Friday, May 06, 2005

Three Strikes

This week saw the release of three separate sources of information that represent to me the unholy trinity that is encapsulated in the war in Iraq: 1) deception in selling the war; 2) negligence and willful ignorance in planning for it; and 3) the negative consequences it has meant for the counterterrorism effort. In some instances, the information provided is not earth-shattering in its newness, but it does serve to support an account of history that is constantly being challenged and argued against by members of the Bush administration and its defenders. Thus, each new piece of evidence is relevant and necessary to combat the revisionist efforts underway.

Sexed-Up Lies And Videotape Memos

First up, and in a chronological order of sorts, a
memo prepared in July 2002 by members of Tony Blair's government was leaked to the British press - where, oddly enough, it has remained while the Bush-bashing, liberal media in America remains riveted on runaway brides and Michael Jackson (via Tim Dunlop who provides a very thoughtful and comprehensive parsing of the memo's contents that I would recommend). The memo in question provides high level corroboration for many of the suspicions surrounding the invasion of Iraq. Namely, that invading Iraq was a foregone conclusion regardless of UN inspections, and was largely the result of a predetermined policy that existed separate from, and precedent to, the attacks of 9/11 - as Bush administration insiders Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neil claim. Further, that the case for WMDs in Iraq was weaker than those involved acknowledged, while intelligence concerning this and connections to terrorism would be contorted to fit the policy. And, finally, that the post war planning was woefully inadequate - perhaps the product of a politically minded timeline. From the memo (as excerpted by publius with slight modifications on my part):

There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable [ed note: in July 2002 mind you, long before the supposed "deadlines" for Saddam to come clean and prior to the "debate" in Congress]. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. . . . [T]he timeline [will begin] 30 days before the US Congressional elections. [emphasis mine]
The admission that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" is something of a bombshell. It might not be news to many, but seeing its acknowledgement in such a high level document is startling. As Tim Dunlop notes, the British foreign minister himself voiced concerns that the WMD rationale was relatively weak, commenting that "...the case was thin." Also from Dunlop,

Bringing democracy to the region or even to Iraq is not mentioned at all, let alone as a reason for the invasion.
Also important, and what really set publius off, is the fact that this memo makes specific reference to the timing of the war effort as being influenced by the US election cycle - that the marketing of the invasion was being timed to affect the midterm elections and give the GOP a boost at the polls. What this implies is that there was a rush to war before the soldiers had proper body armor and enough armored vehicles to provide for better security, all in the name of ensuring a greater GOP majority in Congress. That is beyond disturbing. As publius notes, the British government has not denied the veracity of the memo.

At this point, I feel compelled to repeat the contention that this deception has greatly undermined our credibility going forward, which will impact our ability to inspire coalition partners or cooperation on multilateral efforts to deal with other more urgent threats in the future. Perhaps worse, the collapse of this house of cards has made us appear like imperialists and oil bandits which weakens our appeal at a time when we are supposedly trying to inspire monumental paradigm shifts in political alignments throughout the Muslim world. These perceptions play into the rock bottom approval ratings we have been enduring worldwide ever since the invasion of Iraq. Yes, there are certain elements in this world that would harbor strong anti-American attitudes regardless of our policy, but these approval ratings are by no means static, nor are they immune to fluctuations based on how we as a government behave. The current policies have moved these numbers in one direction - starkly.


Also in the news, just barely, was a
leaked report by the Rand corporation which details some of the now infamous miscues in the postwar planning aspect of the Iraq campaign (via praktike). While much of the information covered in the Rand piece has been reported by the likes of James Fallows, Stratfor, and others, it is significant nonetheless, and the findings should be given extra credence given Rand's client in the current context - Donald Rumsfeld. As Joe Galloway reports:

It isn't all that often that a think tank dependent on government contracts dares tell the emperor that he is naked, and that makes a recent Rand Corp. report to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on lessons learned in Iraq all the more remarkable....

Rand, although independent now, was originally formed by the U.S. government and is often hired by the Pentagon to conduct major research on military operations.
The report hits on all the usual suspects, such as the fact that a hopelessly optimistic view affected the decisions made and analysis of potential problems that would be encountered:

Again putting a finger on a major problem, the Rand study sharply criticized the Pentagon for failure to plan in detail for postwar stabilization and reconstruction "largely because of the prevailing view that the task would not be difficult."

In fact, the study said, it is highly likely that in future operations the United States and its allies will quickly defeat outmatched opponents but then spend "months or years winning the peace." The Rand researchers recommend that the planning process for future interventions be stood on its head and the military and civilian resources needed to secure the peace and launch reconstruction be given primary focus and priority in resources.

