The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.Bolding mine. There might be something to the argument that current events are shaking out the problems that have been associated with a LOT of past administrations, but I personally doubt it- the "stovepipes" aren't exactly a Clintonian concept.
“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.”
The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. “The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet”—the C.I.A. director—“for not protecting them. I’ve never seen a government like this.”
Thing is, this isn't tied to Bush per se, but to the entire ideology of movement conservatism. This loathing and distrust of government professionals is part-and-parcel with the movement. You always get the feeling that they're worried that the bureaucracy is out to get them. They certainly act that way, trying to make end-runs around their own employees as much as possible. While some of this may have to do with the revolutionary rhetoric and ideology that often accompanies modern "conservatism" (they distrust the systems of government and attempt to avoid it), there is a real basis to it... bureaucrats generally know the field better than their political masters, and ideologues aren't at their best when faced with the truth of a business that they wrap up in ideology- as happens in politics.
Either way, at this point the "can you name anything good that George actually *has* done" challenge becomes rougher and rougher. It's not just that he's screwed up what he was trying to take credit for (as in Iraq), he's screwed up things that most American citizens wouldn't think twice about, like the administration-CIA relationship.
(Hat tip to Kevin.)
Edit: Another amazing story from this excellent piece.
Not all the senior scientists are in captivity, however. Jafar Dhia Jafar, a British-educated physicist who coördinated Iraq’s efforts to make the bomb in the nineteen-eighties, and who had direct access to Saddam Hussein, fled Iraq in early April, before Baghdad fell, and, with the help of his brother, Hamid, the managing director of a large energy company, made his way to the United Arab Emirates. Jafar has refused to return to Baghdad, but he agreed to be debriefed by C.I.A. and British intelligence agents. There were some twenty meetings, involving as many as fifteen American and British experts. The first meeting, on April 11th, began with an urgent question from a C.I.A. officer: “Does Iraq have a nuclear device? The military really want to know. They are extremely worried.” Jafar’s response, according to the notes of an eyewitness, was to laugh. The notes continued:Horse's mouth, folks: none. Sure, Jafar could be lying, but why? The defectors that the Bush administration has been relying on have infinitely more reason to lie than Jafar would. Which was, of course, always the problem... but as the rest of the story makes clear, Bush wasn't looking for answers, it was looking for justification.
Jafar insisted that there was not only no bomb, but no W.M.D., period. “The answer was none.” . . . Jafar explained that the Iraqi leadership had set up a new committee after the 91 Gulf war, and after the unscom [United Nations] inspection process was set up. . . and the following instructions [were sent] from the Top Man [Saddam]—“give them everything.”
The notes said that Jafar was then asked, “But this doesn’t mean all W.M.D.? How can you be certain?” His answer was clear: “I know all the scientists involved, and they chat. There is no W.M.D.”
Jafar explained why Saddam had decided to give up his valued weapons:
Up until the 91 Gulf war, our adversaries were regional. . . . But after the war, when it was clear that we were up against the United States, Saddam understood that these weapons were redundant. “No way we could escape the United States.” Therefore, the W.M.D. warheads did Iraq little strategic good.
Jafar had his own explanation, according to the notes, for one of the enduring mysteries of the U.N. inspection process—the six-thousand-warhead discrepancy between the number of chemical weapons thought to have been manufactured by Iraq before 1991 and the number that were accounted for by the U.N. inspection teams. It was this discrepancy which led Western intelligence officials and military planners to make the worst-case assumptions. Jafar told his interrogators that the Iraqi government had simply lied to the United Nations about the number of chemical weapons used against Iran during the brutal Iran-Iraq war in the nineteen-eighties. Iraq, he said, dropped thousands more warheads on the Iranians than it acknowledged. For that reason, Saddam preferred not to account for the weapons at all.
There are always credibility problems with witnesses from a defeated regime, and anyone involved in the creation or concealment of W.M.D.s. would have a motive to deny it. But a strong endorsement of Jafar’s integrity came from an unusual source—Jacques Baute, of the I.A.E.A., who spent much of the past decade locked in a struggle with Jafar and the other W.M.D. scientists and technicians of Iraq. “I don’t believe anybody,” Baute told me, “but, by and large, what he told us after 1995 was pretty accurate.”