David Milne – Excessive Optimism and the politicization of intelligence on Vietnam


Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham  
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ

Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory

Dr David Milne (University of East Anglia) – Excessive Optimism and the politicization of intelligence on Vietnam

Walt Rostow and Paul Wolfowitz played important roles in strategising US military involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq in the 2000s. Both were hostile towards CIA intelligence reports that challenged their optimistic views on military progress, and both characterised the agency as institutionally defeatist. In 1967 Rostow complained that ‘I sometimes feel that the CIA is leaning against an excessive optimism that does not exist.’ This papers details the origins of Rostow’s and Wolfowitz’s ‘excessive optimism’ and their reasons for viewing the CIA with such suspicion – as an institution with an inherently ‘liberal’ bias. The paper observes that while politicising intelligence is one thing, deploying pure invention to realize utopian geopolitical visions is of a different order entirely. Foreign policy advisers sympathetic to the Enlightenment tradition of ‘transcendental institutionalism’ – whose strategies assume an idealised blank slate, not the world as it actually exists – present CIA intelligence analysts with an almost impossible task.

David Milne is Senior Lecturer in Political History at the University of East Anglia. His first book, America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War was published by Hill and Wang in 2008. He is currently writing a second book, provisionally titled A Universe Still in Progress: Intellectualism in American Diplomacy, for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His work has appeared in the Journal of Military History, International Affairs, Review of International Studies, The Nation, and the Los Angeles Times.

Contact information: School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ.

Email: d.milne@uea.ac.uk






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