Friday, August 20, 2004

Rice Cooker

Does David Kay have a book coming out soon? Is this retired CIA agent, hand picked by the Bush administration to lead the search for WMDs in post-invasion Iraq, really a closet liberal and Clintonite? Is he shamelessly trying to profiteer off of his experiences? How else can you explain the conclusions that yet another well respected lifelong Republican insider reached in testimony before the Senate this past Wednesday?

Here is how the
New York Times sums up Kay's appearance:

In uncharacteristically caustic remarks about his former colleagues, the weapons inspector, David Kay, said the National Security Council had failed to protect President Bush from faulty prewar intelligence and had left Secretary of State Colin L. Powell "hanging out in the wind" when he tried to gather intelligence before the war about Iraq's weapons programs.
Although he condemned the entire intelligence apparatus, he reserved his most pointed criticisms for Condoleeza Rice and her National Security Council, illustrated by this somewhat colorful phrase:

"The dog that did not bark in the case of Iraq's W.M.D. weapons program, quite frankly, in my view, is the National Security Council."

His criticism of the council, which is responsible for coordinating the work of national security agencies in the government, mirrored that made earlier this year by Richard A. Clarke, Ms. Rice's former top counterterrorism deputy, who accused her of paying little attention to dire intelligence threats throughout the spring and summer of 2001 that Al Qaeda was about to strike against the United States.
Some of the specifics of his assessment pertain to a certain line of critique that was first noted by other lifelong Republican Bush administration insiders Paul O'Neill and John DiIulio. Namely, that something was terribly amiss with the decision making process in the White House. O'Neill and DiIulio were famously frustrated by the president's lack of focus and curiosity, his lack of interest in researching, engaging and parsing major policy initiatives. The discussion and debate in Cabinet meetings was remarkably shallow, and, as described by O'Neill and others, the conclusions, often based on political rather than policy rationale, seemed to precede the discussion. It was this leadership style that alienated O'Neill, Whitman, Clarke, DiIulio and others.

There is perhaps no more egregious an example of this slipshod approach to the policy vetting process than the decision to invade Iraq and the development of the relevant plans needed to carry off such a bold strategy. Instead of encouraging dissent and weighing the contrary evidence and arguments, the Bush administration espoused a recklessly one sided approach, turning a deaf ear to any narrative that did not comport with the most sanguine predictions emanating from the Vice President's operation and the infamous
Office of Special Plans headed by Douglas Feith in the Pentagon. From intelligence analysts to policy makers, one vision and one message was expected, and only one version of events was embraced and rewarded, while all other voices were drowned out.

The most obvious manifestation of the dearth of process is borne out by the post-war planning debacle. Instead of relying on the objective, non-partisan analysis prepared by the experts, exiles and career professionals working for the State Department's Future of Iraq Group, the Army and the CIA, that voluminous body of work was completely ignored in favor of far fetched theories promulgated by Ahmed Chalabi and his team of defectors known as the Iraqi National Congress. Donald Rumsfeld, who wrested control of post-invasion operations from State and the CIA, famously
sacked all of the diplomats associated with the State Department group, and even went as far as preventing the initial head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Jay Garner, from reading the reports prepared by State. The results: Rumsfeld ignored the warnings of looting, insurgency, the recommendation against disbanding the Iraqi army, the recommendations for more troops (400,000 to be exact), and other prescient guidance, much to the detriment of the overall effort in Iraq.

The same flaws in the process also infected the intelligence gathering and assessment in the run-up to the invasion. Kay offers these observations on a small part of the intelligence breakdown (leaving aside for now the damage done by the intelligence operations of the Office of Special Plans):

"Every president who has been successful, at least that I know of, in the history of this republic, has developed both informal and formal means of getting checks on whether people who tell him things are in fact telling him the whole truth," Dr. Kay told the Senate intelligence committee at a hearing called to discuss the findings of the Sept. 11 commission.

"I think this is particularly crucial and difficult to do in the intelligence area," he continued. "The recent history has been a reliance on the N.S.C. system to do it. I quite frankly think that has not served this president very well."
The other pattern that Kay lends credence to, is the utter lack of accountability within the Bush team. Despite the almost comical, if not so tragic, errors that Donald Rumsfeld has overseen, from authorizing torture to bungling post-war planning, the administration, through Cheney, defended him as the "best Secretary of Defense this country has had." Ignoring calls from prominent conservatives such as George Will, Max Boot, Senator James Inhofe and others to resign, Rumsfeld remains firmly entrenched atop the Department of Defense.

As George Will described the situation:

When there is no penalty for failure, failures proliferate. Leave aside the question of who or what failed before Sept. 11, 2001. But who lost his or her job because the president's 2003 State of the Union address gave currency to a fraud -- the story of Iraq's attempting to buy uranium in Niger? Or because the primary and only sufficient reason for waging preemptive war -- weapons of mass destruction -- was largely spurious? Or because postwar planning, from failure to anticipate the initial looting to today's insufficient force levels, has been botched? Failures are multiplying because of choices for which no one seems accountable.
Kay's lament about the lack of accountability went as follows:

"Iraq was an overwhelming systemic failure of the Central Intelligence Agency," Dr. Kay said. "Until this is taken on board and people and organizations are held responsible for this failure, I have a real difficulty in seeking how a national intelligence director can correct these failures."
Uh, Mr. Kay, if you're waiting for the Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Council or any other people or organizations to be held responsible in this administration, don't hold your breath, unless you're waiting for November 3rd to exhale.

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