When cupcakes grow on trees
It was serendipitous Monday evening, the day that President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his national security team, that I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, discuss his latest book, The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, during the ninth annual Resnick Lecture at McDaniel College.
President-elect Obama rolled-out a foreign policy and national security team that included retaining Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY) as secretary of state, and Eric Holder, his choice to be the attorney general.
Meanwhile, Dr. Goodman’s presentation was relevantly titled, “The Failure of Intelligence in a World at Risk.”
Dr. Goodman brought to the podium 42 years of experience in military service, the CIA, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the Department of Defense. He was the division chief and senior analyst at the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs from 1966 until 1990.
Including his recently released book, he has co-authored or authored six books, including The Phantom Defense: America's Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion, and Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the World at Risk.
Dr. Goodman is currently an adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a senior fellow and director of the National Security Program at the Center for International Policy, which was “founded in 1975, in the wake of the Vietnam War, by former diplomats and peace activists,” according to the “project of the Center for Media and Democracy, Source Watch.”
In his talk, Dr. Goodman touched on the history of the CIA since its inception in 1947 under President Harry Truman. He wryly observed that “the CIA has been controversial since the beginning and remains controversial to this day.”
He continued with an analysis of the successes, challenges and failures of the CIA over the last 60 years, including milestones such as the alleged failures, and – or the complicity and politicalization of intelligence, in the Vietnam War, “COINTEL-PRO,” “Iran Contra,” “September 11,” and the Iraq War.
Notable successes included the role of intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the arena of arms control verification.
Of course, the focuses of his presentation were his proposals for revitalizing U.S. intelligence gathering, which include taking as much of the military out of it as possible, introducing more civilian command and control, and rebuilding congressional oversight, which he found lacking under both Democrat and Republican leadership.
He also encouraged de-centralization, “competition” between intelligence gathering agencies, and restoring its function to a role of non-involved in policy formulation and only providing an independent, arms-length presentation of the facts.
He observed that “every president thinks he needs his own CIA director… Take it out of the political realm,” and make this appointment as we do the chair of the Federal Reserve Board… In a recitation of the leadership of the CIA in the past decades, he noted, “no organization could survive that … mediocre leadership…”
He scathingly insisted that the current state of the U.S. intelligent community was due to the “politicalization and militarization” of the CIA at the hands of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, while glossing over the handling of the intelligence community under President Bill Clinton and praising President Jimmy Carter.
He made no mention that under the leadership of President Bush we have remained relatively free of terrorist attacks on our home soil ever since September 11; but he did note that “Carter is the most maligned in 50 years… Reagan the most over-rated.”
Of President Bush, he emphasized that “we’ve had a president for the last number of years who was not that bright” as he further contrasted that Presidents Clinton and Carter were extremely bright and our future-President Obama is highly intelligent.
Of course, the unfolding irony of President-elect Obama’s administration is that it will include more former Clinton administration officials than if Senator Clinton were to have prevailed in the election.
That is an irony not completely lost on Dr. Goodman, who remarked that he was an avid supporter of the election of President-elect Obama. And yet he is already disappointed.
In a moment of bipartisan criticism, he noted that like the initial years of the Clinton administration, the incoming Obama administration appears to be so pre-occupied with the economy that it is overlooking the importance of appointing the best and the brightest to the intelligence community.
“Clinton had a poor foreign policy team and Obama is off to a poor start,” he warned. “For change that I can believe in, we’re going to have to flip the switch on some of the recent past… The military is not going to solve the problems; we’re going to need intelligence…”
However, the greatest irony of last Monday was President-elect Obama’s decision to keep Dr. Gates in his administration, a person for whom Dr. Goodman reserves a particular and profound dislike. He even testified against Secretary Gates in Congress when he was nominated to be the CIA director in 1991.
His remarks about Dr. Gates were as derisive as published accounts in which he is credited as saying: “When he heard … about Gates’ nomination, I nearly choked on my sandwich… This is not a guy who’s ever been accused of speaking truth to power. If you’re looking for somebody who’s going to change Iraq policy, he’s hardly the guy to do it…”
Dr. Goodman made many good observations about how the intelligence community could be improved to an audience that was pre-disposed to agree that not everything that is currently wrong with the CIA – or the world as we know it – is President Bush’s fault. Some of it is also President Reagan’s.
Nonetheless, it is increasing obvious that the realities of a world at risk do not support the hope that everything will be solved in an Age of Obama, when cupcakes grow on trees.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org