While doing research for an essay that I am writing for the blog, I came across this January 2007 piece, written by David Rose for Vanity Fair, in which he interviews the US ‘neo cons’ and asks them ‘What went wrong?’
As someone whose attitudes to thinking and decision-making were strongly influenced by the decision to invade Iraq, and the invasion’s turning into a complete disaster for all involved, I found the piece to be quite enlightening. The incompetence and poor decision-making of the central actors in the Bush Administration – Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice in particular – is a chief source of anger and disappointment (I don’t know why Dick Cheney gets a pass).
While the piece is of course worth reading in full, I produce below some snippets from the interviews which I found quite enlightening.
According to Perle, who left the Defense Policy Board in 2004, this unfolding catastrophe has a central cause: devastating dysfunction within the Bush administration. The policy process has been nothing short of “disastrous,” he says. “The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly. At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I think he was led to believe that things were chugging along far more purposefully and coherently than in fact they were. I think he didn’t realize the depth of the disputes underneath. I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”
Kenneth Adelman, a longtime neocon activist and Pentagon insider who has served on the Defense Policy Board, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing, “I believe that demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” Now he says, “I am extremely disappointed by the outcome in Iraq, because I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.” …
“The looting was the decisive moment,” Adelman says. “The moment this administration was lost was when Donald Rumsfeld took to the podium and said, ‘Stuff happens. This is what free people do.’ It’s not what free people do at all: it’s what barbarians do. Rumsfeld said something about free people being free to make mistakes. But the Iraqis were making ‘mistakes’ by ruining their country while the U.S. Army stood there watching!” Once Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks failed to order their forces to intervene—something Adelman says they could have done—several terrible consequences became inevitable. Among them, he tells me over lunch at a downtown-D.C. restaurant, was the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, the loss of documents that might have shed light on Saddam’s weapons capabilities, and the theft from Iraq’s huge munitions stores of tons of explosives “that they’re still using to kill our kids.” The looting, he adds, “totally discredited the idea of democracy, since this ‘democracy’ came in tandem with chaos.” Worst of all, “it demolished the sense of the invincibility of American military power. That sense of invincibility is enormously valuable when you’re trying to control a country. It means, ‘You fuck with this guy, you get your head blown off.’ All that was destroyed when the looting began and was not stopped.” …
For Kenneth Adelman, “the most dispiriting and awful moment of the whole administration was the day that Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to [former C.I.A. director] George Tenet, General Tommy Franks, and Jerry [Paul] Bremer—three of the most incompetent people who’ve ever served in such key spots. And they get the highest civilian honor a president can bestow on anyone! That was the day I checked out of this administration. It was then I thought, There’s no seriousness here. These are not serious people. If he had been serious, the president would have realized that those three are each directly responsible for the disaster of Iraq.”
Eliot Cohen – this is quite prescient, as are the thoughts of Frank Gaffney and Richard Perle which follow:
In the short run, Cohen believes, the main beneficiary of America’s intervention in Iraq is the mullahs’ regime in Iran, along with its extremist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And far from heralding the hoped-for era of liberal Middle East reform, he says, “I do think it’s going to end up encouraging various strands of Islamism, both Shia and Sunni, and probably will bring de-stabilization of some regimes of a more traditional kind, which already have their problems.” The risk of terrorism on American soil may well increase, too, he fears. “The best news is that the United States remains a healthy, vibrant, vigorous society. So, in a real pinch, we can still pull ourselves together. Unfortunately, it will probably take another big hit. And a very different quality of leadership. Maybe we’ll get it.”