Monday, October 18, 2010

Runup to the Iraq War (1)

One source I neglect to use enough is the National Security Archive from George Washington University. The are running a series of articles about the decision-making process around the Iraq War during the Cheney-Bush Administration.

Joyce Battle's THE IRAQ WAR -- PART I: The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001 09/22/2010 includes the following in its introductory summary:

Talking points for the Rumsfeld-Franks meeting on November 27, 2001, released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), confirm that policy makers were already looking for ways to justify invading Iraq – as indicated by Rumsfeld’s first point, "Focus on WMD." ...

This compilation further shows:

  • The preliminary strategy Rumsfeld imparted to Franks while directing him to develop a new war plan for Iraq
  • Secretary of State Powell's awareness, three days into a new administration, that Iraq "regime change" would be a principal focus of the Bush presidency
  • Administration determination to exploit the perceived propaganda value of intercepted aluminum tubes – falsely identified as nuclear related – before completion of even a preliminary determination of their end use
  • The difficulty of winning European support for attacking Iraq (except that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) without real evidence that Baghdad was implicated in 9/11
  • The State Department’s analytical unit observing that a decision by Tony Blair to join a U.S. war on Iraq "could bring a radicalization of British Muslims, the great majority of whom opposed the September 11 attacks but are increasingly restive about what they see as an anti-Islamic campaign"
  • Pentagon interest in the perception of an Iraq invasion as a "just war" and State Department insights into the improbability of that outcome [my emphasis]
One thing Battle's article impresses on me again is that seemingly carefully limited commitments - such as expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 - can lead to far, far longer and more problematic commitments.

Old Man Bush began mobilizing troops for war with Iraq over Kuwait in 1990. Twenty years later, American troops (theoretically non-"combat" forces) are still fighting there, with no clear end yet in sight.

Though much beloved by neocons and other global strategists, promotion of covert military actions such as that provided by the CIA and later by the Pentagon to the close Iranian ally Ahmad Chalabi to promote armed actions against Saddam Hussein's regime are especially problematic. Battle gives this account of how Chalabi's crackpot scheming played a significant role in Rummy's ridiculous assumptions about the immediate post-invasion environment in Iraq:

In late 1993 Chalabi had begun promoting a plan for regime change in Iraq that he called "The End Game". It envisioned a revolt by Iraqi National Congress-led Shi'ites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north that would inspire a military uprising and lead to the installation of an INC-dominated regime friendly to the U.S. (and Israel.) He also began to use some of his CIA funding to build an armed militia. Later, retired General Wayne Downing and former CIA officer (and Iran-Contra figure) Duane "Dewey" Clarridge became military consultants to the INC, and Downing developed a variation of Chalabi's "End Game". In his version (the "Iraq Liberation Strategy") INC troops backed by former U.S. Special Forces would incite Iraqi military defections. The U.S. would recognize the INC as Iraq’s provisional government, give it Iraq’s U.N. seat; create INC-controlled "liberated zones" freed of sanctions, give the INC frozen Iraqi assets under U.S. control, launch air attacks, and have equipment prepositioned in the region in case U.S. ground forces were activated. (Under what authority the U.S. was to implement these measures is not clear.) In April 1998 Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had Downing brief a bipartisan group of senators at a closed meeting on the plan. As will be seen, Donald Rumsfeld recycled elements of this approach when he ordered the commencement of serious planning for an invasion of Iraq. [my emphasis]
The sorry story of the Iraq Liberation Act is also a reminder that seemingly politically savvy bipartisan compromises by a Democratic President can contribute to later disasters:

After several covert operations against Iraq in the mid-1990s failed, increasingly fraught anti-Iraq rhetoric, endorsed by hawkish Democrats as well as Republicans, culminated in President Bill Clinton's 1998 signing of the Iraq Liberation Act, which partially endorsed the neoconservative agenda. The act established regime change as official U.S. policy and provided funds for opposition groups and propaganda operations, but did not call for direct U.S. military action. The Clinton administration still did not view Iraq as a high priority, however, and neoconservatives were disappointed by the government's lack of follow-up after the act was signed. [my emphasis]
This kind of Bay of Pigs Light approach in Iraq played an important role in leading to the ongoing disaster we now call the Iraq War.

