Sunday, November 19, 2006


“In Iraq the [occupiers] brazened through the absurdities of their own making.... In June... a revolt began among the Shiite tribes near the holy cities and spread to the Sunnis of Fallujah., while in the north the Kurds had been causing trouble for months..... troop levels were grossly insufficient to keep the vast territory under control, and in [the occupiers’ capital] there were serious misgivings about the wisdom of an occupation. A headline in The Times proclaimed, ‘Bad to worse in Mesopotamia.’”

Current events chronicled? New York Times “liberal” criticism? Hardly. The occupiers in that instance were British, the nation’s capital was London, the paper was the arch conservative The Times of London, and the year was ..... (wait for it)..... 1920.

Americans have now learned- at a minimum cost of 2,865 American dead (as of November 16, 2006), tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) Iraqi dead, $300 billion dollars and mounting, the total destruction of worldwide goodwill towards America which existed immediately after the 9-11-01 attacks, and the erosion of our national security as we inflame and energize jihadists the world over- the price of electing as president a man who is ignorant of history, untraveled, incurious, unanalytical, and unreceptive to news which does not comport with preconceived notions.

There was no magic in forecasting a disaster if we invaded Iraq- been there, done that, as the British would say. Of course, that doesn’t explain the inexplicable- how the British, whose experiences in Iraq easily foreshadowed the incredibly violent chaos, anarchy, and civil war which have built up over the last 45 months, got sucked into the same mess, albeit at much lower troop levels and financial commitment.

For those Americans who would rather view the world through a factual history rather than the rose colored glasses manufactured by Dick “The insurgency is in its last throes” Cheney, there are two books out which are must reads for understanding two things: (1) why Iraq is such a mess today and won’t get better anytime soon; and (2) how our Administration rejected every good piece of advice before the war from its own experts. The new Democratic Congress which will be installed in 2007 can save millions of dollars in investigative costs just by buying and distributing to all of the members of Congress copies of Fiasco (© 2006) by Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks and The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq (© 2005) by New Yorker writer George Packer.

I read Fiasco first, and even though the book was written at least a year later, with another year of the effects of the Iraq insurgency to contemplate, it’s probably better to read the latter book first. Ricks is a painstaking, organized, methodical reporter who spoke to virtually every person who was involved in the decision-making apparatus at the Department of Defense and the Department of State. He was in Iraq and made it a point to get input from Americans at every level- from platoon up to the commander in the theater. Never content to get one point of view, he gave rebuttal opportunities to every general whose competence or credibility was attacked by subordinates or fellow generals. The on the record quotes from the experts paints a dispiriting picture: the Bush Administration had experienced, knowledgeable officials in both the State and Defense departments who accurately assessed the situation before we invaded, who accurately assessed the dangers of the potential for an insurgency (plus the historical reasons why it would occur and who would be involved) shortly after “Mission Accomplished” in early May of 2003, and who accurately forecast the essentials necessary to counteract an insurgency (more troops to provide security both at the borders and internally, a retention of the civil servants and the infrastructure, and concrete steps to immediately restore or provide basic necessities like electricity, clean water, and jobs).

Some people emerge untarnished, such as retired Marine General (and former head of Central Command) Anthony Zinni and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who had (correctly as it turned out) testified on February 25, 2003, before Congress that a commitment of troops on the order of “several hundred thousand” would be required to secure Iraq after combat operations had ended:

SEN. LEVIN: "General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?"

GEN. SHINSEKI: "I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."

Shinseki was publicly contradicted by both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who, respectively, labeled Shinseki's troop level estimate "far off the mark" and "wildly off the mark." Wolfowitz said it would be "hard to believe" more troops would be required for post-war Iraq than to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

On November 15, 2006, General John P. Abizaid, current head of the U.S. Central Command, acknowledged what has been obvious since the Summer of 2003- that Shinseki's estimate was correct:

U.S. Senator Lindsay GRAHAM (Republican, S.C.): “Was General Shinseki correct when you look backward that we needed more troops to secure the country, General Abizaid?”

ABIZAID: “General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution, and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations.”

One of the stranger occurrences in the immediate aftermath of the invasion was the sacking of retired General Jay Garner, the first head of the Coalitional Provisional Authority (CPA, which Americans on scene wryly observed really stood for “Can’t Provide Anything”), only one month into the job. Garner had pragmatically realized that American occupiers needed to retain a functioning Iraqi Army in order to rule the country with only 100,000 to 150,000 troops. He also opposed a policy of “de-Bathification” (modeled after the “de-Nazification” of post war Germany) which would have put thousands of capable civil servants- the bureaucracy which actually ran the country- out of work.

