democratic Iraq is all but forgotten. This casts a dark shadow on American efforts to spread democracy in the region.”

Citing the treatment of detainees in Iraq and the global antiterrorism effort and the administration’s continuing efforts to get legislation that would permit holding suspects indefinitely, Nakhleh argued that Bush’s pro-democracy rhetoric-most recently offered at the UN General Assembly on September 19-was hypocritical.

“The Islamic world says, ‘You talk about human rights, but you’re holding people without charging them.’ The Islamic world has always viewed the war on terror as a war on Islam, and we have not been able to disabuse them of that notion. Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses, we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness, and the rule of law . That’s very serious, and that’s where I see the danger in the years ahead.”

Unlike some of his former colleagues, Nakhleh expressed support for democratization in the Islamic world, stressing that there was nothing in Islam that was inconsistent with the democratic process and that even avowedly Islamist parties, such as Hamas, are not “necessarily interested in creating Sharia societies.”

“Political Islam is not a threat-the threat is if people become disenchanted with the political process and democracy and opt for violence. There is real danger from a few terrorists, and we should go after them, but the longer-term threat is that people opt out of the system. We need to not only speak out in favor of democracy and political reform, but also act on that as well,” Nakhleh said.

Jim Lobe is a Right Web contributing writer and Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service, which published an earlier version of this article.



Jim Lobe, "Don't Ignore the Experts," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, September 26, 2006).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.

Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.

Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.

Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.

Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.

Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.