Con Tract: The Theory Behind Neocon Self-Deception
Rozen, Laura, The Washington Monthly
Historians may someday have convincing answers to the question of why U.S. intelligence under George W. Bush so wildly overestimated the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs. Until that day, however, curious minds might want to consult an obscure essay, "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)," published a few years ago by Gary Schmitt and Abram Shulsky. Schmitt is with the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century. Shulsky, of the RAND Corp. when the essay was written, is now director of the Department of Defense Office of Special Plans. OSP is the infamous alternative intelligence agency created in the immediate aftermath of September 11 by Pentagon hardliners who believed that the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies had missed or were soft-peddling evidence of Saddam's WMD programs and links to al Qaeda. As director of OSP, Shulsky was at the center of administration efforts to weave together bits of intelligence to match their rock-solid belief that Saddam was an imminent and omnipresent threat. The essay provides fascinating insight into what these folks were thinking--and into their circle's almost literary obsession with finding potential hidden meanings in the words and actions of rogue regimes.
In the essay--which appeared in a 1999 dusty academic tome, Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime, Shulsky and Schmitt attempt to discern what the late political philosopher Leo Strauss would have said about the modes of thinking that dominate conventional U.S. intelligence analysis. Strauss was a mentor to many of the leading neoconservative lights, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who helped create OSP. Shulsky was a student of Strauss at the University of Chicago in the 1960s; Schmitt did his Ph.D. work them in the 1970s after Strauss had died but was still a leading influence. They argue that Strauss would have attacked the prevailing trend in U.S. intelligence analysis known as the "social-scientific method," an approach advanced by Sherman Kent, a former Yale history professor and member of the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the C.I.A.). Kent's method, say the authors, urged U.S. intelligence analysts to operate more like social scientists, conducting systematic research and analysis to predict the future behavior of adversaries. But, according to the authors, this method assumes that those foes act according to universal principles. In other words, you can guess the enemy's next move going by what you would do in his position--as if the two of you are engaged in a giant game of chess.
This strategy, say the authors, grew out of the generally liberal mindset that dominated both Washington and academic life in the years after World War II--"[a] 'universalistic' outlook," say the authors, "which believes ... that others aspire to an American way of life; the 'melting pot' tradition, which suggests that, despite superficial differences ... people are fundamentally alike and want the same things."
Shulsky and Schmitt argue that such a belief system foolishly disregards the most important lesson from Strauss's teachings: that the nature of the regime or government under analysis means everything in trying to predict its intentions. Rogue regimes and dictatorships, they argue, operate under totally different value systems and principles than do democracies like the United States. Tyrannies warp the very souls of those who live under and serve them. In fundamental ways, this makes subjects of tyrannies not like us. "Because of the importance of the regime, it would be foolish to expect to be able to deduce theories of political behavior that would be universal, i.e. that would apply to democracies and tyrannies alike," Shulsky and Schmitt write.
Central to understanding" the behavior of rogue regimes, Shulsky and Schmitt posit, is these regimes' use of deception. …