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Stay the Crooked Course


Former CIA Analyst

The editors of the New York Times this morning feign shock that in his speech at Fort Bragg yesterday evening President George W. Bush would “raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks.” Kudos for that insight! Better three years late than never, I suppose.

Forget the documentary evidence (the Downing Street minutes) that the war on Iraq was fraudulent from the outset. Forget that the U.S. and U.K. starting pulverizing Iraq with stepped-up bombing months before president or prime minister breathed a word to Congress or Parliament. Forget that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his merry men-his co-opted, castrated military brass-have no clue regarding what U.S. forces are up against in Iraq. The president insists that we must stay the course.

As was the case in Vietnam, the Iraq war is being run by civilians innocent of military experience and disdainful of advice from the colonels and majors who know which end is up. Aping the president’s practice of surrounding himself with sycophants, Rumsfeld has promoted a coterie of yes-men to top military ranks-men who “kiss up and kick down,” in the words of former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford, describing UN-nominee John Bolton’s modus operandi at the State Department. So when the president assures us, as he did yesterday, that he will be guided by the “sober judgment of our military leaders” he is referring to the castrati.

This is all lost on doting congresspeople like Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who has been around long enough to know better than to recite oxymorons. Most striking last week was his quixotic appeal to the military’s top brass to give a candid assessment of the situation.

Is there no top military official-active-duty or retired-around to tell it like it is? Active-duty? No. Retired? Sure there are. But the latter get little or no ink or airtime in our domesticated media. There are, Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, for example, or Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF), who was national security adviser to George H. W. Bush and, until this year, Chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. If their remarks are reported at all, one must dig deep into the inside pages to find them.
A General with the Courage to Speak Truth

More outspoken still has been Lt. Gen. William Odom (US Army, ret), the most respected senior intelligence officer still willing to speak out on strategic and intelligence issues. Unfortunately, you would have to understand German to know what he thinks of “staying the course” in Iraq, because U.S. media are not going to run his remarks.

Her is my translation of what Gen. Odom said last September on German TV’s Panorama program:

“When the president says he is staying the course, that makes me really afraid. For a leader has to know when to change course. Hitler did not change his course: rather he kept sending more and more troops to Stalingrad and they suffered more and more casualties.

“When the president says he is staying the course it reminds me of the man who has just jumped from the Empire State Building. Half-way down he says, ‘I am still on course.’ Well, I would not want to be on course with a man who will lie splattered in the street. I would like to be someone who could change the course…

“Our invasion of Iraq has made it a homeland for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Indeed, I believe that it was the very first time that many Iraqis became terrorists. Before we invaded, they had no idea of terrorism.”

At Fort Bragg yesterday, the president spoke of the need to “prevent al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban: a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends.” Too late, Mr. President, has no one told you that you’ve succeeded in accomplishing that yourself?

Gen. Odom, now professor at Yale and senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, does not confine his criticism to the president, Rumsfeld, and the malleable generals they have promoted. Odom has also been highly critical of leaders of the intelligence community, an area he knows intimately, having served as chief of Army Intelligence (1981-85) and Director of the National Security Agency (1985-88). Commenting on the farcical pre-election-campaign “intelligence reform” last summer, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, observing:

“No organizational design will compensate for incompetent incumbents.”

Odom is spot-on. In my 27 years of experience as an intelligence analyst I learned the painful lesson that lack of professionalism is the inevitable handmaiden of sycophancy. Military and intelligence officers and diplomats who bubble to the top in this kind of environment do not tend to be the real professionals.

And who pays the price? The young men and women we send off to a misbegotten, unnecessary war.

When the president spoke last evening, Medal of Freedom winners former CIA director George Tenet, Gen. Tommy Franks, and Ambassador Paul Bremer no doubt were cheering him on from their armchairs. A most unsavory spectacle.

If they question why we died,
Tell them because our fathers lied.
Rudyard Kipling

RAY McGOVERN was a CIA analyst for 27 years from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s hot new book on the Afghan/Iraq wars. He works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He can be reached at:

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: A version of this article first appeared on  

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