The Rand study added, with understatement, "Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced." [emphasis added]
This critique, to me, is most salient. The common rebuttal from Bush administration apologists is that there are always unforeseen outcomes in war and nothing goes according to plan. I say, fine, I can accept that and am not trying to hold them to an impossible standard of perfection. But this is not about criticizing them for failing to realize that a specific armored division in the Iraqi army would behave a certain way, or that a certain battle strategy could have been modified. This is about a systemic myopia that was fueled by a jaw-dropping tendency for policy makers to believe their own propaganda. They were so busy convincing everyone else that this would be a cake walk, that they didn't plan for basic contingencies that should have been far from outlandish to any administration not wholly divorced from empiricism. We are talking about rudimentary planning to secure the peace which was blatanlty absent in July 2002 as told in the British memo, and was no farther along in March 2003 when troops entered Iraq. In fact, the Bush administration even went as far as to reject the extensive planning conducted by the State Department for post-war Iraq precisely because it was perceived as too pessimistic becauase it contained provisions for contingencies like looting, an active insurgency, and a divided populace. Instead of years of planning and strategizing by State, the Bush team handed the reins to Rumsfeld and told him to plan on the fly. The results were regrettable.

In a separate section the report criticized National Security Council and Department of Defense coordination for Iraq operations. It said the NSC focused on military operations and humanitarian aid, while postwar planning was handed to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, and this approach "worked poorly."

The study recommended that in the future "such responsibility (for post-war reconstruction) reside with a senior State Department official who would be appointed as a special presidential envoy."

The report said that no one bothered to provide for the security of the Iraqi people after Baghdad fell "given the expectations that the Iraqi government would remain largely intact, the Iraqi people would welcome the American presence, and local militia, police and the regular (Iraqi) army would be capable of providing law and order."

In fact the burden of handling law and order in Iraq fell, by default, to U.S. and coalition military forces who were ill-prepared and unavailable in the numbers required to secure so unruly a nation and people. [emphasis added]
This lack of postwar planning has been credited with jeopardizing the mission in Iraq beyond repair, and with the needless deaths of hundreds of American servicemen and tens of thousands of Iraqis. In a court of law, this would be deemed criminal negligence. The only trial worth covering, though, involves a pop star stuck in suspended childhood.

Iraq On The Side

The third installment of fresh corroboration for already told stories comes from the US State Department in the form of
an excerpt (pdf) from the Country Reports entitled, "Global Jihad: Evolving and Adapting" (via praktike). This section of the Country Reports is a mixed bag in many ways. On the one hand, it tells of the fact that al Qaeda's leadership has been disrupted through arrests and casualties, that the planning capacity and centralized control of that leadership is weakening due to the loss of the Afghan safe haven and the harassment and pursuit by US backed forces, and that in general, future operations for this group have been made more difficult to execute. These are certainly positive trends, and the Bush administration deserves credit for neutralizing key components of the al Qaeda network and its base of operations through the Afghan campaign. Unfortunately, as the title implies, the global jihadist movement has adapted and evolved.

At the same time, however, al-Qa'ida has spread its anti-US, anti-Western ideology to other groups and geographical areas. It is therefore no longer only al-Qa'ida itself but increasingly groups affiliated with al-Qa'ida, or independent ones adhering to al-Qa'ida's ideology, that present the greatest threat of terrorist attacks against US and allied interests globally.

The apparent mergers or declarations of allegiance of groups such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's organization with al-Qa'ida suggest that al-Qa'ida is looking to leverage the capabilities and resources of key regional networks and affiliates - a trend that al-Qa'ida could also use to try to support new attacks in the United States and abroad.
Still, this evolution is to a weaker position, and would be a necessary step in the clampdown process regardless. But what of Iraq and the role it is playing in the process? This report provides further confirmation to what Porter Goss' CIA and countless think tanks have already noticed: that the invasion of Iraq has boosted the recruitment and enlistment in jihadist causes, and compounding the problem, has provided these forces with a central hub for training, indoctrination, networking, and planning.

The Global Jihadist Movement

The global jihadist movement predates al-Qa'ida's founding and was reinforced and developed by successive conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and elsewhere during the 1990s. As a result, it spawned several groups and operating nodes and developed a resiliency that ensured that destruction of any one group or node did not destroy the larger movement. Since 2001, extremists, including members of al-Qa'ida and affiliated groups, have sought to exploit perceptions of the US-led global war on terrorism and, in particular, the war in Iraq to attract converts to their movement. Many of these recruits come from a large and growing pool of disaffected youth who are sympathetic to radical, anti-Western militant ideology. At the same time, these extremists have branched out to establish jihadist cells in other parts of the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe, from which they seek to prepare operations and facilitate funding and communications.

Foreign fighters appear to be working to make the insurgency in Iraq what Afghanistan was to the earlier generation of jihadists - a melting pot for jihadists from around the world, a training ground, and an indoctrination center. In the months and years ahead, a significant number of fighters who have traveled to Iraq could return to their home countries, exacerbating domestic conflicts or augmenting with new skills and experience existing extremist networks in the communities to which they return. [emphasis added]
Thus, while the Afghan campaign has been a successful step forward in the counterterrorism effort, Iraq has actually represented a step backward. I agree with praktike when he said, summing up the report:

You can also see why invading Iraq was not actually a helpful part of counterterrorism strategy, despite the claims of the White House and its courtiers.
All things considered, perhaps an understatement.

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