Debriefing the President

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A book by an ex-CIA “leadership analyst” who admires George Bush senior and constantly seeks the best ways to defend American interests might not be the normal fare of Socialist Review.

However, this account of agent John Nixon’s meetings with the recently imprisoned Saddam Hussein has caused some minor ripples in the stagnant ponds of the bourgeois press for what it exposes of the American state and security services, and the way it clearly demolishes any lingering justifications of the US and Britain attacking Iraq.

The first half of the book deals with Nixon’s meetings and debriefings with Hussein, and to be honest I found it tedious, self-important and predictable. The main revelation seems to be that Saddam was “not a likeable guy”. We also learn that, by the time they met, Saddam considered himself a writer rather than a politician. Implicit in this is that the CIA were wasting their time if they hoped to gain any intelligence from the deposed dictator. “Was Saddam worth removing from power? I can speak only for myself when I say that the answer must be no. Saddam was busy writing novels in 2003. He was no longer running the government.”

It’s a pity Nixon didn’t make up for this disappointment by taking some literary tips from his prisoner; as it is, he writes like a hapless victim of one of Michael Gove’s abandoned Literacy Hours.

The second half of the book is made up of Nixon’s reflections on his experiences once he left Iraq, particularly his pointless debriefings with Bush. These are much more interesting, if not news to most of us. He rails against the “service approach” adopted by the CIA which meant that agents were expected to tell the president what he wanted to hear, not the truth.

Thus their presentations were full of “holes, inaccuracies, sloppy reporting and pie-in-the-sky analysis”. Even though the hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction was widely thought to be “a wild goose chase”, Bush was “determined” to go to war anyway. Nixon and his CIA buddies spotted that Bush was “an asshole”, “strikingly inconsistent” and “clueless” about what was going on in Iraq — rather like Saddam.

They knew that the war was “based on false premises and didn’t serve American interests”. However, they did not have the backbone to contradict the president nor the power to stop him inflicting “a very large disaster in American Foreign Policy” and “a calamity for Iraq”.

Nixon adds that in their recent books both Bush and Blair have shown that they have clearly “learnt nothing” from the disastrous actions they jointly launched.