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CIA's Paul Pillar: Iraq war was to shake up Middle East

Truth about Iraqis

February 21, 2006

I have bolded areas I think are of particular import.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Vice President Cheney said last week that he has the authority to declassify intelligence, information like the kind that led to us to war in Iraq. Now retired Paul Pillar worked at the CIA for 28 years. From 2000 to 2005, he was in charge of coordinating the entire intelligence community's assessment of Iraq. He recently wrote that the Bush administration cherry-picked intelligence before the war to support the decision they had already made to go there.

We asked the CIA for comment today and a spokesperson told us, "Mr.

Pillar is free to express his personal opinions as a private citizen." That's nice of them. Mr. Pillar, thank you very much. You're now free to speak. Let me ask you to take a look at this claim by Vice President Cheney in August of 2002 before he went to war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was the build-up to war and it was to scare a lot of people in the middle who hadn't decided on the war, that we would face a nuclear attack from Iraq to here on the territory of the United States, if we didn't go to war. What was that claim based on by the vice president? What intelligence?

PAUL PILLAR, FMR. DEPUTY CHIEF, CIA COUNTERTERRORIST CENTER: There was an assortment of human and technical intelligence, mainly human. But you have to remember, how much was analysis? That is to say, inference. We really didn't know anything. If you take the vice president's statement after the word "know," then that was the judgment, mistaken as it turned out, of the intelligence community.

MATTHEWS: How much of this was just put together by people who wanted us to go to war? The Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi, who's now going to be oil minister over there. They just wanted their country back.

PILLAR: I wouldn't put too much emphasis on that, Chris. I mean, all the analysts around town were reading all of the available information and Chalabi and the INC people had an angle. But most of the difficulties in the intelligence, the errors that were highlighted in the Silberman-Robb Commission, went well beyond just the INC and Chalabi's people.

MATTHEWS: Bottom line, do you believe there was a nuclear threat from Saddam before we went to war?

PILLAR: I believe and the community believed that he was in the process of reconstituting a nuclear weapons program. The judgment was that Iran—or Iraq rather, was probably several years away from that. The vice president in a separate statement that he made, a major speech in August 2002, basically disagreed with that by saying he thought that they would get nuclear weapons fairly soon. That was not the community's decision.

MATTHEWS: What about the lingo that came out of the then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice when she said if you wait for a smoking gun, you'll get a mushroom cloud. Was that a fair assessment of the immediacy of the threat?

PILLAR: Well that's rhetoric. As I said, the judgment of the community was the program was being reconstituted, which turned out to be an erroneous judgment. But erroneous or not, it was probably, Iraq was probably still several years away from having a weapon.

MATTHEWS: OK, let's take a look at another claim. A warning, rather, from the vice president, also given before the war in December 2001, right after 9/11. Here he is, the vice president talking about a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: It's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with the senior official of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There's the vice president saying, Mohammed Atta, the lead killer on 9/11, having met with an intelligence officer of the Iraqi government, the March of 2001, before the attack on the United States. Is that accurate? Was there any grounding in that?

PILLAR: It was never confirmed and in the subsequent investigation of that particular lead, shall we say, it did not pan out at all. Now the judgment of the FBI and the community and the 9/11 Commission, no such meeting took place.

MATTHEWS: And by the way, although we saw that tape, and he truly did make that claim on tape, as we saw, the vice president subsequently denied that having ever made that statement. Let's take a look at another one. Here's how Cheney thought we would be greeted, our forces once they arrived in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will in fact be greeted as liberators.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Was that your best intelligence, that there wouldn't be an insurgency?

PILLAR: The judgment of the intelligence community, and this is very much a judgment, since you're talking about trying to anticipate a future, was that the view toward the foreign occupation forces would depend above all on how successful they were in those first few weeks and months after invading Iraq, in restoring and establishing safety, security, a growing economy.
Of course, we did not succeed in doing that. And our anticipation was, if we did not succeed in doing that, that the foreign troops, that is to say, U.S. coalition forces would be seen as occupiers and would be seen as adversaries. And part of the response could take the form of guerrilla warfare.

[Truth About Iraqis: National Security Adviser at the time Condi Rice said no one in the US anticipated an "insurgency". She got promoted for that.]

MATTHEWS: Did you expect the Sunni population, which had benefited from the regime of Saddam Hussein, to resist our occupation?

PILLAR: We certainly expected and highlighted in prewar intelligence community assessments, that the sectarian and ethnic splits among the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds, were deep rooted. They were intense. And that the process of trying to turn Iraq into a stable and unified democracy partly for that reason, would be long and difficult and turbulent. And if an occupying force weren't sitting on it, civil war would be a possibility.
MATTHEWS: Has there ever been a country that's allowed itself to be overtaken, to be occupied without some kind of nationalistic resistance?

[Truth About Iraqis: Is Matthews calling the "insurgents" a nationalistic resistance? And by doing so, is he saying nationalistic ideals take precedent?]

PILLAR: That is always the natural tendency.

MATTHEWS: Why didn't we predict it?

PILLAR: Well in the community assessments I talked about we—well, I eschew the word prediction, since so much would depend on what the United States itself did. Certainly the clear anticipation of the community was that Iraq was no different from, indeed at least as good an example of what you just mentioned.

MATTHEWS: Well people like me predicted it based upon history. We didn't have all the intelligence needed.

PILLAR: Good for you.

MATTHEWS: I'm sorry, I think you may have well, too. Let me ask you, with all this, putting it all together, the three big cases for war, it would be relatively smooth. In fact, a slam-dunk effort to cake walk as it was said to be, that there was going to be a nuclear threat if we didn't act. And of course there was some connection to 9/11. Putting it all together, was that a firm basis for going to war?

PILLAR: I don't believe so. So much attention was given to the weapons of mass destruction given the judgments of the community, that we were still at least several years away from the most important thing, a nuclear weapon. I don't think the urgency was there. And although there, as the president and others have rightly said, there was a very widespread misperception about the state of not just nuclear weapons, but other weapons of mass destruction program.

That other issue that you touched on, relationship with al Qaeda or alleged relationship, was much more of a manufactured issue. There really wasn't anything there that the intelligence community saw that remotely resembled an alliance or something that they expected to become an alliance.
MATTHEWS: Were these elements we talked about, the nuclear case, the connection to 9/11, were they basically—were they the reason for going to war with Iraq or were they the sales pitch?

PILLAR: Well I think we've had some statements from the likes of Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Feith that they were not necessarily a real reason to go to war. I personally believe, and trying to just look at this as a student of American politics and looking at what some of the decisionmakers had written before, that the main reason for going to war was the desire to shake up the politics of the Middle East. And the hope that Iraq with this change force of the military invasion would bring about big change not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the region. I think that was the main reason.
MATTHEWS: Why didn't they admit it?

PILLAR: Because that was a lot harder to sell to the American public than the specter of mushroom clouds or dictatorial regimes giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. I mean, that has a resonance, a rhetorical value, that political sciencey type theories about political change do not.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Everything you have said I thought was happening, and I'm glad to hear it really did. I like to be right once in awhile. Thank you very much, Paul Pillar. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:30 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now it's time for "THE ABRAMS REPORT" with Dan.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END


:: Article nr. 20879 sent on 22-feb-2006 05:54 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=20879

Link: truth-about-iraqis.blogspot.com/2006/02/cias-paul-pillar-iraq-war-was-to-shake.h
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