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January 15, 2008

More on Bush and the NIE
Posted by Michael Cohen

Courtesy of David Kurtz over at TPM, we find the President's latest musings on the Iran NIE:

Q On the NIE, did you -- were you, in effect, distancing yourself from the conclusions of the NIE, and these guys --

THE PRESIDENT: No, I was making it clear it was an independent judgment, because what they basically came to the conclusion of, is that he's trying -- you know, this is a way to make sure that all options aren't on the table. So I defended our intelligence services, but made it clear that they're an independent agency; that they come to conclusions separate from what I may or may not want.

Now there are a few problems here that are worth mentioning. In the first half of the President's answer he seems to be suggesting that the intelligence community was seeking to take options off the table. Hmm, I can't imagine what "option" he is referring to? However, if I am reading this quote correctly the President's argument is disturbingly similar to conservative talking points on the Iran NIE. Indeed, look at what my good friend Charles Krauthammer had to say on this issue last month:

The administration understands that the NIE's distorted message that Iran has given up pursuing nukes has not only taken any military option off the table but also jeopardized any further sanctions against Iran.

But the really disturbing part comes at the end when the President notes that intelligence community (which he refers to as an independent agency) comes "to conclusions separate from what I may or may not want." Last time I checked the purpose of our vast network of intelligence agencies is to inform the decision-making of policymakers. Certainly, they are not an "independent agency" that acts at cross-purposes with the President. Yet here you have the President of the United States saying that what he "may or may not want" holds equal weight with their judgments.

This is a frightening insight into presidential decision-making in the Bush Administration (and one that most of us may have already suspected); that the President makes decisions based only loosely on what he is told by our intelligence agencies. Indeed this quote seems to indicate that his views on Iran are not informed at all by the judgment of these agencies.

I think we could have figured that some of the President's decisions were not informed by intelligence - but this is ridiculous.


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