I have recently worked my way through US journalist Bob Woodward’s 2006 book State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III. Not having read parts I and II, I wasn’t sure at first what to expect. However, it is a great read, composed in the journalistic, personal, racy style which keeps one turning the page and bombards one with the personal impressions, conflicts, frustrations, triumphs and tragedies of the principal actors.
It is also quite clear, from early on, that the book is a ‘get Rummy’ exercise. Rumsfeld is the villain of the piece – bombastic, argumentative, difficult, strong-headed, etc. There are some sympathetic passages – the man is not a monster, clearly – but the overwhelming impression is that life would have been much easier had someone other than Rumsfeld been the Secretary of Defense in these difficult years.
I can’t make a judgement on that – being US Secretary of Defense would, I think, be a difficult job for any person, even under the best conditions. During wartime, it would require superhuman ability even to do a middling job. Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense during a war instigated, in the most imprudent manner, by the catastrophe of disorganisation that was the Bush II administration. The guy deserves some sympathy and to have us cut him some slack.
In any case, Rumsfeld is tough enough to take it. As his appearance in the 2013 doco film The Unknown Unknown showed, he has a hide like an elephant, and he continues to sleep and eat well. Let’s not shed any tears – he certainly isn’t.
What I wanted to share with readers, in the spirit of the blog, were passages that I thought reflected sound and unsound thinking on the part of the principles. Even bearing in mind Woodward’s partiality, there are some incidents from which we can learn.
I’ll leave out the passages concerning Major General ‘Spider’ Marks and his efforts to get the intelligence community to tell him exactly what weapons of mass destruction Saddam was supposed to have, and where they were stored. The are the most interesting and revealing sections of the book, I think, and I think that readers would do well to hunt them down for themselves, as an exercise.
So, here we go.
First, the discussion on pages 83-85 of the ‘Bletchley II’ research group, and their thoughts about the world after the atrocities of September 11, 2001:
Well into the Afghanisatan bombing campagin, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, called an old friend, Christopher DeMuth, the longtime president of the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative Washington think tank. Just before coming to the Pentagon, Wolfowitz had been the dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, known as SAIS. AEI and SAIS, just blocks from each other, were the forum for lots [Yes, Woodward actually wrote ‘lots’ – who edits these books? who do they think is reading?] of intellectual cross-pollination.
The U.S. government, especially the Pentagon, is incapable of producign the kinds of ideas and strategy needed to deal with a crisis of hte magnitude of 9/11, Wolfowitz told DeMuth. He needed to reach outside to tackle the biggest questions. Who are the terrorists? Where did this come from? How does it relate to Islamic history, the history of the Middle East, and contemporary Middle East tensions? What are we up against here?
Wolfowitz said he was thinking along the lines of Bletchley PArk, the team of mathematicians and cryptologists the British set up during World War II to break the ULTRA German communications code. Could DeMuth quickly put together a skilled group to produce a report for the president, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice and Tenet?
Asking a think tank if it would be willing to strategize for the top policy-makers in a time of extraordinary crisis was like asking General Motors if they would be willing to sell a million more cars. DeMuth, a smooth, debonair lawyer trained at the University of Chicago Law School and expert on government regulation, readily agreed. AEI was practically the intellectual farm team and retirement home for Washington conservatives. Among its scholars and fellows were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president. Cheney himself had been an AEI fellow between his stints as secretary of defense and president and CEO of the giant defense contractor Halliburton.
DeMuth recruited a dozen people. He later said they agreed to serve only “if I promised it would all be kept secret.” [And obviously this ‘expert on government regulation – he must be fun at parties – kept his promise. What a bunch of people.]
Included in the group were Bernard Lewis, a Cheney favorite and a scholar of Islam who had written extensively on Middle Eastern tensions with the West; Mark Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary who specialized in dictatorships; Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and a Newsweek columnist; Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle East Studies Program at SAIS; James Q. Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime; and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert. Rumsfeld assigned his consultant and general fix-it man, Steve Herbits [the only person in the whole book whom I expect you’ve never heard of but who, I think, is also the only person in the book who has any nous about him], to participate. Herbits, who had devised the original idea and encouraged Wolfowitz to push it, called the group “Bletchley II”.
On Thursday night, November 29, 2001, DeMuth assembled the group at a secure conference center in Virginia for a weekend of discussion. They passed around some of the participants’ various writings. DeMuth was surprised at the consensus among his group. He stayed up late Sunday night distilling their thoughts into a seven-page, single-spaced document, called “Delta of Terrorism.” “Delta” was used in the sense of the mouth of a river from which everything flowed.
In an interview, DeMuth declined to provide a copy of “Delta of Terrorism,” but he agreed to describe its conclusions.
“What we saw on 9/11 and the less dramatic attacks of the ’90s like the USS Cole” – which killed 17 Navy sailors – “manifest that a war was going on within Islam – across the region. It was a deep problem, and 9/11 was not an isolated action that called for policing and crime fighting.”
It was a different kind of terrorism that the 1970s version, with locally disaffected groups such as the Red Brigades in Italy. Overall, the report concluded, the United States was likely in for a two-generation battle with radical Islam.
“The general analysis was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important, where they were confident and successful in setting up a radical govenrment.” But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with, he said.
But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable. DeMuth said they had concluded that “Baathism is an Arab form of fascism transplanted to Iraq.” The Baath Party, controlled by Saddam Hussein, had ruled Iraq since 1968.
“We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. He was a gathering threat – the most menacing, active and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That was the only way to transform the region.
Copies of the memo, straight from the neoconservative playbook, were hand-delivered to the war cabinet members. In at least some cases, it was given a SECRET classification. Cheney was pleased with the memo, and it had a strong impact on President Bush [as Obi-wan said, ‘The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded’. So, apparently, can loosely-reasoned bullshit], causing him to focus on the “malignancy” of the Middle East. Rice found it “very, very persuasive” [Jesus.]
Rumsfeld later said he remembered the general plan but didn’t recall the details of the memo. His design, he said, was to “bring together some very find minds on a highly confidential basis and provide intellectual content” for the post-9/11 era.
Herbits was very happy with the way Bletchley II had worked out, although Rumsfeld decided not to make the group permanent. Summarizing their conclusions, Herbits said, “We’re facing a two-generation war. And start with Iraq.”
Gawd. Where to start?
What about DeMuth’s surprise at the consensus among the group? As I teach in my courses, surprise is an indicator that one’s strategic assumptions are being contradicted by tactical indicators. The next step is to check that one’s strategic assumptions are sound – in other words, to question one’s assumptions. DeMuth didn’t do this – he just accepted that the people in his group were of one mind. The chance of ‘groupthink’ never appears to have occurred to him.
Now, you think about this problem: the US has been shocked by a sneak attack using civilian-laden civilian airliners against civilian office towers and the Pentagon; almost nothing is known about the plot, about the people who perpetrated the plot, about their motivations for perpetrating the attack, and about what they might do next; and a group of people from diverse academic and personal backgrounds come to a near-unanimous conclusion about who did it, and why, and what it signifies – with no – zero, zip, nada, maru – dissension? Alarm bells would be ringing in my mind, I can assure you – either the group doesn’t understand what has occurred, and the members are clinging to each other for reassurance and fear of failing individually, or you’ve chosen a bunch of hive-minders who naturally gravitate to groupthink around a common narrative and interpretation of the world. Go seek a second opinion. Really.
Secondly, they got the story about al-Qaeda completely wrong. One of al-Qaeda’s goals was to get the US military presence out of the ‘Land of the Two Shrines’. Another goal was to overthrow the Saud monarchy in Saudi Arabia. The strategy that they chose was to draw the US into battle on islamic soil, where they believed the US – expected to be a weaker adversary than the Soviets that they had defeated in Afghanistan – could be defeated and driven from the land, but whose enlarged presence to prosecute the war would cause such a revolt among muslims that they would rally to the al-Qaeda flag and overthrow the corrupt monarchies and regimes under which they suffered.
Thus al-Qaeda sought to provoke the US into war. The successful attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and on the USS Cole weren’t sufficient – the US could absorb even these attacks without flinching – so al-Qaeda attacked dramatically in New York and Washington. This, the US had to respond to by going into the islamic world to chase the jihadis. The trap was sprung.
To dismiss this as being nothing more than a ‘civil war within islam’ is unwise and naive. There has been a civil war within the islamic world for fourteen centuries. al-Qaeda was about more than this. These men had a political plan which involved drawing the US into a war on islamic soil. Acknowledging and understanding this would, should have shaped the US response.
