Bush's Iraq Debacle
Today I woke to the news of more violence in Iraq with yet another car bomb killing 22 people. Every day this week the news from Iraq has been bleak -- more than enough death to break into the self-absorbed American media discussion of runaway brides and side shows such as putting evolution (and science) on trial. Since the announcement that the Iraqi government had been formed, the violence in Iraq has increased.
Tonight on All Things Considered, Retired Army Col. Patrick Lang, once chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency, reported that the insurgency was an endemic problem with only a few outsiders. He said that he believed that it would be possible for the US to win the battle with the insurgency, but at a great cost and with Americans having to be in Iraq for at least a decade. That was the optimistic view: Americans can win but only if they decide to stick it out for a decade or more.
The not-so sanguine view was recently reported by Robert Dreyfuss in his latest article in the Rolling Stone: The Quagmire. Dreyfuss looks at the forces tearing Iraq apart and how the three major groups (Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds and their respective allies) are prepared to face off. As he says:
According to U.S. officials, the resistance attacks are being aided by an extensive network of informers. Insurgents, apparently making use of engineers and former insiders, have been able to hit oil installations and power plants expertly, foiling U.S. efforts to sustain Iraqi oil exports and to provide electricity and water to Iraqi cities. "They have tentacles that reach all through the new government and the new military," Lt. Gen. Walter Buchanan, who commands U.S. air forces in the Persian Gulf, admitted recently.
The new government is not only powerless to stop the attacks by insurgents, it is dominated by the same clique of warlords and exiles who lobbied the Pentagon to go to war in the first place, many of whom have close ties to the warring camps that control vast parts of the country. "In the Arab world, Iraq is seen as a zone of chaos in a pre-civil-war situation, held together only by the U.S. occupation," says Chas Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Bush's father. A brief survey of the three major forces in Iraq -- Shiites in the south, Sunnis in the center and Kurds in the north -- makes clear the sharp divisions that threaten to blow the country apart...
...In fact, it may already be too late to prevent Iraq from exploding. Iraq's new government is stuck in a fatal Catch-22: To have any credibility among Iraqis it must break with the U.S. and oppose the occupation, but it couldn't last a week without the protection of American troops. The Bush administration is also stuck. Its failure to stabilize Iraq, and the continuing casualties there, have led to a steady slide in the president's popularity: Polls show that a majority of Americans no longer think that the war in Iraq was worth fighting in the first place. Yet withdrawing from Iraq would only lead to more chaos, and the rest of the world has exhibited little interest in cleaning up America's mess. Of the two dozen or so countries that sent troops to Iraq, fewer and fewer remain: Spain, Portugal, Hungary and New Zealand have already quit, and the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Italy have announced they are getting out. Even if the United Nations agreed to step in, there is little or no chance that the administration will internationalize control over Iraq. In the face of a full-scale civil war in Iraq, says a source close to the U.S. military, Bush intends to go it alone.
"Our policy is to make Iraq a colony," he says. "We won't let go."
Dreyfuss' assertion in regards to this quagmire was that Iraq was beginning to look a lot like Vietnam. But that analogy doesn't work on the macro level, because the reasons for going into Vietnam were less devious -- no one was advocating war in Vietnam to create an empire. Vietnam was a colossal mistake, but it was largely driven by the paranoia that grew out of the cold war. No one was taking over Vietnam in order to stripmine it of resources so as to prop up an American empire. (In fact, it is more likely the wars of Central America in the 80s were more wars of empire than Vietnam.) And there were no cold-blooded discussions about why America should be an empire and how much Americans loved war.
But Iraq had always been seen as a global prize. By 2002, the bloodthirsty chicken hawks had a long trail of memos that showed why they wanted to take out Saddam from before 9/11 or even the Bush election. Here was a potential colony in the middle of the volatile Middle East that not only contained oil, but could provide a checkmate to a number of troublesome states in the region. And a successful war would for once and all wake Americans to the glories of ruling an empire, unafraid of using military power to enforce American rule.
