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Review of 'The One Percent Doctrine'

By Peter Dale Scott
July 27, 2006

The One Percent Doctrine is an important book. On a factual level, it is a hard-edged narrative of the conflict between DCI George Tenet’s CIA, representing what author Ron Suskind calls “the old world of evidence,” and Vice-President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon, the proponents of “a new day of action.”

But Suskind is writing on behalf of those at State and CIA -- plus “a host of generals at Defense” -- whose conclusion is that the systematic ignoring of “the basics of analytical due diligence” presents “institutional dangers for the government and for the country” (328).

The book’s title derives from a remark by Cheney at a White House meeting in November 2001, that even a “one percent chance” that al Qaeda might acquire a nuclear weapon demanded, not analysis, but response. In Suskind’s gloss:

“Justified or not, fact-based or not, ‘our response’ is what matters. As to ‘evidence,’ the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn’t apply. If there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction…the United States must now act as if it were a certainty. This was a mandate of extraordinary breadth.” (62)

Cheney’s “one percent doctrine”marginalized the CIA, whose inconvenient facts (there was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection, Saddam was not purchasing uranium ore in Niger) were seen as obstructive; and marked the agency as a target for White House displeasure and ultimately retribution.

The book can be construed as a well-argued case for impeachment of the Vice-President, and possibly also of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both men are accused of misdirecting the country and even at times of frustrating the clearly expressed will of President Bush, who in this book emerges as far closer to Tenet than many of us had believed. Condoleezza Rice is criticized chiefly for her failure as National Security Adviser to establish a robust process of policy coordination, leaving Cheney and Rumsfeld to prevail.

An example was the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, whom the neocons in the VP’s shop and the Pentagon used to challenge the CIA’s negative assessments on Iraq. The CIA warned Bush that Chalabi was misusing his USG subsidy, and later that he had told an Iranian official that the CIA had broken the Iranian code. In Suskind’s account, Bush “lost patience with supporting Chalabi,” and told first Rumsfeld and then Wolfowitz to sever connections with him. “But nothing was done….The Pentagon’s behavior bordered on insubordination.” (313)

Parts of the story have been told before. In February 2006, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar charged in Foreign Affairs that “intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions that had already been made.” During the 2004 election, while still an officer, Pillar himself had been attacked by Robert Novak for allegedly leaking his negative prognosis for Iraq. “For the agency to go semi-public is not only unprecedented but shocking. … The CIA … is supposed to be a resource -- not a critic -- for the president.” Novak’s charge was taken up by the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, which wrote of the twin insurgencies in Iraq and in Langley.

Suskind’s case against Cheney and Rumsfeld seems carefully tailored for exploitation by Democrats in the next Congress. Kerry’s campaign position on Iraq is fully endorsed: “Kerry’s appeal, in fact, was to a rational ideal – to the gap between saying something and making it so; the belief that sound analysis should underpin words and actions” (325, emphasis added).

But Suskind, in designing a narrative that can be absorbed and digested by the American political process, avoids some important facts which no one in power seems willing to mention. The most obvious fact suppressed in Suskind’s narrative is the importance of controlling Middle East oil as a prime motive for invading Iraq.

One can agree with Suskind that the war has become an unambiguous setback to the war on terror. (“One hundred fifty thousand U.S. troops in the center of the Arab world was a jihadist recruiting tool of almost unfathomable magnetism,” 276-77). But he accepts at face value the misleading claim that WMD provided the “primary impetus for invading Iraq” (123, cf. 213).