So, the group’s misunderstanding of al-Qaeda caused them to misdiagnose the problem and to make a poor recommendation – invade Iraq. They could have said ‘We really don’t understand al-Qaeda and what is going on – more study needs to be done before we can make solid recommendations. Until then, be careful.’ Instead, they made what would turn out to be the worst recommendation they could possibly have made – invade the heart of the islamic world, militarily and in force.
Armed with this poor advice, the Bush administration blundered into the trap which al-Qaeda had set for them. Twelve years later, things are going well for the al-Qaeda plan – their armies are ascendant in Syria, northern Iraq and Yemen; the secular regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is long gone; the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is mortally wounded; the US presence is gone from Saudi Arabia; an Islamic State, enforcing the legal code of the quran, has been established in northern Iraq and half of Syria; the Saudi monarchy is in desperate straits, weakened by falling oil prices, and beseiged by an ascendant shiite Iran from without and the threat of revolt from within; and western countries are at a loss as to how to respond to domestic terrorist attacks by their own muslim citizens.
Thirdly, the idea that one could conclude ‘most of the attackers on 9/11 were from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but they’re too difficult to deal with, so let’s invade Iraq’ is preposterous. This is another Red Flag indicating that the group was way out of their depth.
I’m at a loss for words. The depth of stupidity is mind-melting.
Dealing with the problem in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, given the limitations on the process, would have obliged the US to treat the issue as a police matter. And this would have been much the wiser course. But the group ruled this out immediately in favour of a blundering military process.
And they had the hide to call themselves experts. It’s truly appalling.
Next, from pp.126-127:
During the first morning of the rock drill, [head of the post-invasion stability mission General Jay] Garner had noticed one person who found fault with everything. A real “spring-butt,” Garner thought, someone who kept popping up out of his seat with something to say on every topic. When they took a break, Garner walked up to him.
“Let me talk to you,” he said.
“I’m Tom Warrick,” said the man, a 48-year-old State Department civil servant.
“How do you know so damn much?”
“Well, I’ve been studying this stuff for the last year and a half,” Warrick said.
“Oh yeah? Who’ve you been studying for?
The State Department, Warrick replied, and said he’d written a long report on postwar Iraq. “It’s called the ‘Future of Iraq’ study.”
That was very interesting, Garner thought. He had heard bageuly about the study.
“Why aren’t you over here working for me?”
“I’d like to work for you,” Warrick said.
“You’re hired,” Garner told him. “Be there Monday morning and bring all your stuff.”
The Monday after the rock drill, Warrick showed up at the Pentagon. By noon, Garner noticed that half the people working with Warrick were mad at him. Garner was delighted. They needed someone like that, challenging everyone, keeping them on their toes and engaged. “He runs around and sandpapers everyone,” Garner recalled later. Garner read much of the “Future of Iraq” study, didn’t agree with all of it, but felt it was sufficiently provocative to be useful.
A few days later, Garner was summoned to Rumsfeld’s office for a big get-together with [Deputy Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul] Wolfowitz, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General Myers and the vice chairman of the JCS, Marine General Peter Pace.
“Hey, Jay” – Rumsfeld leaned over at one point – “When it’s all over, how about staying? I have a couple of things I need to go over.”
When everyone else left, the secretary of defense walked to his desk and started shuffling through his papers. It took a while, and Rumsfeld started to get exasperated, unable to find what he was looking for. Finally, he picked up a small piece of paper.
“Jay,” he said, looking up. “Do you have a couple people on your team named Warrick and O’Sullivan?”
“Yeah,” Garner replied. “I’ve got a guy named Tom Warrick who did the ‘Future of Iraq’ study and I got a gal named Meghan O’Sullivan, who’s a real talented young lady.”
O’Sullivan, also from the State Department, had come over to Garner’s team recently. She was 33, indisputably bright, had a doctorate in political science from Oxford University, and had written extensively on rogue states and Iraq.
“I’ve got to ask you to take them both off the team,” Rumsfeld said.
“I can’t do that. Both of them are too valuable.”
Rumsfeld stared at Garner briefly. “Look, Jay. I’ve gotten this request from such a high level that I can’t turn it down. So I’ve got to ask you to remove them from your team.”
“There’s no negotiation here?” Garner asked.
“I’m sorry, there really isn’t,” Rumsfeld replied.
A level so high that the secretary of defense couldn’t turn it down? Garner thought. That could mean only Bush or conceivably Cheney.
Back in his office, Garner couldn’t locate Warrick or O’Sullivan. He told Tom Baltazar, an Army colonel who was working as his operations officer, what had happened. “That’s crazy,” Baltazar said.
“Look, just find them,” Garner said. “Tell them to go back to where they came from, and I’ll get them back. Tell them it’s just temporary.”
Garner later tracked down Steve Hadley, the deputy national security adviser.
“I really, really want these two back,” he told Hadley.
“Yeah,” Hadley replied. “I don’t know that we can help you here.”
Garner pressed his case. Warrick and O’Sullivan knew what they were talking about. There wasn’t much time before they would likely be deploying to the Middle East, and he needed them.
“Well, the man is just too hard,” Hadley said. It would be impossible to get Warrick back on the team, but it sounded like he was leaving the door open for O’Sullivan.
That night, Baltazar called Garner at his apartment to report that Warrick and O’Sullivan were gone.
“Tom,” Garner asked, “where in the hell do you think this came from?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve got a buddy who works at the White House. I’m going to call him tonight on his phone at home. I don’t want to call him on the official line.”
Baltazar called hi friend, P.J. Dermer, an army colonel who worked for Scooter Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, and who had a secure telephone at home. The bottom line, Dermer said, had to do with Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate and head of the Iraqi National Congress, a group based in London and funded by the U.S. Cheney’s office was pushing the idea that Chalabi was the answer to everything, and Warrick was not a fan of Chalabi. Dermer described the opposition to Warrick as coming from “a group of about five people” in Cheney’s office – “a cabal,” he said.
The next morning, Baltazar told Garner, “It was the vice president. The vice president can’t stand either one of them.”
Warrick had been in the Clinton administration, and had been a strong advocate of indicting Saddam Hussein as a war criminal. He had worked on regime change issues for State, met with lots of Iraqi exiles, and had discovered that other exiles weren’t exactly enamored of Chalabi. In fact, there had been a conference of Iraqi opposition leaders he’d worked on in 2002 when many of them said the y wouldn’t come if Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress were put in charge.
O’Sullivan had worked at the Brookings Institution, a left-of-center think tank, and she was seen as a protégé of Richard N. Haass, the director of policy planning at Powell’s State Department. She and Haass had co-authored a paper urging the use of economic, political or cultural incentives as levers to influence countries such as Iraq instead of military force or covert action. In another paper O’Sullivan had questioned U.S. support to Iraqi exiles.
Garner thought the whole maneuver was a bad sign. He was repelled that personalities and apparently ideology would play a role in such vital postwar planning. Losing Warrick, clearly a top expert on the issues, was a blow, though Garner’s team kept his “Future of Iraq” study, and a lot of Iraqis who had worked on it wound up working with Garner’s organization. The incident demonstrated the depth of the infighting between Defense and State.
Simply extraordinary. The quality of the mission – and thus of the US’ post-war stabilisation efforts, and thus the quality of life of the Iraqis – was sacrificed to the vanities and predispositions of Vice-President Cheney, so that he could proceed with this plan of having his bloke – Ahmed Chalabi – installed unopposed at the top of Iraq’s new government.
And how well did that go? Well, it never happened. Because it turns out that Ahmed Chalabi was at the centre of possibly the most successful espionage and deception operation in history.
Iran didn’t like Saddam Hussein. Iran wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and replace his government with that of a Shiite puppet government under its control. Iran didn’t have the military strength to remove Saddam. So it set about getting the country with the world’s most powerful military to do the work for it. And it did so by fooling the nitwits in the Republican Party into invading Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite Iraqi, won the confidence of Cheney and his clique, fed them garbage intelligence about Saddam’s connections to al-Qaeda and his having programmes for creating weapons of mass destruction, and encouraged them to invade. ‘Your soldiers will be greeted by cheering Iraqis, they will be festooned with flowers and rose petals!’ It was almost too easy.
For Cheney to have his plan succeed, sceptics and those who knew too much had to be weeded out of positions of influence. So Warrick and O’Sullivan – intelligent, well-informed and strong people who were immune to being charmed and fooled and who saw through Chalabi – were removed from Garner’s team.
How did it all work out? The US removed Saddam and his army. The Shiites took power in Iraq. The Iranians took control of the Shiite Iraqi government. Once the US military had done its job, the Iranians launched their own guerrilla war against US soldiers to get them to leave Iraq. The US military left. Iran controls Iraq. ‘Mission Accomplished’, to borrow an infamous phrase.
