National Security Network

National Security Infrastructure - A National Security Legacy of Failure

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Report 7 January 2009

President Bush President Bush's Legacy Foreign Policy homeland security Intelligence Community iraq war

Without strong, effective, and coordinated government institutions, it is impossible to execute an effective U.S. national security policy.  Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the national security apparatus which includes the State Department, Department of Defense, multiple intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. agencies has grown dysfunctional.

The Administration opted for a broad executive power grab, systematically neutering oversight mechanisms that traditionally maintained our systems of checks and balances.  The inter-agency process meant to coordinate our national security institutions broke down – especially in the run up to Iraq and the postwar planning phase.  The Bush administration disregarded the advice of Intelligence Community (IC), misrepresented its findings for political purposes, and continues to use the IC as a scapegoat for its own failures in Iraq.  The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, intended to protect the country from disasters like 9/11, has been horribly executed resulting in the incompetent and tragic response to Hurricane Katrina.  The damage that was done will set dangerous precedents, take years of painstaking and unglamorous work to undo, and have lasting detrimental impact across the institutions that manage our relations with the rest of the world.  

There Has Been A Systematic Effort to Destroy the Government's Oversight Mechanisms and Move Power to the White House

The Bush administration shrouded the executive branch in secrecy, keeping policy decisions out of the public eye.  According to Jane Mayer, the Bush administration’s deliberations over policies were kept in the dark, including a memo sanctioning the use of “inhumane treatment of foreign prisoners held by the CIA outside the U.S.”  “These decisions, according to many Administration officials who were involved in the process, were made in secrecy, and the customary interagency debate and vetting procedures were sidestepped.” [New Yorker, 7/03/06]

Inspectors general (IG), charged with independent government oversight, including in areas of foreign policy, have been politicized under the Bush administration.  A 2005 report by Rep. Henry Waxman’s committee on Government Reform found that “IG appointments have become increasingly politicized during the administration of President Bush. Whereas President Clinton typically appointed nonpartisan career public servants as IGs, President Bush has repeatedly chosen individuals with Republican political backgrounds. Over 60% of the IGs appointed by President Bush had prior political experience, such as service in a Republican White House or on a Republican congressional staff, while fewer than 20% had prior audit experience.”  The Intelligence Community provides an extreme case.  CIA director Michael Hayden order an internal inquiry into the conduct of the agency’s Inspector General, a move that “would threaten to undermine the independence of the office,” according to current and former officials. Moreover, “Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.” [Committee on Government Reform, 1/07/05. NY Times, 10/11/07]

During the Bush years, the Office of Legal Counsel went from an independent agency to a “political instrument,” with significant negative effects on mechanisms designed to limit and oversee executive national security prerogatives.
In a piece for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer reported that the White House had turned the turned “the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel into a political instrument, which they used to expand their own executive power at the expense of long-standing checks and balances.” An Office of Legal Council Memo written by John Yoo days after September 11th, demonstrated this broad expansion of executive authority: “On September 25th, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo declaring that the President had inherent constitutional authority to take whatever military action he deemed necessary, not just in response to the September 11th attacks but also in the prevention of any future attacks from terrorist groups, whether they were linked to Al Qaeda or not.”  Questionable OLC memos were also used to authorize detentions, torture and surveillance. [New Yorker, 8/04/08. New Yorker, 7/03/06]

Dysfunctional Inter-Agency Process Hurt Our Ability to Bring All Elements of National Power to Bear on National Security Challenges

Bush’s appointment of Condoleezza Rice, a weak national security advisor whose job was to referee between three Washington heavyweights – Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, resulted in a breakdown of the foreign policy decision making process.   One State Department official told the Washington Post that "[t]he NSC is not performing its traditional role, as adjudicator between agencies…You never knew quite what you were supposed to be doing and with whom."  Another former NSC staffer observed that in Rice, "you've never really had a national security adviser who's ready to discipline the process, to drive decisions to conclusions and, once decisions are made, to enforce them” and that Rice “will never discipline Don Rumsfeld” [Washington Post, 10/12/03]

In the decision to go to war, and subsequent post-war planning, there was little coordination between the White House, State Department and Department of Defense. In just one of the many examples, “a yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.” The report’s findings were “ignored by Pentagon officials,” and “the military office initially charged with rebuilding Iraq did not learn of it until a major government drill for the postwar mission was held in Washington in late February, less than a month before the conflict began.” [NY Times, 10/19/03]

The Bush Administration Has Misued and Mismanaged the Trust of Our Intelligence Community

The Bush administration pressured the IC on pre-war intelligence, ignored its analysis, and then blamed it for failures.
  In Foreign Affairs, Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, detailed the sources of that mutual mistrust, rooted in the Administration’s plans to invade Iraq.  Pillar noted that “the conflict between intelligence officials and policymakers escalated into a battle, with the intelligence community struggling to maintain its objectivity even as policymakers pressed the Saddam – al Qaeda connection.  The Administration's rejection of the intelligence community's judgments became especially clear with the formation of a special Pentagon unit, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. The unit... was dedicated to finding every possible link between Saddam and al Qaeda, and its briefings accused the intelligence community of faulty analysis for failing to see the supposed alliance.”  In fact, “Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA... to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives.” Yet despite the role that President Bush’s political appointees played in the battle over U.S. intelligence on Iraq – the President continues to publicly scapegoat the IC for the Iraq prewar intelligence.  [Washington Post, 6/5/03. Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006.  ABC News, 12/1/08]