Paul Bremer, who replaced Garner as CPA head, immediately reversed both policies and disbanded the Iraqi Army (Bremer later argued that the army had pretty much disbanded itself after the invasion, as troops fled and went back home) and, more ominously, dismantled and allowed the looting of virtually every government office and ministry in Baghdad and elsewhere- except the Oil Ministry. With those two acts, Bremer could accurately be labeled as the “Father of the Insurgency.” General Franks and some of his top generals on the ground did their part to create the current misery of Iraq as, unbelievably, the American military, on a wild goose chase for evidence of weapons of mass destruction, passed by (without securing) arms caches of thousands of tons of munitions and small arms. Those are the low tech weapons that have been used to create the improvised explosive devices (IED’s) and rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s) which are the primary causes of death of American troops.

The hubris and incompetence clearly came from the top, demonstrated no better than Secretary Rumsfeld’s pontification that “freedom is untidy” as American troops with no orders to intervene stood by in Baghdad and elsewhere while looters destroyed the government offices which American tax-dollars are now being spent to rebuild and refurbish. Rumsfeld not only did not anticipate the insurgency, he continually refused to recognize it even as commanders on the ground were requesting more troops, more spare parts, and, most infamously, the body armor and armored vehicles which led to the following exchange on December 9, 2004, as Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard outfit, asked Rumsfeld why more military combat vehicles were not reinforced for battle conditions:

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked.

"As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want," Rumsfeld replied.

Rumsfeld never explained why neither he nor President Bush figured this out before ordering the invasion of Iraq.

Ricks’ book also details how the Republicans vetted the persons assigned to the CPA for ideological purity, resulting in the denial or delay of positions for more capable, experienced officials (Tom Warrick and Megan O’Sullivan of the State Department were pulled off Jay Garner’s team due to objections by Vice President Dick Cheney’s office) who actually had a plan for post-War Iraq. Instead, 25 year old Republican errand boys were put in charge of major institutions in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were called “90 day wonders” because their tours typically only lasted three months. One of them listed as his previous experience “driving an ice cream truck.”

Ricks also pointed out that uber capitalists Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney wanted to bypass our military and spend American dollars on private contractors such as the Blackwater Corporation and Titan Corporation (Titan failed at their mission to provide Arabic speaking interpreters). The neoconservatives working for Cheney and Rumsfeld used Iraq as a giant laboratory to prove their theory that war and its aftermath could be more efficiently run by the private sector. Their theory imploded upon contact with reality on the ground in Iraq, as the private contractors on whom billions were lavished (much of which has gone missing) were so incompetent that the Iraqi battalions which they were supposedly training (and which resulted in the absurd statements in 2005 by Republican officials that we had over a hundred thousand trained Iraqi troops) were dismantled or fled when confronted with an actual war zone. Regular American military had to take over the job from scratch, and over three years later, it still hasn’t come close to completion.

If not a substitute for Congressional hearings, Ricks’ book is a blueprint for the investigations sure to come, comprised as it is by quoted excerpts from the political and military people responsible for the disaster as well as those who had post invasion plans ready to go (“Phase IV” of the operation) and were stunned to discover that the high muckety-mucks in the Pentagon and the Vice President’s office had ignored or buried them. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was infamously bestowed on those most responsible for creating the disaster- CIA director George (“it’s a slam dunk that there are WMD’s in Iraq) Tenet, Central Command General Tommy (no post war planning, no securing of borders, government offices, or arms caches used to supply the insurgency) Franks, and Paul (we will be greeted as liberators and “Iraq’s oil will pay for the post war reconstruction”) Wolfowitz. After reading Fiasco, it is clear that people like General Shinseki, General Anthony Zinni (who opposed the invasion), and Tom Warrick (who had a post war plan and who knew more than any of the people actually assigned to run the CPA) should have received the medals in their stead.

Packer’s book The Assassins’ Gate, although it contains much of the highlighted material as Fiasco on both generals and politicians, is a more personal look at Iraq, with lengthy and random (chronologically, at least) character studies of some people of whom we have heard, and others (Drew Erdmann, a yuppie Ivy League type who worked for the CPA who actually had a smattering of competence; Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi in exile who could have been their Thomas Jefferson if Iraq had been a stable country) from relative obscurity. Packer’s book has a hint of optimism, having been written not long after the January 2005 elections which were hailed in President Bush’s 2005 State of the Union speech as a sign of progress and victory in Iraq. Twenty-two months later, we know what the experts quoted in both books knew before the March 20, 2003 invasion was launched- without security, without a functioning central government, without provision of basic services such as clean water, a functioning sewage system, and, above all, electric power (still only a few hours a day in Baghdad three and a half years after Bush declared victory in Iraq on the carrier Lincoln)- without those essentials, democracy and stability are a neo-conservative’s opium dream.


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