Monday, October 04, 2004


In addition to the independent reports on the status of Iraq released last month by three non-partisan think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (the group that Bremer and Rumsfeld used for studies on the progress of Iraq last July), the International Crisis Group and the Chatham House (part of the Royal Institute of International Affairs which I summarized here), in July the Bush administration received a National Intelligence Estimate pertaining to Iraq compiled with input from the various governmental intelligence agencies.

The conclusions and forecast contained in the report are decidedly more pessimistic than the campaign message disseminated by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. According to a
New York Times story on the findings of the July Estimate:

A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday.

The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms. [emphasis added]
The pessimistic tone of the July estimate stands in contrast to recent statements by Bush administration officials, including comments by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, who asserted that progress was being made:

"You know, every step of the way in Iraq there have been pessimists and hand-wringers who said it can't be done," Mr. McClellan said at a news briefing. "And every step of the way, the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi people have proven them wrong because they are determined to have a free and peaceful future."
Last week, Mr. Bush even went as far as to dismiss the latest intelligence estimate, saying its authors were "just guessing" about the future in Iraq. Recent developments, however, lend credence to the "guesses" posited by this group, especially when compared to the prognostications of Bush's Iraq policymakers.

According to a different story in the New York Times:

The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said. [emphasis added]
The intelligence experts that prepared both the January 2003 and July 2004 National Intelligence Estimates have a pretty solid track record. Many of the predictions of the earlier Estimate have come to pass, much like the warnings and policy preferences contained in the Future of Iraq Project - the exhaustive post-war planning work conducted by the State Department - and other pre-war planning by the CIA, the Army War College, etc., that was totally disregarded by the Bush administration (if you haven't read James Fallows' expose of this debacle, check out Blind Into Baghdad). To give a sense of the extent to which the Bush administration repudiated the results of the Future of Iraq Project, Fallows describes this exchange between Rumsfeld and the initial administrator of post-invasion Iraq, retired three star general Jay Garner:

Garner had heard about the Future of Iraq project, although Rumsfeld had told him not to waste his time reading it. Nonetheless, he decided to bring its director, Thomas Warrick, onto his planning team. Garner, who clearly does not intend to be the fall guy for postwar problems in Baghdad, told me last fall that Rumsfeld had asked him to kick Warrick off his staff. In an interview with the BBC last November, Garner confirmed details of the firing that had earlier been published in Newsweek. According to Garner, Rumsfeld asked him, "Jay, have you got a guy named Warrick on your team?" "I said, 'Yes, I do.' He said, 'Well, I've got to ask you to remove him.' I said, 'I don't want to remove him; he's too valuable.' But he said, 'This came to me from such a high level that I can't overturn it, and I've just got to ask you to remove Mr. Warrick.'" Newsweek's conclusion was that the man giving the instructions was Vice President Cheney.
The competence of the pre-war planning that was ignored is only highlighted when compared with the naively optimistic predictions and prognostications produced by Douglas Feith's office in the Pentagon which usurped the Future of Iraq Project and its relatives, and became the foundation on which strategy and policy in post-invasion Iraq was based. Feith's office concluded that there would be no insurgency, no ethnic strife, no looting and, relatedly, no need for more than 100,000 troops.

On the contrary, relying on the fanciful notions put forth by the notoriously untrustworthy Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon, including Paul Wolfowitz, argued that our soldiers would be greeted with flowers and candies by a friendly and docile Iraqi population. They also counseled in favor of disbanding the Iraqi army, conducting widespread and low-level de-Ba'athification, implementing a rigidly conservative economic model, and other blunders that have come to mark the many near fatal mistakes and squandered opportunities of the occupation of post-invasion Iraq.

The responses to the recent revelations of the January 2003 estimate are curious:

Senior White House officials, including Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, have contended that some of the early predictions provided to the White House by outside experts of what could go wrong in Iraq, including secular strife, have not come to pass.
The strength of Rice's logic is weak. Just because these estimates were not 100% accurate does not justify the fact that they were willfully, and recklessly, ignored. Nor does the specific example relied on to make her point even support her argument. Widespread secular strife is a very real possibility in Iraq's not too distant future. Minor conflicts have flared up at various times already. The fact that this situation has not erupted yet does not mean that it will not, and thus the ultimate prescience of that particular prediction remains an unknown quantity.

In either case, if I had the choice to rely on the "guesses" of the experts that generated the National Intelligence Estimates and the Future of Iraq Project, as opposed the ideologues that relied on con-man extraordinaire Ahmed Chalabi, I'll take my chances with the experts. Even if, Dr. Rice, that means they're only right 99% of the time. Have you looked at Chalabi's numbers?

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