And Chalabi? He’s still around, active in Iraqi politics, and, apparently, active in supporting Shiite causes and movements and suppressing Sunni individuals and organisations.
You couldn’t make this crap up.
Next, p131, and we meet ‘Mr Postwar’, James Dobbins, a veteran US diplomat who had been US envoy to Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan to oversee stabilisation and reconstruction missions:
At the Pentagon, one of Feigh’s deputies briefed Dobbins and several other outside experts on a postwar plan that seemed to envision a full-scale occupation of Iraq. Dobbins thought of it as Plan A – a sort of General Douglas MacArthur viceroy. The United States would prepare the country for elections, after which sovereignty would be given back to the Iraqis.
After the briefing, Rumsfeld came in to meet with Dobbins and the others.
“I thought we did it just fine in Afghanistan,” Rumsfeld said, acknowledging Dobbins and his role, “and I would hope that we’ll be able to do the same thing in Iraq – that is, bring together a representative group of Iraqis and find Iraq’s Hamid Karzai.” …
Dobbins was happy to see that there was a Plan B – a Bonn conference equivalent with quick transfer of power to an Iraqi government. He wondered which model – MacArthur or Karzai – would be used. There seemed to be no well-devised plan for either, and clearly there was no consensus within the administration. It was also evident to him that the administration did not comprehend the massive undertaking before them – not only the security, governing and economic issues but the task of trying to heal some of the old wounds from the dictatorship, and the hatred between the Sunnis, who ruled Iraq under Saddam, and the Shiites, who were a majority of the population.
In other words, the administration had no idea what they were doing, or what they were getting themselves into. No. Idea.
- Next, pp. 170-171, an insight into conditions on the ground post-invasion, and the US’ lack of preparadness for it:
The president was still concerned that the U.S. was losing the propaganda war … Karen Hughes, Bush’s information czar and White House counselor, believed the State Department was not aggressive enough in explaining Bush’s foreign policy. She persuaded Margaret Tutwiler, the grande dame of Republican communications strategy during the Reagan and Bush senior years, to take the top job in the State Department as the undersecretary for public diplomacy.
Tutwiler, 52, described in a Washington Post article as a “one-woman psychological operations team,” was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and had a deep, confiding southern accent. She had worked non-stop as communications and political adviser to Jim Baker for 12 years while he served as White House chief of staff and treasury secretary for Reagan and then as secretary of state for George H. W. Bush. She had one interest and focus: Baker’s image and success.
Tutwiler was serving as U.S. ambassador to Morocco when she received her Iraq assignment – Do for Garner what you did for Baker.
When Tutwiler arrived in Baghdad, she was overwhelmed by the government and societal meltdown – no showers, no reliable electricity. She was being eaten alive by mosquitoes …
Iraq was such a catastrophe, Tutwiler concluded, that even Jim Baker would not have been able to fix it. The country had neither a functioning society nor a functioning government. But she knew from experience that every White House wanted total control and instant results. Soon she was getting calls form the White House and Pentagon complaining about the pictures of the looting and chaos on television and in the newspapers. Get those pictures off, they said.
Tutwiler told everyone in Washington that the political power and infrastructure vacuums were of unimaginable magnitude. This surpassed anything she had ever seen.
Tutwiler liked Garner. He was a genuine patriot, she thought, without a personal agenda. But he was no Jim Baker. Garner did not know how to line up all the players in the Washington game, the interagency process – how to make the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, the White House and Treasury all happy. Garner seemed to have the right ideas, but he just didn’t have the contacts or clout in Washington, and he didn’t have the manpower in Baghdad …
Tutwiler became friendly with Hero Talabani, the wife of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. In one discussion, Hero turned to her and said something that Tutwiler remembered for years: “We expected more from you Americans.”
Join the club, Hero. And don’t you like how the White House’s reaction to news of looting and chaos was ‘get those pictures off’. They didn’t care that it was happening, as much as they cared that Americans were seeing that it was happening.
Several days after Saddam’s statue fell, Prince Bandar went to the White House to see the president. Rumsfeld was leaving as he arrived.
“We’ll accelerate the withdrawal,” he told Bandar. “Don’t worry.”
Bandar expressed concern about stability in Iraq to Bush. The United States military had occupied the country, but Rumsfeld was talking about a fast withdrawal. Bandar repeated what he had told Bush before the war. There would be a power vacuum in Iraq for sure. The Baath Party and the military, including the Iraqi intelligence and security services, had run the country.
“Take the top echelon off because of their involvement and their bloody hands,” Bandar said. “But keep and maintain the integrity of the institutions. What you should do, announce all of the military report back to their barracks and keep, let’s say the colonels on down. Somebody has to run things.” And do the same thing with the Iraqi intelligence and security services. “Look, their intel service was the most efficient. Take off the top echelon and keep the second line and let them find those bad guys, because those bad guys will know how to find bad guts.” They could find Saddam.
“That’s too Machiavellian,” someone said. The Saudi notes of the meeting indicate it was either Bush or Rice.
“Let bad people find bad people, and then after that you get rid of them,” Bandar said. “What’s the big deal? Double-cross them. I mean, for God’s sake, who said that we owe them anything?”
No one responded.
Saudi Arabia shared a 500-mile border with Iraq, and stability in the aftermath was a major concern. Chaos or an extremist, pro-Iranian Shiite regime would be a nightmare for the Saudis, conceivably worse than the relative stability provided by Saddam.
The Saudis estimated that there were some 3 million retirees in Iraq, sitting at home, getting about the equivalent of $6 a month. “Go and pay them for six months, for God’s sakes,” Bandar advised. “Each of them supports a family, mind you. So from 3 million you could get the support of literally 10 million people. Suddenly you have a major constituency for you because you have paid them off.”
It was the Saudi way. Paying 3 million retirees would amount to about $100 million. Bandar proposed doing the same with the Iraqi military. Chop off the top echelon, and then pay the rest for three to six months. That might be another $100 million. After liberation, people in Iraq were going to have high expectations, Bandar said. Don’t disappoint them. “You have to make people feel that their life is going to get better.”
Saddam’s party and army – the instruments of repression – could be instruments of stability. The total cost of the buyout program would be about $200 million. It might be the best $200 million the U.S. ever spent, he said.
Bush indicated it was up to Rumsfeld.
This is all eminently sensible stuff. These tactics should at least have been tried, and the advice should most certainly have been considered. Unfortunately, all of it was dismissed out of hand by the Americans.
Bandar identified the most serious pressure points in the Iraqi social system, and proposed ways for the Americans, not only to relieve pressure on them, but to make them work to the Americans’ advantage. In another formulation of the same problem, Bandar could be said to have identified the crucial nodes on the Iraqi population’s incentives map, and proposed ways for the Americans to address and use those nodes. His proposals were ruthless, cost-efficient, easily modified, accentuated, accelerated or reversed, as needs required.
But the Americans’ arrogance, a characteristic of their approach to the invasion, prevented them from even considering Bandar’s proposals. To the cost of the people of Iraq and America, and now also of Syria, of Libya, of Turkey and now, increasingly, of Europe.
Next, pp.205-207 – ignoring Bandar’s advice, the Americans screw over the personnel of the Iraqi army, and spark the insurgency which was to cost them so dearly over the next eight years:
Bremer wrote a memo to President Bush, sending it through Rumsfeld a week after he’d arrived in the country. Reflecting his new tough line, Bremer said, “We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished.” He claimed, “The dissolution of his chosen instrument of political domination, the Baath Party, has been very well received.” This accompanied “an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam’s military and intelligence structures to emphasize we mean business.”
“Why would we want to pay an army we just got through defeating?” Walt Slocombe asked Jerry Bates, Garner’s chief of staff.
“Because we don’t want them to suddenly show up on the other side,” Bates answered. “We need to get control of them.”
Slocombe and Bates had worked in the Pentagon together during the Clinton years. Bates liked Slocombe and thought he was smart. But on this issue they vehemently disagreed, and Bremer was clearly of the same mind as Slocombe. The army had melted away, Bremer said. “They don’t exist, so we’re not paying them.”
On May 19, 2003, Bremer sent Rumsfeld a two-page memo informing him that he was going to issue the order disbanding the Iraqi military. He was not really recommending it or asking permission. “In the coming days I propose to issue the attached order.”
In the days after the order disbanding the military, vehicles traveling the road between Baghdad and the airport started coming under attack more regularly. Crowds began to gather to protest the order, although reports differed greatly as to how many people turned out each time. On May 19, about 500 people demonstrated outside the Coalition Provisional Authority’s gates. A week later, on May 26, a larger crowed gathered to demonstrate. Some Arab media reports that were later translated and given to Bremer’s team said there were as many as 5,000 protesters.
