Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Intelligence-A Failure of Imagination

As young (and not so young) Muslim men and women rise up to claim their democratic rights, the U.S. intelligence community is once again caught by surprise leaving our nation and its leadership without any context for evolving foreign policy. Since 2001, our so-called intelligence leaders and agencies have warned us that young Muslims were flocking to anti-western fundamentalism and, as terrorists, they were out to destroy America. They increased their budgets, created contingency plans, propped up autocrats and totalitarian governments in the Arab world to prevent these youth from coming to power and imposing their incompatible ideology on us. Clearly our intelligence communities were wrong (again and again). Young Muslims were more interested in democracy than terrorism and and aspiring to enlightened modernity instead of fundamentalism. The only question is: Are our intelligence communities just that uninformed or (and I think this more likely) are they inherently unable to imagine a nation without an enemy set out to destroy it. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist east in 1989, (which, by the way, our intelligence community was clueless and surprised at the actual weakness of the Soviet regime) the intelligence agencies needed to imagine another sinister enemy. They found Terrorism- a sinister force, with opposing values from the West, influencing the young minds and with a goal of destroying the USA (just like communism from 1947-1989). While communism and Cold War and terrorism and Al-qaeda exist, when superimposed in a simplistic way on peoples and regions in an effort create "enemies of the state," it leads to bad intelligence, bad foreign policy and limits our ability to support democracy worldwide. Intelligence is about the truth the exists, not phantoms in a bad imagination.

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