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Ideology Is Supplanting Intelligence


Ideology Is Supplanting Intelligence

Paul Pillar

With Donald Trump’s earliest appointments to senior national security positions, some of the disturbing implications for the making of foreign policy of his own lack of qualifications for office are beginning to appear. A president-elect whose outrage-filled campaign alienated many serious thinkers in both parties has made personal support even more of a paramount consideration in the appointment process than it usually is, and even more than Trump’s own inclinations would have made it in the first place. Not only does the priority given to insight and objectivity thereby lessen; the pres


I think what we have here is something the anthropologist Joseph Tainter wrote of in his 1988 book "The Collapse of Complex Societies".

And I just found a shorter version - and presumably an updated one, of these thoughts in his 1996 article (link below):

by Joseph A. Tainter, 1996


I haven't read the article in full yet, but I did read his book long ago.

In essence - I think we are seeing how a complex society (the USA) - unravels in a world with "Limits to Growth" (MIT, Meadows et al, 1972).

Tainter's contribution is that it is not only environmental factors which reduce a once vibrant society to a form of ("lower complexity"), but just as importantly - it is 'political factors'.

I urge all to read the paper linked to - as I will now, and we can carry on this discussion later.

Manysummits in Calgary

PS: This is an extremely emotional time for me personally, and I imagine it is for many Americans.

There once was an idea, and I don't think its in any constitution or declaration - an idea of freedom embedded in the very core of every one of us, and best expressed by the artists - our artists - our souls. This is what drove me to forsake all to mountaineer for seven years on my own nickel - it gave me back my life - and it gave me my wife Underacanoe - and our son Cloudrunner.

"No one can stop me - as I go walking - that freedom highway,
No one can make me turn back..."

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "This Land..."


Pompeous sez: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous (Iranian nuclear) deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

Every agreement that includes the U.S. as a signatory is a 'deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.'


It's important to keep perspective, here. All these fear mongering articles regarding Trump's advisor and cabinet picks deceptively create the illusion that with Trump we are taking a sharp turn from enlightened choices and plunging into the dark side, when in fact his picks are a more rapid deterioration of this country's already less than stellar appointments.

The national security advisor situation is a good example. Obama's Susan Rice has been a staunch supporter of sanctions against Iran and has likewise been a strong supporter of military aid to Israel. And let us not forget Hillary Clinton's grudging and threatening response to the Iran nuclear deal, as well. As for the CIA Director, don't know about anyone else, but I won't miss that lying scumbag John Brennan. Very arguable as to whether Pompeo will be worse.


Twumpie's choices are the worst of the worst from the republiCon cess pool of righty-dingy-christofacist arses ever. EVER.


Jared Diamond's Collapse is another great read on the same topic.


Good points all. Also, Hillary as a hawk was in good standing with the military establishment, and would have had their support as well as that of Dems in Congress and likely much of the media should she have wanted more "adventures" in reshaping the Middle East. It's clear from this article that Trump's intelligence advisors present big potential problems, but there will not be the blanket affirmation of Trump's foreign policies by the media and much of the country that there likely would have been with Hillary.


I have absolutely no illusions about Twumpie and his cast of creatures, none.
I do not find these articles fear mongering in the least. These are sh!itty choices, period.
Betsy DeVos? Steve Bannon?
Yes the neocons have a serious toehold at State.
Pompeo will be worse as he's a ideologue creep show.
I unfortunately see a very half empty glass...


Agreed, Obama's cabinet was not "progressive" in almost every way/nominee (nor was Clinton's) , but Trump's Cabinet positions look even worse. The corporate/banker 1% wing of the Dem Party is largely responsible for the rise of Trump, IMO.
We all will be in for a very rough time over at least 2 years, including all those who voted for Trump seeking "change at any cost" (assuming Dems can/will abandon their right-wing 'centrist" ideology and serving the 1% ignoring middle America).
If a coalition of progressives/Sanders wing and supporters and other people of good conscience can come together there might be a chance for hope.........Sanders did seem to show strength in "red" states won by Trump, rejecting HRC and business as usual.....Sanders spoke to peoples issues without qualifications or deceit.

Keep the faith jneastra.


Critiques of Obama's national security advisors miss the point of Pillar's argument. Are there many progressive thinkers in the national security arena (I can think of Andrew Bacevich) who would would actually be picked by either a Republican or Democratic president? I doubt it. As I understand Pillar, Trump's picks thus far for these important positions are (a) well outside the mainstream candidates (putting aside for the moment progressives' legitimate questions about their views), (b) ideologically driven (like Casey for CIA under Reagan, with disastrous results), and (c) picked for their partisan support of Trump during the campaign. These are highly unsound, unprincipled reasons for their selection and/or nomination to such critically important posts.