“We demand the formation of a government as soon as possible, the restoration of security, rehabilitation of public institutions, and disbursement of the salaries of all military personnel,” said one of the leaders of the protest, an Iraqi major general named Sahib al-Musawi. His speech was carried over the Arabic-language television network Al Jazeera, and later translated for the CPA. “If our demands are not met, next Monday will mark the start of the estrangement between the Iraqi army and people on the one hand and the occupiers on the other.”
Paul Hughes now had to deal with the former Iraqi officers who wanted their soldiers to be given the $20 emergency payments, but who were now shut out under the Bremer order. Hughes stalled for a while but finally went to see the officers.
“Colonel Paul, what happened?” asked Mirjan Dhiya, their English-speaking spokesman.
“I don’t know,” Hughes said. “I can’t tell you what happened. I’m as shocked as you are.”
“Colonel Paul, we have men who have families. They have no food. They are running out. We need to do something.”
Hughes finally got Slocombe’s chief of staff to meet with the former Iraqi military representative. There was still a possibility that they might get the $20 each, but things were moving very slowly.
That same day [May 26, 2003], three American cavalry scouts whose job was to escort or go ahead of convoys of supply trucks were also on the BIAP [Baghdad International Airport] highway, riding in the first of a team of two armored Humvees. They drove over what looked like a backpack in the middle of the road.
The backpack exploded, tearing into their Humvee and throwing one of the soldiers from the vehicle. Ammunition started to cook off, causing more explosions.
The soldiers in the second Humvee slammed on the brakes and manned their machine gun, looking frantically for the enemy. One soldier got out and ran quickly to the fallen man, Jeremiah D. Smith, a 25-year-old Army private from Missouri, one of the first American soldiers confirmed to have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq in weeks.
Paul Hughes was at the palace at Garner’s farewell party. He heard a report: “We just lost two Humvees on the BIAP highway.”
“I was pissed,” Hughes later recalled. He presumed Iraqi soldiers were behind the attack, and was equally sure that the U.S. had missed its best opportunity to keep the Iraqi army under control by working with the Iraqi generals and colonels. “I had them by their balls. They would have stood on their head in the Tigris River for me as long as we were dealing fairly with each other. It was just so tragic, so needless.”
The next day, one of the U.S. intelligence agents at the palace had a stark, matter-of-fact assessment. “These guys all have munitions in their garages,” he said. “They’re pissed off. This is the beginning.”
All entirely self-evident. And I don’t think this is Hindsight Bias talking.
One discussion in the book is most revealing is how the policies for de-Baathification and disbanding the military came into being. I think the following passages are highly revealing – not only was the policy-making process broken, but nobody wants to claim responsibility for the policies – pp.193-200:
About 7 a.m on May 14 , [Paul] Bremer’s first full day in Baghdad, Robin Raphel ran up to Garner.
“Have you seen this?” she asked.
“No,” Garner replied. “I don’t know what the hell you’ve got there.”
“It’s a de-Baathification policy,” she said, handing him a two-page document.
Garner read quickly: “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1 – De-Baathification of Iraqi Society.” The Baath Party was organized by rank, and the order said that all “full members” – those in the top four ranks – would be immediately removed from their posts and banned from future government employment. Additionally, the three top layers of management in the ministries would be investigated for crimes and as possible security risks.
“We can’t do this,” Garner said. He still envisioned what he had told Rumsfeld would be a “gentle de-Baathification” – eliminating only the number one Baathist and the personnel directors in each ministry. “It’s too deep,” he added.
“That’s exactly why you can’t go home,” Raphel said.
Garner ran into Charlie, the CIA station chief.
“Have you read this?” Garner asked.
“That’s why I’m over here,” Charlie said.
“Let’s go see Bremer.” The two men got in to see the new administrator of Iraq around 1 p.m. Jerry, this is too deep,” Garner said. “Give Charlie and I about an hour. We’ll sit down with this. We’ll do the pros and cons and then we’ll get on the telephone with Rumsfeld and soften it a bit.”
“Absolutely not,” Bremer said. “Those are my instructions and I intend to execute them.”
“Hell,” Garner answered, “you won’t be able to run anything if you go this deep.”
Garner turned to Charlie. The experienced CIA man had been station chief in other Middle East countries.
“Charlie, what’s going to happen?”
“If you put this out, you’re going to drive between 30,000 and 50,000 Baathists underground before nightfall,” Charlie said, according to notes taken by Kim Olson, Garner’s assistant. Charlie said the number was closer to 50,000 than 30,000. “You will put 50,000 people on the street, underground and mad at Americans.” And these 50,000 were the most powerful, well-connected elites from all walks of life.
“I told you,” Bremer said, looking at Charlie. “I have my instructions and I have to implement this.”
Garner called Rumsfeld and tried to get the depth reconsidered and the language of the order softened.
Garner called Rumsfeld and tried to get the depth reconsidered and the language of the order softened.
“This is not coming from this building,” he replied. “That came from somewhere else.”
Garner presumed that meant the White House, NSC or Cheney According to other participants, however the de-Baathification order was purely a Pentagon creation. Telling Garner it came from somewhere else, though, had the advantage for Rumsfeld of ending the argument.
The next day, May 15, Robin Raphel brought Garner another draft order. This was Order Number 2, disbanding the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior, the entire Iraqi military, and all of Saddam’s bodyguard and special paramilitary organizations.
Garner was stunned. The de-Baathification order was dumb, but this was a disaster. Garner had told the president and the whole National Security Council explicitly that they planned to use the Iraqi military – at least 200,000 to 300,000 troops – as the backbone of a corps to rebuild the country and provide security. And he’d been giving regular secure video reports to Rumsfeld and Washington on the plan.
Moreover, Colonel Hughes had been meeting with his former Iraqi generals with their lists of some 137,000 who wanted to rejoin their old units or sign on with new units if they each received a $20 emergency payment. The CIA had also compiled lists and was meeting with generals and arranging for a reconstitution of the Iraqi military. The former Iraqi military was making more and more overtures, just waiting to come back in some form.
Garner went to see Bremer for the second day in a row. “We have always made plans to bring the army back,” he insisted. This new plan was just coming out of the blue, subverting months of work.
“Well, the plans have changed,” Bremer replied. “The thought is that we don’t want the residuals of the old army. We want a new and fresh army.”
“Jerry, you can get rid od an army in a day, but it takes years to build one.” Garner tried to explain that it was not just about a soldier in the field, or getting a bunch of riflemen. “Any army is all the processes it takes to equip it and train it and sustain it and make it last.” Bremer shook his head.
“You can’t get rid of the Ministry of Interior,” Garner said.
“You just made a speech yesterday and told everybody how important the police force is.”
“It is important.”
“All the police are in the Ministry of the Interior,” Garner said. “If you put this out, they’ll all go home today.”
Bremer, looking surprised, asked Garner to go see Walter B. Slocombe, Bremer’s director of defense and national security … The governmental system had imploded and the Iraqi army had dissolved, [Slocombe] believed. Everyone – the Iraqis and the United States – needed there to be a new government and a new army in Iraq. Saddam’s army had been a principal instrument of repression. In Slocombe’s opinion it could hardly be used as the shield for a new democracy.
But Slocombe agreed to excise the Ministry of Interior from the draft so the police could stay. Bremer soon signed the order, which canceled all military “rank, title or status.” In his book published in 2006, Bremer did not recount his exchanges with Garner over disbanding the Iraqi army, but he made clear his belief that by the time he got to Iraq, there no longer was an Iraqi army – it had “self-demobilized.” Signing the order abolishing the old regime’s military services “would not send home a single soldier or disband a single unit,” he wrote. “All that had happened weeks before.” He was also convinced that the Kurds, who hated and feared the old army, would secede if it was brought back.
But over the next year, every one of the officers and sergeants who made up the new Iraqi army came from the old Iraqi army.
So, Bremer received the orders, ready made, from Washington, without knowing who from. But one of his assistants, whom the public had never heard of, could change them unilaterally when he didn’t like something? So they were only draft, rather than final? If so, Bremer’s rolling over really was a dereliction of duty.
Bremer huddled in a tiny office in the Republican Palace with four of his aides: Scott Carpenter from State, whom Liz Cheney had put in charge of the Iraqi governance issue; Meghan O’Sullivan, the State Department official who had come over to Garner’s team with Tom Warrick, only to be chased out by Cheney’s office and sneaked back in with the tacit approval of Rumsfeld and Hadley; Ryan Crocker of the State Department; and Roman Martinez, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate who had worked for Feith at the Pentagon. Each of the five had a copy of the de-Baathification order.
