Inside look at CIA sheds light on lessons for Bush

Inside look at CIA sheds light on lessons for Bush

By Hailey Hudson

President George W. Bush has a hard time learning from the past, Robert Robins told students and faculty at the 10th Annual President’s Day Lecture last Wednesday in 20 West Village F.

This year’s lecture “The CIA under Kennedy and Johnson: Lessons from the Past for the Bush Administration,” was led by Robins’, professor emeritus of political science at Tulane University and former CIA analyst under the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson presidential administrations.

Robin’s descriptions and photographs of his experiences working in the CIA interested the crowd of about 50 students, mostly political science majors, at the lecture.

“I really enjoyed the talk, especially the personal anecdotes that he gave,” said Sarah Grant, a freshman political science major. “It was great to have someone who worked on the inside and give a different perspective of the presidency. I learned a lot.”

Early in the lecture, Robins revealed that intelligence officials during the Johnson administration used to slip the President’s “intelligence checklist,” now called “the daily brief,” into his suit pocket, so the President could read it at his leisure, usually on the toilet.

Robins took a more serious tone when he described the CIA’s role in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, focusing mainly on the Bay of Pigs operation, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

“We had the best of the bad intelligence to come out of Vietnam,” he said of the CIA.

Robins compared U.S. involvement in Iraq to Vietnam.

“Vietnam was like what Iraq had been to us before we invaded,” he said. “It was important to show that we were not weak, that Kennedy was not weak. It was a high priority to show the USSR that we were strong.”

The CIA told Johnson the only way to win Vietnam was to overwhelm the north and “to break them,” Robins said. He said the Vietnam progression of escalation is similar to the proposed surge in Iraq.

“We were never willing to spend the blood and treasure to do that,” he said. “The war escalated slowly.”

“Mr. Robins’ speech was reminiscent of being on a tour of the CIA,” said Jaysen Borja, a freshman political science major. “Every description evoked a new image, shedding light on a formerly secretive agency.”

During the portion of the lecture titled “Lessons for the Bush Administration,” Robins discussed the importance of the information at the president’s disposal.

“Good intelligence for the president consists of having more than one source,” he said. “You’re not going to want to look at information you don’t want to see. Once a politician becomes involved in a policy, they don’t want to see negative information.”

Robins offered advice for Bush. “You have to exercise caution and courage … [and] Look before you leap,” he said.

At the end of his speech, Robins shared his personal beliefs about the current war.

“I oppose the war. I believed there were weapons of mass destruction and I’m not ashamed of that,” he said. “I do not believe that that constituted the war.”

He reinforced the importance of diversity of intelligence information, as well as a variety of intelligence officials.

“We need to encourage dissent,” he said. “You want to encourage people who challenge consensus.”

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