Editor’s Note: Officials from the Bush administration continue to excuse their 2003 invasion of Iraq by citing mistaken intelligence on WMD, despite evidence that they had long wanted to oust Saddam Hussein and simply settled on WMD as the most marketable argument.

In this guest essay, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman observes that Bush’s last Defense Secretary Robert Gates now has carried that false WMD rationale into the Obama administration because President Obama chose to keep Gates on:

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Gates to be Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), but he was denied confirmation because a majority of members on the Senate Intelligence Committee believed he was lying about his knowledge and role in the Iran-Contra Affair.

Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh “found insufficient evidence to warrant charging Robert Gates with a crime,” but he concluded that Gates had been "less than candid" about his knowledge of Oliver North’s illegal support for the Contras and the illegal diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales.

In 1991, after being re-nominated by then-President George H.W. Bush, Gates survived the confirmation process to become DCI despite the opposition of more than 30 senators who also found Gates less than candid in discussing his role in the politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central America and Southwest Asia.

In his 1996 memoir, From the Shadows, Gates avoided explaining how the CIA exaggerated Soviet military forces, although he spent a great deal of his working life at the CIA tailoring national intelligence estimates on Soviet military capability and intentions.

And today, Gates is lying about the Iraq War, arguing that an intelligence failure was the reason for the Bush administration’s decision to launch a preemptive attack against Iraq.

Gates told PBS's Tavis Smiley this week that the United States will be more cautious about launching another preemptive attack because of the intelligence failures of the Iraq War, but that the role of the White House and the CIA in distorting the intelligence on Iraq had nothing to do with the decision to go to war.

In reality, the Bush administration relied on phony intelligence to create and employ a strategic disinformation campaign to convince the Congress, the media and the American people of the need for war.

President Bush wanted the war to establish himself as a genuine Commander-in-Chief; Vice President Dick Cheney wanted the war to create a more powerful presidency; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted the war to make his case for transforming the military into a smaller and more mobile force; National Security Advisor Condi Rice wanted the war because the old boy network favored it.

Sadly, Secretary of State Powell knew that going to war made no sense, but he unwisely made the phony case for war at the United Nations because he wanted to be seen as a team player. And now Gates, who owes all of his success to the Bush family, is helping George W. Bush make the case that faulty intelligence was responsible for the Iraq War.

There are lessons to be learned about the Iraq War, but the role of faulty intelligence in the declaration of a preemptive attack is not one of them.

The Congress must learn that it needs to rebuild its legitimacy and credibility, which was lost on its way to authorizing force against Iraq. The professional military must learn that it cannot be an accomplice in presidential deception, which should have been the lesson from the Vietnam War.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff never challenged the presidential lies during the tragic buildup in Vietnam or the run-up to the Iraq War. The mainstream media must learn to challenge conventional wisdom and to examine the arguments of the contrarians, who were right about Vietnam and Iraq.

Judith Miller of the New York Times was not the only victim of the disinformation of the Bush administration; Walter Pincus of the Washington Post and Michael Gordon of the Times should have been skeptical of the information they were given, too.

The major task of the press is to hold any administration’s feet to the fire in regard to duplicity.

The American people must also learn to be more skeptical in times of crisis, when presidents often engage in deception to make the case for war. James Polk did so before the Mexican-American War; William McKinley did so before the Spanish-American War; Lyndon Johnson did so to support the buildup in the Vietnam War.

The Congress, the military, the media and the public must understand the importance of loyal dissent, particularly in wartime.

President Barack Obama blundered badly when he decided to retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

Obama genuinely believes in change in international security. In his inaugural address, he emphasized that “our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do what we please.” He argued that the “world has changed, and we must change with it.”

Defense Secretary Gates, on the other hand, has traditional notions on the importance of post-Cold War military supremacy. He believes that American military policy and the weapons we bought to defend ourselves won the Cold War against the Soviet Union.  

In his memoir, Gates described the Cold War as a prizefight in which a sudden flurry of hooks and jabs put the big guy down for the count.

Obama has questioned the need for the policies of the Bush administration that Gates favors, including the deployment of a national missile defense at home; a ballistic-missile defense system in East Europe; NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine; and the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

These policies are responsible in part for the isolation of the United States from the international community. Real change requires an end to the superpower notions of unquestioned military superiority and militarization of national security policy.

At a crucial time in the discussion of strategic policy in Afghanistan, where additional troops will not reverse the steady deterioration there, it is essential that the Congress, the media and the military also recognize the limits of power against the Taliban and recognize the need to study the case for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We must learn from the mistakes of the misuse of power, which occurred in Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq. We all know the words of naval commander Stephen Decatur regarding “our country, right or wrong.”

But we must never forget the words of Carl Schurz, a major general in the Union Army and then a senator, who said “Our country, right or wrong.  When right, it ought be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. This article appeared previously at The Public Record.

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