“The White House, DOD, and State all signed off on this,” Bremer said. “So let’s give it one final reading and, unless there’s some major screwup in the language, I’ll sign it.”
The next morning, May 16, Bremer signed the de-Baathification order. Later that day, he wrote in his book, he e-mailed his wife back home in the United States, as he tried to do each day, to tell her about the response he’d heard from the Americans on the ground. “There was a sea of bitching and moaning with lots of them saying how hard it was going to be. I reminded them that the president’s guidance is clear: de-Baathification will be carried out even if at a cost to administrative efficiency. An ungood time was had by all.”
About 4 pm that day, Abizaid, the likely successor to General Franks as CENTCOM commander, flew to Baghdad to meet with Garner … They turned to the policies on de-Baathification and disbanding the army.
Garner told Abizaid, “John, I’m telling you. If you do this it’s going to be ugly. It’ll take 10 years to fix this country, and for three years you’ll be sending kids home in body bags.”
Abizaid didn’t disagree. “I hear you, I hear you,” he said. He asked Garner to stay on in Iraq.
“I can’t stay,” Garner said.
Hadley first learned of the orders on de-Baathification and disbanding the military as Bremer announced them to Iraq and the world. They hadn’t been touched by the formal interagency process and as far as Hadley knew there was no imprimatur from the White House. Rice also had not been consulted. It hadn’t come back to Washington or the NSC for a decision. But Rice didn’t find the order surprising. After all, the Iraqi army had kind of frittered away.
One NSC lawyer had been shown drafts of the policies to de-Baathify Iraq and disband the military – but that was only to give a legal opinion. The policy-makers never saw the drafts, never had a chance to say whether they thought they were good ideas or even to point out that they were radical departures from what had earlier been planned and briefed to the president.
Instead, from April 2003 on, the constant drumbeat that Hadley heard coming out of the Pentagon had been “This is Don Rumsfeld’s thing, and we’re going to do the interagency in Baghdad. Let Jerry run it.”
General Myers, the principal military adviser to Bush, Rumsfeld and the NSC, wasn’t even consulted on the disbanding of the Iraqi military. It was presented as a fait accompli.
“We’re not going to just sit here and second-guess everything he does,” Rumsfeld told Myers at one point, referring to Bremer’s decisions.
“I didn’t get a vote on it,” Myers told a colleague, “but I can see where Ambassador Bremer might have thought this is reasonable.”
Rumsfeld later said that he would be surprised if Wolfowitz and Feith gave Bremer the de-Baathification and army orders. He said he did not recall an NSC meeting on the subject. Of Bremer, Rumsfeld said, “I talked to him only rarely. And he had an approach that was different from Jay Garner’s. No question.”
For the US, for Iraq, for the Middle-East, for Europe – one of the most consequential decisions in the 21st century. And no-one among those at the centre of US policy-making knows where it came from. Extraordinary and terrifying.
Garner awakened on Saturday, May 17, thinking about Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general and military strategic thinker. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu cautioned that you don’t want to go to bed at night with more enemies than you started with in the morning. By Garner’s calculation the U.S. now had at least 350,000 more enemies than it had the day before – the 50,00 Baathists, the 300,000 officially unemployed soldiers from the army, and a handful from the now defunct Iraqi leadership group.
Lastly, a reminder of how things were before the insurgency, and how they could have been had the de-Baathification of Iraqi society, and the management of the Iraqi army, had been handled more responsibly, together with a warning of what was to come – pp.200-201:
In Late May, the day before Larry DiRita left to return to Washington, a report came in that an explosion had gone off on the road to the Baghdad airport – called the BIAP highway – as a Humvee passed by. No one was killed, but DiRita thought to himself, “Wow, that’s kind of interesting. I wonder what that was all about.” It seemed out of the ordinary, since the airport road was almost like an American superhighway, where everyone traveled without security, armor or escorts.
It was his last day in Baghdad, and that night, around 11pm. he and several of Bremer’s staff piled into a car and drove halfway across Baghdad to have dinner at a packed restaurant. Everyone else there seemed to be Iraqi, and DiRita’s group ate dinner and had a few beers. A couple of U.S. soldiers came walking down the street, and people in the restaurant ran out to greet them and thank them. It was a memorable evening, very pleasant, almost a scene from liberated Paris after World War II.
When DiRita returned to the Pentagon he reported to Rumsfeld on the way Iraqis felt and described his last-night-in-Baghdad restaurant outing.
This thing, Rumsfeld said, is on the right track.
Garner then gets a chance to tell Rumsfeld and the President directly of his concerns – pp.219-220, 221, 224-226:
Jay Garner basically hid out for a couple of weeks when he returned to the U.S. in the beginning of June, not wanting to see anyone at the Pentagon or talk about his experience in Iraq. Larry DiRita called several times. “You’ve got to get over here and see Rumsfeld,” DiRita implored. Finally, Garner agreed to go over on Wednesday, June 18.
When he was alone with Rumsfeld around the small table in the secretary’s famous office, where they had met back in January, Garner felt he had an obligation to state the depths of his concerns.
“We’ve made three tragic decisions,” Garner said.
“Really?” Rumsfeld said.
“Three terrible mistakes,” Garner said, laying out what he’d omitted from his May 27 memo to the president. He cited the extent of the de-Baathification, getting rid of the army, and summarily dumping the Iraqi leadership group. Disbanding the military had been the biggest mistake. Now there were hundreds of thousands of disorganized, unemployed, armed Iraqis running around. It would take years to rebuild an army. They’d taken 30,000 or 50,000 Baathists and sent them underground, Garner told Rumsfeld. And they’d gotten rid of the Iraqi leadership group. “Jerry Bremer can’t be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You’ve got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people.”
Garner made his final point: “There’s still time to rectify this. There’s still time to turn it around.”
Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are.”
He thinks I’ve lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I’m absolutely wrong. Garner didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. “They’re all reversible, ” Garner said again.
“We’re not going to go back,” Rumsfeld said emphatically. Discussion was over.
Next, Rumsfeld and Garner went to the White House to see Bush. It was Garner’s second time with the president … “Mr President, let me tell you a couple of stories,” Garner said. It was his turn.
Of course, with all the stories, jocularity, buddy-buddy talk, bluster and confidence in the Oval Office, Garner had left out the headline. He had not mentioned the problems he saw, or even hinted at them. He did not tell Bush about the three tragic mistakes he believed that Bremer, supported by Rumsfeld, had made – de-Baathification, disbanding the army and dumping the Iraqi governing group. Instead, he had said Bremer was great and had painted a portrait of an Iraq where a Shiite cleric envisioned an Iraq governed on the principles of Jesus Christ and joining the union as the 51st state. On top of that, he told Bush that everyone on the Iraqi street loved him. Once again the aura of the presidency had shut out the most important news – the bad news.
Later, I asked Rumsfeld about the obligation to make sure the person at the top knows the bad news. “Oh, I think the president knew that there were big disagreements over de-Baathification. And big disagreements over the military. There’s no question that the president was aware of those issues.”
But I could find no evidence that was the case.
On October 16, 2005, during a four-hour interview at Garner’s home on a lake outside Orlando, Florida, I asked him about his decision not to mention the three tragic mistakes.
“Didn’t you owe the president that?”
“I didn’t work for the president,” Garner answered. “I worked for Rumsfeld. I’m a military guy.”
I recalled for him my time as a junior officer in the Navy. “I reported to the operations officer on the ship I was on. And if I thought we were making even half a tragic mistake, I’d tell my boss, but I’d make sure the captain knew.”
“No,” Garner said.
I said that was perhaps why I didn’t do so well in the Navy.
“No,” Garner repeated, “my view was I did my job. I told my boss in what I thought were pretty stern terms on the mistakes we’d made.”
“Now suppose you said, ‘Mr President, I just told the secretary the following and I want you to hear it from me, because when he reports it to you I want it to be -‘ “
Garner interrupted. “I’d have no idea how he’d have reacted, but I think he would have said, ‘Well, you know, Rummy’s in charge of that’ or something like that.”
“Three tragic mistakes,” I said.
“Yeah,” Garner said softly, exhaling.
“Because the three tragic mistakes we’re living with now two-plus years later. You realize that?”
“Absolutely,” Garner replied.
“You watch the news.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“You don’t feel you should have kind of, particularly at the upper levels there …”
“I think Rumsfeld’s the upper level. No, if I had that to do over again I’d probably do that the same way.” He said that he did not know of anything that Rumsfeld had done that had been overturned by the president. “I’m not the only one who thought that,” he added.
