Tuesday, November 25, 2014

State of War, by James Risen: a review

Things you'll learn, or be reminded of and still shocked by, if you read State of War by James Risen:

  1. CIA Director George Tenet got and kept his job by sucking up to power.
  2. The CIA specifically avoided asking President George W. Bush for authorization to use torture, providing him with what the spy trade calls "plausible deniability."
  3. The NSA started large-scale spying on Americans almost immediately after 9/11/2001, "The Bush administration...swept aside nearly thirty years of rules and regulations" to make this happen.
  4. George W. sent clear signals that he wanted a pretext to go to war with Iraq. People who helped him get one were rewarded. People who warned that the intelligence was being skewed were punished. There was nothing like an objective assessment of the facts before we went to war.
  5. The U.S. had every reason to know there was no active nuclear program in Iraq.
  6. To claim there was a bioweapons program in Iraq, the U.S. relied on sources that the Europeans clearly told us were wrong. 
  7. No one had a plan for what to do in Iraq after the war except for installing a president from the outside, a man (Ahmed Chalabi) that no one inside Iraq trusted. When that proved unworkable, they had to make it up as they went along--all the while pretending they were winning.
  8. By going to war in Iraq, the Bush administration took its eye of Afghanistan, which became the biggest exporter of opium in the world...sending a lot of the poppy right here to the U.S.
  9. The U.S. turned a blind eye to the ways that Saudi Arabia played both sides in the "war on terror."
  10. The U.S. may have helped Iran advance its program for obtaining nuclear weapons. 
Risen focuses on the first term of George W. Bush, but he's scrupulous about pointing out when a problem actually began in the Clinton administration. He puts too much emphasis on individuals (Bush vs. Saddam Hussein, Tenet vs. Rumsfeld) and not enough on mistaken assumptions of U.S. foreign policy.

Still, this is a powerful book. I wish I, and everyone else, had read it when it came out!

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