And we shouldn't forget the Cheney Administration's early priorities when it came to terrorism:

When the deputies (agency seconds-in-command) committee met in April for its first discussion of terrorism since the president took office and counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke attempted to focus on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban – five months before 9/11 -- Wolfowitz tried to change the subject to Iraq.
This article is like replaying a nightmare., Remember the Aluminum Tubes of Death?

For its part, the CIA notified Congress of the development [direct US access to the intercepted tubes] immediately -- without prior coordination with the State Department. The agency produced at least nine reports throughout the summer of 2002 that said [falsely] that the tubes proved that Iraq had restarted a nuclear weapons program, documents that were given to Bush and other high-level officials. Energy Department and State Department Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts, who assumed that the claim had long since been put to rest, did not see the reports.

More than a year after the interdiction [of the tubes], on September 8, 2002, the New York Times [Michael Gordon and Judith Miller] reported that "American officials" believed that the tubes were meant for use in centrifuges. (Note 11) The report was based on documents deliberately leaked by the White House. Cheney, Powell, and Condoleezza Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows the same day to draw attention to the report. Rice said that the tubes were only suitable for nuclear weapons programs, and warned, most famously, "we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Judith Miller, whose name is synonymous with the disgraceful corruption and degeneration of American journalism, is now a respectable columnist at Tina Brown's Daily Beast and is featured by FOX News. Michael Gordon continues his stenography for the Pentagon at the New York Times. Darling Condi Rice is making new appearances on TV to adoring journalists happy to help her promote her new book, and even being invited to the White House for friendly consultations with the President.

Battle's article also provides a reminder that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bush and several of his senior officials were immediately eager to find a link between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq to justify the invasion of that country.

And who can forget "shock and awe"?

"Surprise, speed, shock and risk" reflect Rumsfeld’s own goal for an Iraq invasion – fight the war the U.S. wanted to fight, emphasizing mobility, flexibility, and reliance on high-tech weapons, and demonstrate that the reforms the defense secretary was then attempting to implement in the Pentagon would prepare the U.S. military for dominance in the 21st century. What better adversary as a pilot project than an Iraq with a collapsed economy, deep internal divisions, an easily demonized head of state, and a military, never considered particularly effective by U.S. defense analysts, now reduced to a shadow of its former self by two decades of war and sanctions?

The notes also refer to "Decapitation of government," which the U.S. military indeed attempted to execute at the outset of the Iraq war, destroying communication networks and also, quite literally, targeting Saddam Hussein, with missile attacks on the Dora Farms compound where it thought, on the basis of false intelligence, he was located on the eve of the invasion. In reality, the attacks on the communications system contributed to the social collapse that followed the invasion, while U.S. strikes on Saddam and other high-level leaders were apparently unsuccessful, killing civilians rather than their intended targets. [my emphasis]
I will add here that this year's recipient of the Nobel prize for literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, filed reports on his visits to Iraq after the start of the war for the Spanish paper El País. His 2003 articles are collected in Diario de Irak (2003). In those articles, he mentions again and again how disastrous the massive looting was to the Iraqi perceptions of the American and British occupiers that took place in Baghdad that took place just after US forces "liberated" the city but were unprepared for policing the immediate situation. Relying on "decaptitating" the government but trying to handle a situation like that with a bare minimal force was a catastrophic combination.

Battle's concluding paragraph:

As available documentation and a review of the literature show, the Bush administration was well along the path to war before the 9/11 attacks, and certainly well before the protracted 2002-2003 debates over the re-admission of weapons inspectors to Iraq and a U.N. resolution to legitimize the targeting of Baghdad. At this point, the weight of evidence supports an observation made in April 2002 by members of the covert Iraq Operations Group – Iraq "regime change" was already on Bush’s agenda when he took office in January 2001. (Note 33) September 11 was not the motivation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq – it was a distraction from it.

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