I asked, “Do you wish now that you said, ‘Mr President, as I just told the secretary of defense, in my view, I’ve ben there and I need to make sure you understand what I think I understand. We’ve made three tragic mistakes.’ Boom, boom, boom.”
“You know, I don’t know if I had that moment to live over again I don’t know if I’d do that or not. But if I had done that – and quite frankly, I mean, I wouldn’t have had a problem doing that – but in my thinking, the door’s closed. I mean, there’s nothing I can do to open this door again. And I think if I had said that to the president in front of Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld in there, the president would have looked at them and they would have rolled their eyes back and he would have thought, Boy, I wonder why we didn’t get rid of this guy sooner? … They didn’t see it coming,” Garner added. “As the troops said, they drank the Kool-Aid.”
It was only one example of a visitor to the Oval Office not telling the president the whole story or the truth. Likewise, in these moments where Bush had someone from the field there in the chair beside him, he did not press, did not try to open the door himself and ask what the visitor had seen and thought. The whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court, with Cheney and Rice in attendance, some upbeat stories, exaggerated good news, and a good time had by all.
No one was interested in finding truth, or ensuring that reality, rather than fantasy, was reflected in policy-making. Knowing this, it’s not a surprise that the whole thing was a disaster.
Next, weapons inspector David Kay briefs the president – p.236-239:
The next morning [July 27, 2003], Kay arrived at CIA headquarters at 5:30. The woman in charge of the PDB told him, “We’re glad you’re briefing this morning, because it means we can reuse this material. We’re getting sort of thin, and we can reuse it.”
Kay was surprised to hear that PDB intelligence was not so urgent or relevant that it had to be used immediately. He was more surprised about his presumed role that morning.
“I’m briefing?” Kay asked.
Yes, she said.
Tenet was waiting at the White House, along with Rumsfeld and Andy Card. Kay and the PDB briefer went into the Oval Office, where Bush and Cheney were waiting. She went through her sections of the presentation, and then Kay was asked to report.
“The biggest mistake we made was to let looting and lawlessness break out,” Kay said. Iraq was a mess that made his job vastly more difficult. “Some of this evidence is beginning to shape up as if they had a just-in-time policy,” he said, explaining the Soviet surge capability theory. They might have had the equipment, the facilities and the material to make WMD on short notice but they might not have actually produced any.
“We have not found large stockpiles,” Kay said. “You can’t rule them out. We haven’t come to the conclusion that they’re not there, but they’re sure not any place obvious. We’ve got a lot more to search for and to look at.”
“Keep at it,” Bush said …
Kay left the meeting almost shocked at Bush’s lack of inquisitiveness. Kay had a Ph.D. and had taught at high levels, and he was used to being asked challenging, aggressive questions. A lot of the trauma in getting a graduate degree was surviving the environment of doubt, skepticism and challenge.
“He trusted me more than I trusted me,” Kay later recalled. “If the positions had been reversed, and this is primarily personality, I think, I would have probed. I would have asked. I would have said, ‘What have you done? What haven’t you done? Why haven’t you done it?’ You know, ‘Are you getting the support out of DOD?’ The soft spots. Didn’t do it.”
Cheney had been quiet in the meeting, but on the way out he and Scooter Libby pulled Kay aside. Cheney was now as probing as Bush had been passive. He was particularly concerned about the possible Syrian connection to WMD. What did Kay think? Cheney asked. Was there evidence? Could the weapons have gone to Syria?
… Libby had a small sheaf of intelligence reports, including some sensitive, raw NSA communications intercepts. Kay hadn’t seen them, because like the intercept he’d been called about at 3am in Baghdad, they were Executive Signals Intercepts or involved individual conversations or snippets. The CIA had analysts whose job it was to take dozens of such intercepts and reports, sift through them and distill them into usable conclusions. AS with many intercepts, they were maddeningly vague. They had interesting little tidbits, and sometimes e3ven specific locations were mentioned, but it was as clear as smoke.
Kay was astounded that the vice president of the United States was using such raw intelligence. Here Cheney and Libby were acting like a couple of junior analysts, poring over fragments as if they were trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code. If only the world could be understood that way.
Kay said later, “Cheney had a stock of interpretations and facts that he thought proved a case and he wanted to be sure that you examined them. It was very sort of in the weeds, detailed, evidentiary questions, and not about what I had said, but about what he knew, that he wanted to know a little more. It was almost a doctoral exam. You’re worried about someone trying to trip you up. ‘Have you read this source?’ “
Afterward, Kay had a call from Colin Powell asking him to come to the State Department. He’d known Powell in 1991 and 1992, when he was the U.N. nuclear inspections chief in Iraq and Powell was JCS chairman. Powell had not been included in the White House briefing, and he wanted to hear what Kay was finding. As the public face of the American declaration before the United Nations that Saddam had WMD, Powell had almost as much at stake as Bush.
Kay gave Powell basically the same briefing that he had given to Bush – inconclusive but basically a neutral to negative report.
“This is my personal e-mail address,” Powell said, handing Kay a card as he turned to leave. “Write me if you have any concerns or any quetions.”
Kay looked at the card when he got back to Langley and almost died laughing. Powell had given him a regular, commercial, American Online e-mail address, a communication method about as secure and confidential as spray-painting graffiti on a highway overpass.
“Here I am sitting in the CIA headquarters,” Kay thought. “I’m going to send something to an AOL account?”
The only questions being asked are the wrong ones, by the wrong people.
Next, personalities interfering with the decision-making process – p.241:
Rice’s immediate concern was not the situation on the ground in Iraq. The problem, she told [NSC point-man for Iraq Robert] Blackwill, was “the dysfunctional U.S. government.” He soon understood what she meant. He attended the deputies committee meetings where Armitage and Doug Feith often sat across from each other in the Situation Room. The hostility between them was enormous, and Blackwill watched as Armitage, a mountain of a man, barked at Feith. It was almost as if Armitage wanted to reach across the table and snap Feith’s neck like a twig. Armitage’s knuckles even turned white.
The principals meetings or NSC meetings with Powell and Rumsfeld were not as coarse but had the same surreal quality, rarely airing the real issues. Blackwill, a veteran of the Kissinger style, was astonished. Rumsfeld made his presentation looking at the president, while Powell looked straight ahead. Then Powell would make his to the president with Rumsfeld looking straight ahead. They didn’t even comment on each other’s statements or views. So Bush never had the benefit of a serious, substantive discussion between his principal advisers. And the president, whose legs often jiggled under the table, did not force a discussion.
Blackwill saw Rice try to intervene and get nowhere. So critical comments and questions – especially about military strategy – never surfaced. Blackwill felt sympathy for Rice. This young woman, he thought, had to deal with three of the titans of national security – Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell – all of whom had decades of experience, cachet and strong views. The image locked in Blackwill’s mind of Rice, dutiful, informed and polite, at one end of the table, and the inexperienced president at the other, legs dancing, while the bulls staked out their ground, almost snortingly defiant, hoofs pawing the table, daring a challenge that never came.
The principle advisers not talking to each other and not debating the real issues, and the president not engaged and wishing he were elsewhere. Again, it all plays into why the invasion and occupation were such a disaster.
Two insights from Newt Gingrich – pp.252-53:
“The most dangerous thing in the world is a confident, smart person with the wrong model because they have enormous enthusiasm in pursuing the wrong model.”
Gingrich said he went in to see Rove and Hadley and handed them a memo that said, “Bremer may cost you the election.” He said he then told them, “I’m here to tell you it is that bad.” Gingrich said he felt he had to engage Rice and Cheney. “They are going to make a thousand decisions. So it’s not just getting a decision made, it’s getting them to think differently about what’s at stake.”
Gingrich is a clever and accomplished man. These essays will give you an idea of the intensity of his focus and the scope of his achievement.
Belief preservation through ignoring, discounting or misunderstanding tactical indicators that are contrary to strategic assumptions – p.273:
For Iraq, the CIA had run a two-part clandestine program to try to develop reliable human-source intelligence on WMD. During the United Nations inspection days in the 1990s, the CIA had acquired a very good roster of the Iraqi scientists involved in WMD research and production. The first part of the operation entailed contacting Iraqi scientists who were outside Iraq and paying them to see if they knew anything about WMD programs. The second part, which was more dangerous, involved paying Iraqis in Europe or Asia to go back to Iraq and talk with their relatives who had been involved in WMD programs in the past.
It hadn’t turned up any evidence of WMD, but the CIA was so convinced that Iraq had the weapons that absence of evidence was taken as proof that the Dead Souls-style program wasn’t working. After some 120 contacts had been made without developments, the program was terminated.
