Saturday, June 11, 2005

Iraq - Who planned this party anyway

Ok, it’s time for a posting on Iraq.

With the release of the Downing Street Memo there are new (really old) questions about our government’s intentions long before the war was declared inevitable. Discussions focused on that question are going on everywhere on the net and in the media. I’d like to look at not only that question, but the broader one: namely, the competence with which the war, and the reconstruction effort was planned and executed.

We’re there now… and I feel the US has an obligation to stabilize the country if possible. Given the tactics the insurgency uses, I don’t know if that is possible, but we must continue to try: As Colin Powell was reported to quip: “if you break it, you buy it.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold our leaders accountable for their consequences of their decisions. Giving our elected officials their “performance appraisal” each election cycle is supposed to ensure we have “good leadership”. Just as CEO’s are (supposedly) judged on how well their vision, planning and leadership leads the company to more profitable and prosperous times, we citizens need to evaluate our government. That analysis should be based on “what actually happened” as compared to “what we were told would happen”.

This is something I think partisanship has obscured: there are many people I talk with who are willing to completely ignore the realities of the current situation (often quoting hollow slogans that have little to do with reality) in the name of “the party line”. This simply isn’t good for a system of government where our leaders govern by informed consent. Somehow, informed consent – based on a reasoned performance analysis, has been replaced with a “my team vs your team” attitude.

Back to Iraq: This isn’t a dooms day prediction – I’m not arguing that “nothing good can come of our efforts in Iraq” and that “it was a misktake”. I simply don’t know if the Middle East, in 10 or 20 years, will be better or worse-off for our efforts. I don’t think anyone can make that prediction with a reasonable level of statistical accuracy.

However, we do know the costs of the effort to date: and they are wildly different from the administration’s predictions… both in lives and dollars. Given that reality, its our job to evaluate our leaders based on what we were told would happen vs the actual situation and its costs.

So lets look at the decisions process, planning and actions of the current administration in the run up to war and after. Fortunately for me, I feel someone has already summarized many of the salient points. General Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM commander (General Tommy Franks’ predecessor) gave a talk last year at the Center for Defense Information in which he did just that.

I’ve extracted some of the General’s relevant points below.

I believe the General has some interesting insights into the situation given the significant amount of time he’s spent in the region (he was even sent back the region as the President’s special envoy several months before the fighting began). He’s worked with many of the neighboring countries’ military and political leaders.

Here’s a link to the entire text of his talk.

Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner,
May 12, 2004

[…]I thought I would do tonight is go through the ten crucial mistakes to this point that we've made. Because I think it helps frame what, in fact, has happened over time ... and is going to be the first part of that history. And I will conclude with maybe some thoughts on the way ahead, at least from my point of view.

I think the first mistake that was made was misjudging the success of containment. I heard the president say, not too long ago, I believe it was with the interview with Tim Russert that ... I'm not sure ... but at some point I heard him say that "containment did not work." That's not true.

I was responsible, along with everybody from General Schwarzkopf to his two successors, that were my predecessors, myself, and my successor, General Franks, up until the war, we were responsible for containment. And I would like to explain a little bit about that containment, because I thought we did it pretty well, given the circumstances. […]

It [our military force in the region] was in my view, what we would call in the military, an "economy of force theatre" without these assigned forces. We had no American bases out there. We were sharing bases with allies in the region who provided for us. Any given year, those in the region ponied up $300-500 million to support our presence out there. What we called "assistance in-kind." They provided the fuel, the food, the water, the things we needed. The Saudis built a $240 million housing complex for our troops. Never once when we decided to take action against Saddam, when he violated the sanctions, or the rules by which the inspectors operated under, never once were we denied permission to use bases, or airspace, or to strike from those places. We built a wonderful coalition, without any formal treaties, without any particular arrangement.


So to say containment didn't work, I think is not only wrong from the experiences we had then, but the proof is in the pudding, in what kind of military our troops faced when we went in there. It disintegrated in front of us. […] And I think that will be the first mistake that will be recorded in history, the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work. It certainly worked against the Soviet Union, has worked with North Korea and others. It's not a pleasant thing to have to administer, it requires troops full-time, there are moments when there ... there are periods of violence, but containment is a lot cheaper than the alternative, as we're finding out now.

The second mistake I think history will record is that the strategy was flawed. […]

The idea that we will walk in and be met with open arms. The idea that we will have people that will glom on to democracy overnight. The idea that strategically we will reform, reshape, and change the Middle East by this action -- we've changed it all right.

So we had a basic flawed strategy. All those that believed this was going to be the catalyst for some kind of positive change out there, or some sort of revolutionary change in the region, I think got more than they bargained for, and didn't understand the region, the culture, the situation, and the issues, and the effect that what they were about to do was going to have on those.

The third mistake, I think was one we repeated from Vietnam, we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support. The books were cooked, in my mind. The intelligence was not there. I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one month before the war, and Senator Lugar asked me: "General Zinni, do you feel the threat from Saddam Hussein is imminent?" I said: "No, not at all. It was not an imminent threat. Not even close. Not grave, gathering, imminent, serious, severe, mildly upsetting, none of those."


We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort. To the credit of President Bush 41, he set a standard that held up throughout the post-cold war period up until the Iraq war very well. He went to the United Nations before we undertook the operation to expel Saddam from Kuwait. Tremendous diplomatic effort to get a resolution from the United Nations to authorize the use of force and then a tremendous diplomatic effort on his part to create what I think is one of the most remarkable coalitions, the coalition we had in the Gulf war, where we had Arab countries, Islamic countries, European countries, contributions from the Far East all over the world.