The Intelligence Community has been badly mismanaged.  Porter Goss’s tenure dramatically undermined the CIA’s morale and its ability to function effectively.  Goss brought in a set of highly political aides and pushed out a number of long-time CIA professionals.  Moreover, despite creating a Director of National Intelligence, President Bush allowed Donald Rumsfeld to keep roughly 80% of the IC's budget inside the Pentagon, where it had been originally.  As a result, “It [the Bush administration] did nothing to fix the real weakness of the old system, which was that the DCI had little control over the sprawling Pentagon intelligence archipelago.” In the last couple of years, DNI Mike McConnell and new CIA Director Michael Hayden have worked to repair the damage, and move the IC’s budgetary authority to DNI. [Washington Post, 6/18/08]

The Bush administration misrepresented the assessments of the IC. 
In the lead up to the Iraq War, the Administration deliberately made statements suggesting a strong relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq that were “not substantiated by intelligence.” A Senate Intelligence Committee report states in its conclusion, “multiple CIA reports and the November 2002 NIE dismissed the claim that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating partners.” The 9/11 Commission also concluded that there was no operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.  [Senate Intelligence Committee Report. 9/11 Commission Report]

The Department of Homeland Security Has Suffered from a Lack of Real Leadership

Department of Homeland Security was “set up to fail.” 
In 2005, the Washington Post gave this grim assessment of the early history of DHS: “Born out of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, DHS was initially expected to synthesize intelligence, secure borders, protect infrastructure and prepare for the next catastrophe. For most of those missions, the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission recently gave the Bush administration D's or F's. To some extent, the department was set up to fail. It was assigned the awesome responsibility of defending the homeland without the investigative, intelligence and military powers of the FBI, CIA and the Pentagon; it was also repeatedly undermined by the White House that initially opposed its creation. But the department has also struggled to execute even seemingly basic tasks, such as prioritizing America's most critical infrastructure.” [Washington Post, 9/22/05]

FEMA, once considered among the soundest government agencies, is now foundering due to Bush Administration mismanagement. “Under the Bush administration, and inside the Department of Homeland Security, (FEMA) degraded into a patronage-ridden weakling” said the New York Times.  No incident made this point more apparent than Hurrican Katrina, which “exposed FEMA as a dysfunctional organization, paralyzed in a crisis four years after the supposedly galvanizing attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”  In an example of FEMA’s incompetence, and in a reversal of decades of successful policy, Administrator David Paulison declared, in the wake of the Katrina crisis, that “FEMA shouldn’t be in the housing business.” [NY Times, 11/24/08. Washington Post, 12/22/05. Tallahassee Democrat, 04/19/07]

National Security Institutions Have Been Hurt By Mismanagement

Bush administration opted to conduct most foreign policy through the Pentagon, leaving other foreign policy agencies, most notably the State Department, to wilt. Despite fighting two counterinsurgencies, which by definition necessitate large investments in non-military solutions, the imbalance between the Department of Defense and the rest of the national security apparatus has only grown under the Bush administration.  Nothing illustrates this more than the difference between the Department of Defense and the State Department’s budget.  In 2001, the year Bush took office, the Department of Defense budget was $302 billion, whereas the State Department's budget was roughly $21 billion. Yet, by 2008, Defense spending soared to more than $510 billion, leaving out the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the State Department's budget rose to only $32 billion.  This monetary imbalance became so dire in 2006 that, according to Civil-Military relations expert Lorelei Kelly, “the Defense Department wanted $200 million for State's post conflict reconstruction activities.” [OMB – DOD, FY 2003. OMB – State Department, FY 2003. OMB – DOD, FY 2009.  OMB – State Department, FY 2009. Lorelei Kelly, 5/28/07]

Due to Bush’s reckless Iraq war, the U.S. military is overstretched, understaffed and under-equipped. According to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, “[i]t will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a ‘death spiral,’ in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.”  And, in a sign of the withering effect the war has had on the officer corps, the Army has projected a “shortage of several thousand officers as wartime demands grow increasing disillusionment.” [Lawrence Korb, Testimony Before House Armed Services Committee, 7/27/07. Washington Post, 2/12/06]

Bush administration encouraged conformity at the Pentagon, stifling objectivity.  Beginning with General Eric Shinseki’s dismissal for stating that the U.S. would need as many as 200,000 troops to occupy Iraq, the Bush administration, particularly Donald Rumsfeld suppressed dissent in the Pentagon.  According to an active-duty Army General, the Pentagon’s brass “grew silent, disgruntled and demoralized. The Pentagon was veering toward the dysfunctional.” [Frontline, 8/12/04. NY Times, 2/10/08]

U.S. Foreign Policy Budget Has Grown Dangerously Out of Balance

The U.S. foreign policy budget has failed to emphasize all elements of national power.  Under the Bush administration, spending on foreign policy has failed to harmonize all elements of national power, with the Defense Department receiving between $400 and $500 billion in a given year, but the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security receiving less than $100 billion combined. [Foreign Policy in Focus, 09/08]

Bush administration has complicated appropriations process by hiding expenditures in “supplementals.”  President Bush has been able to obscure the true cost of his foreign policies to the American people through the use of emergency supplemental funding requests, a measure that greatly complicates the regular appropriations process and allows official budget tallies to remain well below actual expenditures.  [Gordon Adams, 3/13/07]

The Bush administration paid for the Iraq War through irresponsibly running up the debt. “Rather than raising taxes, the administration has proposed, and Congress has implemented, significant tax cuts. This marks the first time in American history that taxes have been cut while the country was involved in a major war. Nor have major reductions in spending been implemented in non-defense portions of the budget to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…Presently, about 40 percent of Treasury bonds are purchased by foreigners, suggesting that roughly 40 percent of the interest associated with financing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be paid to foreigners.”  CBS news reported in September of 2008 that the national debt had grown by $4 trillion under the Bush administration, the “biggest increase under any president in U.S history.” [Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2008. CBS News, 9/29/08]