Upon learning of it, Kay was offended that the contrary pieces of evidence hadn’t been reported or included in the wide dossier of intelligence he was shown before he’d begun his mission that summer. “I don’t think the president was told,” Kay later said. “I don’t think Powell was told. I don’t think Condi ever asked or was told.”
They never considered the real possibility that the absence of evidence was evidence of absence.
David Kay explains the intelligence failure on WMD to the president – p.278-81:
Kay testified publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 28, a few days later, and said what would be the headline and make the cover of Newsweek. “We were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself.” Kay said 85 percent of the work was done and he had no reason to believe they ever would find WMD stockpiles in Iraq. “It is important to acknowledge failure,” Kay said, adding that an outside investigation was needed.
The next day about 10:30am, Kay was at his Virginia home when Rice called to invite him to lunch with the president. Kay had about an hour and a half, so it was a race to shower, dress and drive into town in time from 30 miles away.
The lunch was with Bush, Cheney, Rice and Andy Card in a small dining room off the Oval Office.
How did you reach your conclusions? Bush wanted to know. And how did U.S. intelligence miss all this?
“We missed it because the Iraqis actually behaved like they had weapons,” Kay said. “And we weren’t smart enough to understand that the hardest thing in intelligence is when behavior remains consistent but underlying reasons change.” Saddam didn’t have WMD but wanted to appear as if he did. His purpose was deception. Kay said he thought Saddam had decided to get rid of his WMD on the theory that they were too easy to find.
Take the aluminum tubes, he said. The high cost, the secrecy, the tighter specifications, and some intelligence that Saddam himself had been following the purchase of the tubes had led to the conclusion they were for a nuclear program.
But Kay and the inspectors had interviewed engineers, gone through the files and found the contracts. The tubes were for conventional artillery, a rework of an Italian rocket system. He explained that the propellant wasn’t powerful enough, but the contract to buy the propellant couldn’t be changed because the man who ran the propellant factory was close to Saddam’s son. They tried to make the tubes thinner – which required tighter specifications – so that the propellant might work. Everyone involved said that was a good thing because tighter specifications made the tubes more expensive. Those involved made their money on commissions so the more expensive, the better. The contracts were cost-plus, like the contracts for many U.S. weapons systems, so no one took a hit except the government.
All kinds of purchases were made through clandestine channels and the black market, Kay told them, rather than through the U.N. export control mechanism. Intelligence analysts assumed that there must be a reason, and that the reason was that these items were for prohibited weapons programs.
“The flaw in that is that they attempted to procure almost everything clandestinely,” Kay said. “They could because the family had a rake-off. The black market was essentially run by Uday Hussein and their friends.”
The intelligence agents had seen some intelligence about aluminium tubes being acquired clandestinely, fit it into their mental models, and run with the conclusion that the tubing would be used for WMD production. They never questioned their assumptions and considered alternative hypotheses, including one along the lines proposed by Kay. Thus, as Heuer explained happens in these situations, they saw what they expected to see. And they were wrong. Note that Kay was not privy to the secret information given to Tenet, which confirmed that the tubing was not going to be used in the production of WMD. Of course, Kay is right, but the president should have known that another reason why the analysts got it wrong is because they weren’t privy to all of the relevant information.
Even bigger and more basic, however, the CIA had not understood the utter corruption within the system and the deterioration of Iraq’s society, Kay said. Things had gotten so bad that the regime itself was not capable of purposeful development of WMD programs. Kay’s group would ask the Iraqis during investigations, “How could you do this? Why did you lie?” And the response was “Everyone was lying! Everyone was out for their own.” The corruption was so acidic and pervasive that it just leached away the government’s ability to function.
Bush wanted to know why Kay thought Saddam hadn’t just come clean on WMD long ago. Why had he risked his whole life, his government, instead of just throwing the door’s open?
Kay said he thought Saddam never believed the U.S. would actually invade. But more important, more than he feared the U.S., he feared the Shiites and Kurds who lived in Iraq. He knew that they in turn feared him because they thought he had WMD.
“You know, as you have to recognize, totalitarian regimes generally end up fearing their own people more than they fear external threats. It’s just the history of totalitarian regimes,” Kay said. “We missed that.” And, he said, they were especially susceptible to missing it because they had so little human intelligence, and instead relied on technical collection.
Cheney kept quiet as Bush plunged on. He wanted to know more about what Kay thought about the U.S. intelligence process.
Bush is finally asking questions – two years too late.
“The disease of the intelligence community is this over-focus on current intelligence,” meaning what was going that day or week, as opposed to longer-term, strategic intelligence. “Look,” he said, “current analysis is better if you turn CNN on or read the paper. Quite frankly, the press does a better job.”
“A good example of this is the PDB” – the President’s Daily Brief. “Do you understand that if you respond positively to anything in it, you’re going to get nothing but that stuff for the next month or so?” The president’s expression of interest put it at the top of the agenda in the intelligence community. “George takes it back and it drives it and it will keep appearing. They respond to it. If you ever respond to a PDB item, it’s going to be there for a very long time with more and more information.” Presidential interest suggests it is important and the intelligence flow just snowballs out of control.
Bush wondered how the CIA and the U.S. intelligence could have been so wrong.
“You know, one of the problems for a director is if he’s inside the political process, he loses his balance,” Kay answered.
… Afterward, Kay reflected on what he had not said. He believed that the president was faced with a larger problem than just the failure of intelligence in Iraq. He was left with an intelligence service that he couldn’t and shouldn’t rely on for much of anything.
The next day, Rice called Kay back to the White House.
“There was something you said to the president that really hit a nerve,” she said. She was struck by a point he’d made about how one of the hardest things to do in intelligence is discern real change, to figure out why someone keeps doing the same thing, but for different reasons.
“I should have been smart enough,” Rice said. “When I heard you say this, I realized that was exactly the same thing that had happened in the DDR,” the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or East Germany, which had collapsed in 1988. “I should have recognized it because of that.”
“Yeah,” Kay replied, “I have a German friend who told me, “Don’t feel bad about what you missed in Iraq, because we couldn’t even figure out that the DDR couldn’t collect its own garbage until after it fell.’ ” Intelligence services, he said, don’t do a very good job trying to understand the soft side of societies – how well the government is working and the fundamental attitudes of the people.
More stuff on the failure of the intelligence community – p.311:
I said that some of the generals had doubts about WMD, and realized before the war they couldn’t prove there was any WMD at any one site.
[Intelligence commission chairman Judge] Silberman wondered who.
I mentioned Generals Abizaid, McKiernan and Marks.
“Interesting,” Silberman said. “I’m sorry we didn’t talk to them.”
The guy investigating the failure of intelligence didn’t talk to key people involved in the process. One just wonders how deep the incompetence runs in this operation.
Tenet was willingly interviewed three or four times, Silberman said. He concluded that Tenet had relied too heavily on a few pieces of intelligence from foreign services. “Poor George,” Silberman said. “I mean, it took him a long time in this process to try and figure out what the hell went wrong, why they were so wrong, and how incredibly stupid some of their decisions were.”
John McLaughlin, the CIA deputy directory, insisted that the failure of the intelligence community on WMD was the result of “a perfect storm,” that everything went wrong at once but it couldn’t have been anticipated. “We thought that was garbage,” Silberman said. “There were some fundamental flaws. The very worst thing was the chemical stuff.” Analysts had looked at satellite photos of large tanker trucks in Iraq and decided they contained chemical weapons. “It was a guess, a deduction. It wasn’t hard evidence but you could say that it was logical,” Silberman said. But then the analysts “concluded they were accelerating the process because we saw so many more trucks. Nobody bothered to tell the analysts that they saw many more trucks because we were running the satellite more over them. That was almost like Saturday Night Live.”
Bob Blackwill travels with President Bush on the 2004 election campaign – p.335-336:
As the NSC coordinator for Iraq, Blackwill probably knew as much about the war as anybody in the White House. He had spent months in Iraq with Bremer. But he was with the campaign only as part of the politics of reelection. Not once did Bush ask Blackwill what things were like in Iraq, what he had seen, or what should be done. Blackwill was astonished at the round-the-clock, all-consuming focus on winning the election. Nothing else came close.
It was clear to Blackwill that things weren’t going well. For over a year he had been baffled there was no military strategy. Again and again, Bush talked about Iraq strategy in his campaign speeches, but never gave specifics. He talked about goals, expressed his optimism and determination, and gave pep talks. “We have a strategy that says to our commanders, adapt to the ways on the ground,” Bush said in a September 23 speech in Bangor, Maine. “The way to prevail, the way toward the successful conclusion we all want, the way to secure Iraq and bring our troops home is not to wilt or waver or send mixed signals to the enemy. We can grieve, but we will not waver.”
