Sunday, February 12, 2006

THE WALLS ARE CRUMBLING

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DENIALS ON IRAQ ARE BEING CHISELED AWAY BY TIME, REALITY, AND INSIDERS. IT'S TIME FOR SOME HONESTY, TRUTH AND OBJECTIVITY.

As the U.S. prepares to mark the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, which still has no end in sight, the national debate is squarely focused on how soon our troops can get out. After all, this is an election year. How can the U.S. military make a dignified exit without appearing weak, and without appearing to give up?

But with an ever-brewing civil war growing daily, one that would likely rage out of control without a U.S. military presence, the wisdom of the initial U.S. intervention has to be questioned. It isn't politically correct to ask such questions, but it is reasonable to wonder whether U.S. interests were really served by deposing Saddam Hussein, and whether things are truly better in Iraq since then.

The sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites plays itself in an orgy of daily killings and bombings, and all of it simply results in even more reprisal killings. And nothing seems to be sacred or off limits; mosques are frequent targets. Sure there have been three elections in Iraq, but none of them would have occurred without the U.S. military presence. The parties involved were too busy killing each other to have initiated and carried out those elections without U.S. prompting and assistance. And to what end those elections will ultimately result in is anybody's guess. Anyone who sees a budding democracy in Iraq is blithely, if not naively, optimistic. Furthermore, the valuable counterbalance to Iran has been lost in the Middle East. That poses a whole new set of challenges for the U.S.

The question is, how did it come to this? How did the outcome of the war go so badly? Three years out, its fair and reasonable to start asking those questions, and to be seeking the answers to them. Didn't anyone in charge see this coming?

The answer is yes. There were adequate warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, but those warnings of instability in Iraq - the power vacuum that would be created in the absence of Saddam - were flatly ignored by the Bush Administration. Because of key revelations, it is now known that the Administration had an agenda for Iraq, and that intelligence was ignored. or even fixed, because of that agenda. But policy decisions are not supposed to be decided by an agenda, but rather by facts - or at least a well informed, reasoned, and objective assessment of intelligence. Clearly, that did not happen.

There have been numerous and repeated accusations and criticisms leveled at the Bush Administration by former insiders, confidants and advisors. Among them are former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, and former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

And the hits just keep on coming. In yet another embarrassing public revelation for the President and his advisors, a critical member of the national intelligence team from the start of the Iraq war has made more damning charges.

Before retiring last October, Paul R. Pillar was the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005. Specifically, Pillar had provided the C.I.A. with intelligence assessments on Iraq. And he has now accused the Bush administration of ignoring or distorting the prewar evidence on Iraq to justify the American invasion of 2003.

Echoing the criticisms of Clarke, and O'Neill, Pillar charges the administration with using selective intelligence regarding Iraq's unconventional weapons, and the chances of postwar chaos in Iraq.

In an article for the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs, Pillar wrote, "If the entire body of official intelligence on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war — or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in decades."

Pillar continued, "The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policy making process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war it is clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions that had already been made, that damaging ill will developed between policy makers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized."

Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, said he was not contacted by the Bush Administration for an assessment on post-war Iraq until a year after the war began.

From his standpoint, there are valuable lessons to be learned and what is most important now is to "look at the whole intelligence-policy relationship and get a discussion and debate going to make sure what happened on Iraq doesn't happen again."

But Pillar's are just the latest in a string of such accusations from insiders. And the Administration attack machine has attempted to disparage most of them by impugning their credibility.

O'Neill, who sat on the National Security Council, had extraordinary access to the President. He says that in the very first Bush Cabinet meeting in January 2001, part of the agenda was for a post-Saddam Iraq. Even in those early days, deposing the Iraqi leader was already on the mind of the President and some of his advisors. O'Neill describes a White House poised to overinterpret intelligence. "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country. And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'" The events of 9/11 gave them the opening they were hoping for.

O'Neill offers the most skeptical view of the case for war ever put forward by a top Administration official. "In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," he told TIME. "There were allegations and assertions by people. But I've been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions. To me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else. And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence."