I think the fifth mistake was that we underestimated the task. And I think those of us that knew that region, former commanders in chief, I guess we can't use that term anymore - part of transformation is to change the lexicon - but former combatant commanders of U.S. Central Command, beginning with Gen. Schwarzkopf, have said you don't understand what you're getting into. You are not going to go through Edelman's "cakewalk;" you are not going to go through Chalabi's dancing in the streets to receive you. You are about to go into a problem that you don't know the dimensions and the depth of, and are going to cause you a great deal of pain, time, expenditure of resources and casualties down the road.

I can't understand why there was an underestimation when you look at a country that has never known democracy, that has been in the condition it's been in, that has the natural fault lines that it has, and the issues it has. And to look at the task of reconstructing this country, not only reconstructing it, but the idea of creating Jeffersonian democracy almost overnight, is almost ridiculous, in concept, in the kind of time and effort that was given as an estimate as to what it would take.

The sixth mistake, and maybe the biggest one, was propping up and trusting the exiles, the infamous "Gucci Guerillas" from London. We bought into their intelligence reports. To the credit of the CIA, they didn't buy into it, so I guess the Defense Department created its own boutique intelligence agency to vet them. And we ended up with a group that fed us bad information. That led us to believe that we would be welcomed with flowers in the streets; that led us to believe that this would be a cakewalk.

When I testified before Congress in 1998, after a grilling from Senator McCain and all those wonderful senators supported the Iraqi Liberation Act, and I told them that these guys are not credible and they are going to lead us into something they we will regret. […] These exiles did not have credibility inside the country or in the region. Not only did they not have credibility, it was clear that the information they were providing us many times was not correct and accurate. We believed in them. We also brought them in with us and deemed them into the governing council and the reception by Iraqis has been, to say the least, has not been great.

The seventh problem has been the lack of planning. […] I didn't hear anything that told me that they had the scope of planning for the political reconstruction, the economic reconstruction, social reconstruction, the development of building of infrastructure for that country. And I think that lack of planning, that idea that you can do this by the seat of the pants, reconstruct a country, to make decisions on the fly, to beam in on the side that has to that political, economic, social other parts, just a handful of people at the last minute to be able to do it was patently ridiculous.

In my time at CENTCOM, we actually looked at a plan for reconstruction, and actually developed one at CENTCOM because I though that we, the military, would get stuck with it. In my mind, we needed formidable teams at every provincial level. 18 teams. The size of the CPA was about the size we felt we needed for one province, let alone the entire country of Baghad [sic] (Iraq), to do those other parts.

The eighth problem was the insufficiency of military forces on the ground. There were a lot more troops in my military plan for operations in Iraq. I know when that plan was presented, the secretary of defense said it was "old and stale." It sounded pretty new and fresh to me, and looking back at it, now because there were a hell of a lot more troops. It was more the (Eric) Shinseki model that I think might have been a hell of a lot more effective to freeze the situation. Those extra divisions we had in there were not to defeat the Republican Guard, they were in there to freeze the security situation because we knew the chaos that would result once we uprooted an authoritarian regime like Saddam's.

The ninth problem has been the ad hoc organization we threw in there. No one can tell me the Coalition Provisional Authority had any planning for its structure. 144 bodies scraped from embassies around the world, people that I know, for fact, walked in and were selected and picked and put in the positions. Never quite fully manned-up until well into the operation. Never the kinds of qualifications or the breadth, and scope and depth it needed to work the problems down to the grassroots level. […]

And that ad hoc organization has failed, leading to the tenth mistake, and that's a series of bad decisions on the ground. De-Baathifying down to a point where you've alienated the Sunnis, where you have stopped having qualified people down in the ranks, people who don't have blood on their hands, but know how to make the trains run on time. Business men who I ran into in the region out there in the region, who wanted to re-start their business, get jobs. They were told by the CPA "You can't do business because you were a Baathist!" They said to me, I had to say I was a Baathist. You don't do business in
Iraq under Saddam if you're not a Baathist. Imagine throwing the Communists out of Russia at the end of the war.

Disbanding the Army, this is one I'll never understand because when I arrived at CENTCOM as the commander, there was an on-going program started by my predecessors to run a psychological operations campaign against the regular Army. Every time we struck
Iraq, we dropped leaflets on regular Army formations and garrisons saying "If you don't fight when the time comes, we'll take care of you." We sent messages to them to this affect through people in the region. When I did interviews on Al Jazeera TV and other Arab networks, I would always mention the poor Iraqi soldiers of the regular Army - victims of Saddam. We had always intended if they didn't fight, we'd get rid of the leadership, we'd keep them in tact, we'd provide for some of their training, and we would have the basis for a ready-made force to pick up some of the security requirements. But they were disbanded. And on and on and on, we've had this series of mistakes. […] We have now found ourselves in a position to date for these series of mistakes and many, many more, where we are. Which I think is clearly evident.

I think the General’s comments stand on their own… Give the full article a read, and leave your comments.


1 comment:

dano said...

What can you say? One of the worst-kept secrets in all of human history is that these people liars, idiots, and irrational zealots. In light of the actions they've taken, how can you not call them mass murderers as well? It's not just the near 2000 Americans who've been killed and the many more maimed for life [count yourself lucky you're not among them, Rick] for no good reason, it's the Iraqi people. You NEVER hear the Iraqui dead counted. Has W killed more innocent Iraquis than Saddam yet? We'll never know.

Sure, there are plenty of bad guys to go around there. There are plenty more in Indonesia, and North Korea, and Pakistan, and Iran. And Texas. Maybe we need to invade all those places, too. Oh that's right, they either didn't have any oil to begin with, or it's mostly been used by now and BushCo owns all the rest anyway. Except for Iran. I'd be nervous if I were them. Of course, they are.