An upcoming example is the apparent deliberations underway about whether Rudolph Giuliani or Mitt Romney should be nominated for Secretary of State. Progressives can say what they will about Mitt Romney, but if this is really what the choice has come down to, we have to recognize that Giuliani would be immeasurably worse than Romney for this post.


That increase in complexity of systems is very easily seen in all of that ramped up Military spending. The F35 is the most expensive weapon system in the world due in part of all the added complexity added to the system. The Zumwalt destroyer costs some 4.4 billion to build and has had multiple breakdowns on what are in essence maiden voyages.

One of the 3 ships of this class is being dry docked for refit in Panama as it broke down crossing the Canal.

These weapon systems are so complex and so long in development due to the same by time the first copies are rolling into production , technology has once again passed them by and they can be neutralized by something cheaper.

Cost to build p51 mustang fighter in 1944 was 40000. Adjusted for inflation it translates to 560,000.

One single f35 is over 100 million.


Great link, Summits!


Well, I suppose this is partly true, but this shift had mostly taken place. To treat this as unique or as a novelty becomes a gesture towards maintaining ideology over intelligence, whatever the author's intentions.

A good source who will be familiar to CD readers is Ray McGovern, and I would suggest reading further into the publications of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity in general (http://warisacrime.org/vips).

McGovern would date the move that Pillar is discussing from 2000 at the latest, perhaps earlier. He has certainly identified elements of it a good deal earlier.

I would love to see someone with the experience and credentials of a McGovern take on this analysis, but general principles of discourse and information strongly suggest that this problem will have been part of the CIA from the outset and came to it with the black ops portion of the program, however well or poorly some subset of the Agency may have been insulated from the rot at one or another point.

At least at their large lines, the principles are pretty clear. On the one hand, the CIA employs researchers. Optimally, these would share information, store it, rework it, organize it, and distribute it, responding to broad feedback from a broad public. I suppose you can see the problem already. The same agency is involved in segmenting and separating information, disseminating disinformation and discord, and engaging in violence and high crimes that participants and clients have great motivation to hide. By the structure of the organization, therefore, for every act of intelligence by a centralized agency, we have a possibly unequal but certainly oppositional act of anti-intelligence and anti-agency--of foolishness and insanity, to appraise from afar.

This may seem theoretical; in practice, it is not. Of course someone may gather a correct factoid in most any administrative context, and of course individuals will infer in our various ways and learn from such contexts as are presented. However, by virtue of housing black ops and information gathering within one organization, one has not only the possibility but the certainty of having someone from the black ops side governing information gathering.

Very roughly, the logic works like this. Insofar as the CIA director does indeed direct the CIA (and wouldn't that be nice to know?), he (or, in theory, she) must be advised of both black ops and information gathering operations. If the black ops are to remain secret, they have to remain secret from most or all of the information-gathering side. In fact, most such operations have to remain mostly secret from most of the black ops side as well: that is how secrets get kept, and people whose business includes murder, torture, destabilization of governments, and extensive interface with drug-smuggling and international finance rings tend to be fairly serious about secrecy. To maintain a secret, disinformation must trump information (and I am sorry for the pun, though I suppose here it almost works; I am really going to have to find a different word for that).

Ideology at its best creates a scaffolding and a syntax that extends and enriches knowledge. We have no reason to chime in with right-wing pundits and their ideological dismissal of "ideology." However, what the CIA and other extra-constitutional paramilitary outfits do is not ideology at its best.


And cheaper drones are better than the hugely expensive F35.


Hear, hear!

I came here to ask: "When, oh, when did Intelligence ever supplant ideology, Mr. Pillar? During which administration, eh?"


I see this author can't bring himself, as ex CIA, to point out Pompeo's support of torture at the CIA.

Guess this author has no problem with this.

How sickening.


To give even more perspective.

the P50 mustang was considered a top line fighter when it produced. You could build 2500 of these in inflation adjusted dollars for one f35 and a cheap missile can take out an f35.

Complexity costs.


Ideology in politics has long trumped intelligence, and not only in the USA.


The Sopwith Camel was also a top-line fighter aircraft when it was produced. And unlike the the Mustang, being made of wood and flying very slowly, it might just get missed that cheap missile.....................


You are right. Memories seem very short: both the current occupants of these offices and the likely Clinton replacements are at least as bad as Trump'sand possibly worse.