Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Armitage on Pakistan’s spies, Bush’s errors, Egypt’s novels

Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington — both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University.  Some highlights: At first, the ...

575983_091203_armitage2.jpg
575983_091203_armitage2.jpg
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 06: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage put his hand next to his ear as he listens to a question during a hearing before the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee November 6, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a part two of its hearing on "Six Years Later - Assessing Long-Term Threats, Risks and the U.S. Strategy for Security in a Post 9/11 World." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington -- both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University. 

Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington — both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University. 

Some highlights:

  • At first, the U.S. government was able to keep Pakistani intelligence from meddling in Afghanistan. “The second surprise was frankly how successful we were for the first 4 years-almost 5 years-at keeping the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence] relatively out of it. They were so shocked with the speed at which we invaded Afghanistan that I think the ISI felt it was only a matter of time until we prevailed.” Armitage’s timeline here suggests to me that Afghanistan started really falling apart when the ISI went back in. That’s an interesting conclusion
  • He says Bush and his war cabinet never formally considered whether to invade Iraq. “Never to my knowledge, and I’m pretty sure I’m right on this, did the President ever sit around with his advisors and say, ‘Should we do this or not?’ He never did it.”
  • The Bush administration didn’t understand democracy and how to encourage it. “The Bush administration’s push for votes as though voting equals democracy was wrong-headed because a vote is something that happens inside a democracy, but is not necessary for a democracy. You can have a democratic system without having people raise their hands and have a secret ballot. Loya jirgas to some extent are these.”
  • He believes Bush administration actions undercut the American position abroad. “It’s harder and made more complex when we abuse the writ of habeas corpus here or when we torture people.”
  • Reading  he recommends, and why:  “Have you read the novels of Naguib Mahfouz? They’re great, and through them all you get a couple of things, I think. First, the good humor of Egyptians; they have enormous good humor. Second, patience and long suffering, but you realize that at some point in time you can’t joke something away. You can’t outwait it. I would be afraid the tipping point is going to come, and particularly now that the strategic center of gravity in the Middle East has shifted to Riyadh and away from Cairo.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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