Blackwill had taught strategy at Harvard. Strategy involves a series of actions to achieve a goal and entails answering questions such as: What is going to be done? By whom? When? Where? How? The president, whom Blackwill liked and respected as a political leader, instead talked about winning and goals. But as Blackwill taught in his class, “Aspirations aren’t strategy.” The administration had no real strategy, he concluded.
Senator Chuck Hagel talks to the president about whether he gets outside opinions – p.399:
After the lunch Hagel walked out with Bush and they went off to a corner.
“Mr President,” Hagel said, “let me ask you a question. I believe that you are getting really bubbled in here in the White House on Iraq. Do you ever reach outside your inner circle of people, outside your national security council?” Then he added the obligatory softening. “This is not a reflection on, in any way, or an assertion of inadequacy. That’s not my point here. I think it’s important for presidents, especially in a time of war, to get some other opinions – of people that maybe don’t agree with you, or you don’t agree with. Call them in. Sit them down. Listen to them. Do you ever do that?”
“Well, I kind of leave that to Hadley.”
“I know that your national security adviser talks to people, but do you talk to people?”
Well, maybe I should talk to Hadley about that.”
“I think this is very important, Mr. President, that you get some outside opinions here. Just to test your theories and how you’re doing.” Hagel mentioned themes from histories and biographies he had read. “When a nation’s at war, the president is under tremendous pressure. You go deeper into that bunker, and I don’t think it’s good for you.” There, he had said it.
“That’s good advice,” Bush said.
Hagel went back to the Senate. About two hours later Hadley called.
“The president told me about the conversation,” Hadley said. “Do you want to come talk to me?”
“That really wasn’t the conversation, Steve,” Hagel said. The issue was new or dissenting voices. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“I know what you’re talking about,” Hadley said.
Hagel offered to provide lists of people the president should talk with and said it didn’t have to include him. Nonetheless, Hadley invited him down to the White House several days later. Hagel, who is an earnest student of foreign policy, sent Hadley copies of several long memos he had given to Rice. When he got to Hadley’s office it was crowded with NSC staffers. “Do we really need everyone here?” Hagel asked. Apparently so. For an hour, Hagel made his pitch that Iraq was a much bigger mess than they were acknowledging, and the administration should be doing more on security, training, governance and infrastructure.
He left unsatisfied and gave an interview to U.S. News & World Report saying, “Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality.”
Hadley and others at the White House were angry, but Hagel though it was one of the clearest things he had ever said. His private assessment was worse: The administration had no strategic thinker. Rice was weak. The military was being emasculated and severely damaged by uniformed sycophants.
The scathing assessment of the old hands – pp,419-420:
One night that Fall, Brent Scowcroft sat next to Senator John McCain at a dinner. McCain, who had campaigned hard the previous year with Bush for the president’s reelection, said that he had grown to like Bush.
“Does he ever ask your opinion?” Scowcroft asked.
“I don’t believe in giving my opinion when I’m with him campaigning,” McCain answered. “These guys come up. They get two minutes with the president and they try to tell him how to run the country. I don’t.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Scowcroft said. “Has he ever said, ‘John, what do you think about …?’ “
“No. no, he hasn’t,” McCain said. “As a matter of fact he’s not intellectually curious. But one of the things he did say one time is he said, ‘I don’t want to be like my father. I want to be more like Ronald Reagan.’ “
That burned Scowcroft, who was feeling increasingly hopeless. He concluded that the administration was doing the unthinkable, repeating the mistakes of Vietnam. Few people knew more about Vietnam than Scowcroft, who had worked on Vietnam for Presidents Nixon and Ford. He felt there was even less of a chance of building an Iraqi army that would fight than there had been three decades earlier when they were trying to build up the South Vietnamese army, which had existed as a powerful, even almost autonomous force in Vietnam [in] its own right. In Iraq, the armies were all connected one way or another to the Shiites, the Sunnis or the Kurds. It was a political catastrophe.
Scowcroft was increasingly disappointed in the performances of those he had worked with and mentored. He considered Hadley, who had been on his NSC staff in the early 1970s, a dear friend. But Hadley would not stand up to anyone – not to Cheney or Rice, and certainly not to Rumsfeld. He wouldn’t even stand up for his own opinions.
Even the president’s father had confided that he was unhappy with Rice. “Condi is a disappointment, isn’t she?” the former president had offered, adding, “She’s not up to the job.”
From his military contacts, as far as Scowcroft could tell, General Myers, the outgoing chairman of the JCS, was a broken man, a puppy dog. General Pace was worse. Pace had watched Myers with Rusmfeld for four years, knew exactly what he was getting into, and accepted it anyway.
Cheney was the worst. Scowcroft felt. “What’s happened to Dick Cheney?” all the old hands were saying to him, the people who’d known him for years. “It’s a chorus. ‘We don’t know this Dick Cheney.’ ”
Rumsfeld was behaving as he always had, going back to the Ford administration – “enigmatic, obstructionist, devious, never know what his game is.” To Scowcroft, Rumsfeld was a wholly negative force.
Most tragic, Scowcroft felt, was that the administration had believed Saddam was running a modern, efficient state, and though that when he was toppled there would be an operating society left behind. They hadn’t seen that everything would collapse, and that they would have to start from zero. They hadn’t seen the need for security, or that probably 90 percent of the Iraqi army could have been saved and used. So Iraqis now felt overwhelmingly insecure. Without security there was little opportunity to give people a stake in their society, little reason for them to have a positive attitude. It seemed to Scowcroft that the Iraqis were in despair.
But the administration wouldn’t reexamine or reevaluate its policy. AS he often said, “I just don’t know how you operate unless you continually challenge your assumptions.” … In his younger years, Scowcroft thought, George W. couldn’t decide whether he was going to rebel against his father or try to beat him at his own game. Now, he had tried at the game, and it was a disaster. Scowcroft was sure that 41 would never have behaved this way – “not in a million years.”
Andy Card, recently retired as Bush’s chief of staff, reflects on the lack of reflection within the administration – p.455:
Card had a sense of relief mixed with the knowledge that he was leaving unfinished business. One of his great worries was that Iraq would be compared to Vietnam. There were 58,249 names on the Vietnam Veterans [sic] Memorial in Washington. One of Henry Kissinger’s private criticisms of Bush was that he had no mechanism in place, or even an inclination, to consider the downsides of impending decisions. Alternative courses of action were rarely considered. As best Card could remember there had been some informal, blue-sky discussions at times along the lines of “What could we do differently?” But there had been no formal sessions to consider alternatives to staying in Iraq. To his knowledge there were no anguished memos bearing the names of Cheney, Rice, Hadley, Rumsfeld, the CIA, Card himself or anyone else saying let’s examine alternatives, as had surfaced in the Vietnam era.
For people either too busy for, or lacking the inclination to, intellectual curiosity, the lack of process for review meant that there was no review.
Towards the end, Dick Cheney, having completely screwed things up, retreats from his responsibilities and from a reality that he can neither comprehend nor shape – p.457:
Since 2005, as far as Rice’s and Rumsfeld’s top aides could tell, Vice President Cheney no longer had a visible role in the management of Iraq. At the NSC and other meetings and discussions, he had one message for Rice: “Got to win it.” Once he told her, “Do whatever you need to do with whatever resources to win it. It’s too important to the war on terror. It’s too important to our policies worldwide. This is not something you can do without maximum effort.” Rice began calling him a “100-percenter.” A 100 percent effort had to be made on Iraq. She and Cheney were in total agreement.
But Cheney was lost without Libby, many of the vice president’s close associates felt. Libby had done so much of the preparation for the vice president’s meetings and events, and so much of the hard work. He had been almost part of Cheney’s brain.
Cheney relied more on his wife, Lynne, and daughter Liz for advice. They reinforced his sense he was right, and Cheney became increasingly removed from reality, some of his close friends felt. He was even convinced that the administration’s two nearly universally accepted missteps – the handling of Hurricane Katrina and the abortive Supreme Court nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers – would turn out to be positives for Bush.
Sic semper moronis.
We will give Henry Kissinger the last word – page 408:
Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through his Vietnam prism. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out.
His column in the [Washington] Post on August 12, 2005, was entitled “Lessons for an Exit Strategy.” It was almost as long as Bush’s second inaugural address. In the key line, Kissinger wrote, “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.” He then made the rounds at the White House with Bush, Cheney and Hadley. Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don’t let it happen again. Don’t give an inch, or else the media, the Congress, and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back. He also said that the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of the key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
And guess what we have now.
Thankyou Bush II. And thankyou Rumsfeld, Rice and Cheney.