Suskind’s view of the war as a product of bad intelligence fits very well with Senator Kerry’s current position that the war in Iraq was a “mistake.” But, as Kevin Phillips has observed,

“if oil had nothing to do with the invasion, why did top officials of the Bush administration mention it in predicting how well the invasion would work out? Cheney opined that by the end of 2003, Iraqi oil output would hit 3 million barrels a day, and Lawrence Lindsey, the White House economic adviser, talked about 3-5 million, saying in September 2002, 'the key issue is oil, and a regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil' so as to drive down prices. Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy in the Pentagon, enthused that increased Iraqi oil revenues could pay for the war. And White House speechwriter David Frum wrote in his 2003 book on Bush that the war on terror was designed to 'bring new stability to the most vicious and violent quadrant of the earth—and new prosperity to us all, by securing the world’s largest pool of oil.'”[1]

It is now well known that Cheney’s Energy Task Force in early 2001 paid close attention to maps showing Iraqi oil reserves, and the foreign oil companies laying claim to them. In fact France, Russia and China had legal claims to explore 35 percent of Iraq’s total reserves, but had been blocked for a decade by the sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s alleged WMD were the excuse for the sanctions, which were only to be lifted when Iraq had been declared free of WMD.

Instead, on May 22nd, 2003 the U.N. Security Council, under American pressure, passed Resolution 1483, dropping all sanctions against Iraq, and allowing the U.S./U.K. to control Iraq's oil production revenue.[2] On the same day, Bush, by Executive Order, directed all oil earnings into a central fund, controlled by the United States, for reconstruction projects in Iraq.[3]

An honest analysis of U.S. strategy in Iraq must acknowledge this long-standing design for gaining control of Iraqi oil reserves, and the decade-long abuse of the false WMD issue as a means to this end. Both political parties have been complicit in this design; and there will be no end to our current nightmare until one party successfully repudiates it – specifically the twin goals of dominating Middle East oil unilaterally, and of maintaining permanent military bases in Iraq. Suskind’s book, valuable as it is in detail and anecdote, obscures and indeed falsifies these fundamental issues.

Journalists who depend on continued contact with inside sources are of course unlikely to write so critically as to alienate or discredit them. As a result, the American public continues to learn about its history on two different levels. One level of narrative, with inside access, is well-informed, but constrained to repeat official fictions and suppress embarrassing truths. A second level, free to look critically at the most important underlying facts, is also remote from the details.

In short, one can hope that the “institutional dangers” of which Suskind warns us will indeed be addressed in 2007 by a new and less supine Congress. But there must be a more fundamental rejection of our Napoleonic follies in the Middle East, and for this task Suskind does not really equip us.

[1] Kevin Phillips, “American Petrocracy,” American Conservative, 6/17/06, http://www.amconmag.com/2006/2006_07_17/cover.html. Frum’s statement should perhaps be somewhat discounted for the same reason as Midge Decter’s on the Warren Olney show, 5/21/04 (“We’re not in the Middle East to bring sweetness and light to the world. We’re there to get something we and our friends in Europe depend on. Namely, oil.”) Both Frum and Decter, in speaking of oil, are veiling their own interest in the security of Israel.

[2] The Resolution noted the de facto “Authority” of the U.S. and U.K. in Iraq, and that “the funds in the Development Fund for Iraq shall be disbursed at the direction of the Authority” (U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 [2003], http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N03/368/53/PDF/N0336853.pdf?OpenElement. Cf. William Clark, “Revisited - The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War With Iraq,” http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/RRiraqWar.html. Clark reminds us that “the Bush administration blocked Dr. Blix and all of the U.N. inspectors from returning to Iraq in the `post-war’ period, and successfully had the UN sanctions lifted regardless of Iraq's WMD status. Why? Empire….

The European media has noted that had Dr. Blix and the U.N. inspectors been allowed to complete their `pre-war' inspection process for an estimated 6 more months in 2003, they could have ultimately determined Iraq was indeed free of WMD.”

[3] Executive Order 13303 of 5/22/03, Federal Register, 31931, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/05/20030522-15.html. This had the added benefit to the United States of switching Iraqi oil sales back from euros to dollars (cf. Financial Times, 6/5/03).


Peter Dale Scott's latest book is Drugs, Oil and War (2003)His anthology, 9/11and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, co-edited with David Ray Griffin, will appear in September 2006. His website is http://www.peterdalescott.net


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