And in his book "Against All Enemies," Clarke revealed that President Bush and senior administration officials wanted to bomb Iraq after 9/11 even though they knew that it had no connection to al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks.

Then in May of 2005, the Times of London printed the classified minutes of a British cabinet meeting, referred to as the "Downing Street Memo." The memo revealed that, long before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was determined to go to war, intentionally distorting intelligence, and lying to the American people.

Taken from a July 23rd, 2002 cabinet meeting - a full eight months before the war - the revealing memo quotes high level British officials discussing recent conversations with the Bush Administration on their decision to invade Iraq, and the manipulation of intelligence to back it up.

Two key excerpts:

Sir Richard Dearlove, Director of the British foreign intelligence service (MI6), reported on his recent meetings in Washington:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Later British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw added:

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

The British government did not dispute the authenticity or accuracy of the memo.

What the Bush administration told these foreign officials is the exact opposite of what the President repeatedly told Congress and the American people about his decision before the invasion, and what he continues to claim - that he was trying to avoid a war America did not want, and that intelligence about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was clear and compelling.

The Bush administration continues to peddle falsehoods about the rush to war and intelligence manipulation, despite overwhelming evidence from former administration officials, and now our closest allies. Last May, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told troops stationed in Iraq: "This war came to us, not the other way around."

Then last August, George Washington University obtained a State Department memo - issued a month before the start of the Iraq war - that warned military planners about "serious planning gaps" for the post-war period.

The document was dated February 7, 2003 and noted that a lack of focus and preparation for adequate policing after the invasion could have negative consequences. Specifically, the State Department officials warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally."

The memo's authors said they had "raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials" and offered to help the military "develop plans for accomplishing these goals." Obviously their appeals went unheeded and they were ignored.

Finally, Paul Bremer, a critical member of the Bush team in the war's early days, agrees that the war planning was flawed from the start. Bremer said "horrid" looting was occurring in May of 2003 when he arrived in Baghdad to head the U.S.- led Coalition Provisional Authority. "We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Bremer said. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Earlier, Bremer had said the U.S. could have planned better. "The single most important change ... would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout." Bremer claimed he "raised this issue a number of times with our government" but allowed that he "should have been even more insistent."

Last fall, Virginia's John Warner, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called a meeting with 10 battalion commanders to get an honest portrayal of the situation in Iraq. The Marine and Army officers were quite frank in their assessments. Contradicting the Pentagon's repeated claims, the commanders said they not only needed more manpower, but that they'd also repeatedly asked for it -- as recently as last August. Each time, they said, they were denied.

So it's hard to imagine the withdrawal of U.S. forces from a war in which there have never been enough forces to begin with. Of course there will be vigorous arguments both for and against, just as there have been up to this point, but it will get really interesting, and perhaps even more ugly, in an election year.

These multiple inside accounts are representative of the cavalier and nonchalant attitude that marked the planning and execution of this war from the start. Pillar's article provides merely the latest example of the irresponsibility and negligence of our war planners. There has been a total lack of accountability from the outset, and that sort of attitude and behavior is entirely unacceptable. It's time for accountability. It's time for heads to roll. The public should demand it. With the notable exception of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff who was wrongly dismissed for having the courage to tell the administration that they didn't have enough troops to successfully fight the war, no key players in the war effort have been fired to date. The General has since been vindicated, but it's too little, too late. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has mishandled and misjudged this war from the outset, still has his job and that isn't building confidence in anyone -- except perhaps the equally inept and irresponsible who've managed to keep their jobs as well.

The bungled charade that is the war in Iraq has resulted in the loss of nearly 2300 Americans lives - and there will be more to come. The death toll countinues to mount on an almost daily basis, and it is important to remember that the President declared that major combat operations had ended in May of 2006 - just six weeks after the start of the war. In a time of war, the counry needs - and deserves - more than platitudes and banality. We deserve honesty and truth.

Copyright © 2006 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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