What a prize, if only someone was bold enough (or stupid enough) to grab the brass ring. And as Dreyfuss reported this was a gamble Bush was willing to take. After the invasion, the Bush administration is not about to fold up now. After all, they've invested so much now, it would be awful if they had to give up. Remember what someone close to Bush's military said, "Our policy is to make Iraq a colony. We won't let go."
And who can deny this when we look at the secret minutes of the meeting held July 22, 2002 which were leaked to the British press on May 1st? (How appropriate that the memo was leaked not only in time to embarrass Blair in the heat of his campaign, but on the anniversary of Bush's arrogant and hubristic "Mission Accomplished" photo op.) As the memo said:
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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.
Although dismaying to see this cynical memo, this revelation was not too surprising as we have contemporaneous evidence that this was an accurate reflection of Bush's decision. The Wall Street Journal had a front page article dated June 17, 2002, that Bush had decided to go to war.
The Journal concludes that the most specific declaration about the administration's immediate intentions towards Iraq remains Bush's pronouncement to reporters in the United Kingdom last April: "I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go. That's about all I'm willing to share with you."
But as the British memo says, there would be some work to justify the war:
The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.
The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.
And the Bush administration had worked up the timeline for the war:
...he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.
And now, it is interesting to follow the timeline to see how conveniently the British produced their first dossier on Sept 24th, with a complementary US National Intelligence Estimate coming on Oct 1st - both just in time to lead up to the votes in the Congress and the Senate on October 10th and 11th to preface the national election on Nov 5th. But by adding the pretense of going to the UN, Bush had to wait longer than he had wanted: war didn't start until March 20, 2003.
As I wrote a long time ago,
It seems very clear that the claim Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear program was based on shaky, easily disputed evidence. This evidence was used to justify the war and tainted the vote to give Bush the authorization to go to war in October. Even then the evidence was considered bad and those in the Congress who feel their vote was based on deception have a right to be angry.
Congressman John Conyers confirms my assumption with his post at dKos indicating that every single Member of Congress he asked to sign his letter concerning the secret memo has signed on his request for an explanation from President Bush.
As infuriating as it is to have proof that the Bush administration cold-bloodedly took the nation to war based on lies, the fact that he and his henchmen never considered the aftermath of their terrible decision makes me even more angry. As the memo said, "There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action." This never changed even though they had more than eight months to spread their lies and to prepare to bomb Iraq. Ret. Lt. Col Sam Gardiner had been asked to help the Pentagon to prepare for the rebuilding of Iraq after Saddam was ousted and he reported on the extensive problems he found in early May 2003. When asked whether these problems couldn't have been anticipated, he said:
Umm, let me be honest. I briefed some people in the administration before the war. One of the officials said to me (a very high official), "We've already had an hour with the President on the humanitarian system. We're done talking about that." You see, if we had been prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis, it would have delayed the war and as I detected, nobody was interested in that.
Further confirmation about the criminal neglect the Bush administration showed toward the Iraqi people was found in a Rand study released this week. The Rand report excoriated a number of poor decisions made in the Iraq war, including believing that the "Shock and Awe" campaign would be sufficient to "decapitate, isolate and break the will" of the enemy. But they reserved their harshest condemnation for the lack of planning for the aftermath.
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.
The Rand researchers said in the future the U.S. military cannot assume that someone else will take that responsibility - and American soldiers need to be trained and prepared to handle law-and-order missions as soon as they have toppled the enemy regime.
The violence and mistrust in Iraq today was engendered by the carelessness and callousness of the Bush administration as they plotted to conquer Iraq for their own reasons without any thought that perhaps the Iraqis deserved some consideration. No wonder things are FUBAR in Iraq today.
As an FYI: I've updated my Iraq War Timeline to add the Blair memo.