Screwing Iraq Up Big Time

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The New York Times has a long piece today by Michael Gordon showing how abysmally the administration miscalculated in the aftermath of victory in Iraq. The upshot of the piece is that there were never enough soldiers, and that just when the U.S. needed more troops to stabilize the situation on the ground, the Pentagon was already planning a massive cutback in forces.

Though the article will give some ammunition to John Kerry and his contention that Bush bungled Iraq badly, the fact is that the piece actually shows Bush to be poorly served by his subordinates, most prominently Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rummy is the real villain of the piece, largely because he kept troop numbers down, even in the face of repeated warnings, in order to prove his point that a smaller, more mobile military was the way of the future. This not only bothered Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, the U.S. representatives in Iraq, it also prompted Newt Gingrich, a member of the advisory Defense Policy Board, to say that "he would go back and press [Rumsfeld] to stop messing around with tactical-level decisions…"

Also somewhat blackened by the piece is Tommy Franks, whose reputation is apparently so tied in with Rumsfeld's, that he feels he has to defend the secretary to the idiotic hilt. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice also comes out looking like the sneaky chameleon that she is–a good bureaucrat, but utterly devoid of compelling ideas. The striking coda at the end of the piece is Jay Garner's:

"John Abizaid was the only one who really had his head in the postwar game," General Garner said, referring to the general who served as General Franks's deputy and eventually his successor. "The Bush administration did not. Condi Rice did not. Doug Feith didn't. You could go brief them, but you never saw any initiative come of them. You just kind of got a north and south nod. And so it ends with so many tragic things.

The Washington Post also has an interesting story on the delays in preparing Iraq for the January 2005 election. One problem is that the UN has been unable to fully staff its operation in Iraq, from which election specialists would have been presumably drawn. Why? Because two UN employees' unions, who already want to withdraw all remaining UN personnel from Iraq for security reasons, have no intention of permitting it.

That just comes to show how much the organization is a slave to its own bureaucracy, but worse that this high-paid bureaucracy has become utterly risk averse. For an unsympathetic piece on that malady, read this commentary by a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, David Malone. It was published on the op-ed page of the Daily Star, and provoked a gnashing of the teeth from UN pencil pushers.

Meanwhile, Iraqis try to fill the election vacuum, fully aware, no doubt, that when it comes to Iraq, the UN has often been more the problem than the solution.

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  1. Speaking of “Rock the Vote” (previous topic), is this current ramping up of violence in Iraq some sort of lame Bush attempt to rock his vote?

  2. I don’t think the Fallujah attacks are a Bush ploy. However, I do think Bush will make a second visit to Baghdad as a slightly desparate act if his standing in the battleground states doesn’t improve.

  3. Michael:

    “when it comes to Iraq, the UN has often been more the problem than the solution.”

    I think you have a typo here. “UN” should be replaced with “US”.

  4. Everything in Iraq would have worked out just fine if the Democrats weren’t constantly trying to undermine our commander-in-chief. Just ask Zell Miller.

  5. Bush, his cronies and half this country have spent the last three years publicly fucking the UN, never mind that the inspections worked and Iraq was contained when we went in.

    Now we want them to dodge bullets and pull our chestnuts out of the fire. It’s just like the chickenhawks who now run this place to volunteer someone else to risk their lives to clean up our mess.

  6. “when it comes to Iraq, the UN has often been more the problem than the solution.”

    the UN has often been more the problem than the solution – everywhere, everytime, not just in Iraq.

    When action is required there is no such thing as the UN, it’s inexistent.
    If what you seek is talk fests, conventions, cushy jobs, money wasting or corruption – the UN is the thing. Symbolic and characteristic of the post modern trends.

  7. You’re surprised somehow that a bunch of bureaucrats DON’T want to get their nuts blown off in Iraq?

    My father (and my family) spent eight years overseas in South America, Asia, and Europe (including a year in Yugoslavia in 1980), and because of his business contacts he knew plenty of American and British contractors who had been to far more turbulent places than we went (like Algeria). We have been to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, Pakistan, and numerous other places now on the no-go list. When the reconstruction of Iraq began with civil engineers like himself I said “Dad, how much $$$ would it take for you go to Bagdad out of semi-retirement?” His response was that no amount of money or anything could pursuade him, or any other veteran expat worker he knew, to go to the Green Zone; he predicted that within months these guys would be getting assassinated as American targets. This was in 2002.

  8. “When action is required there is no such thing as the UN, it’s inexistent.
    If what you seek is talk fests, conventions, cushy jobs, money wasting or corruption – the UN is the thing. Symbolic and characteristic of the post modern trends.”

    So the US needs the UN PLUS Blue Ribbon Commissions?
    Is it some sort of “fail safe”?
    Next thing you know, we’re talking serious money.

  9. Stop what you’re doing and go see Team America right now! It has all you need to know about the UN, terrorism, and uh, proving loyalty (this part is hillarious – I won’t ruin it here).

    This Iraq stuff is getting old anyway. Time for a new war or something.

    Did I mention how funny Team America is? I’ve never been to a movie where everyone sat through all the credits and then some. I think we all needed a few minutes to get back to reality or something. Nutty. Go see it. Really. Do it now. Your job sucks anyway.

  10. “Though the article will give some ammunition to John Kerry and his contention that Bush bungled Iraq badly, the fact is that the piece actually shows Bush to be poorly served by his subordinates, most prominently Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

    I’ve often wondered why Kerry doesn’t run ads showing Bush, during the 2000 campaign, answering questions about his own ability, intelligence, and experience by talking about the great people he’s going to surround himself with – then cutting shots of Rummy, Ashcroft, Rice, and Cheney saying stupid, dishonest, disreputable things. Maybe this story will be the spur.

    “That just comes to show how much the organization is a slave to its own bureaucracy, but worse that this high-paid bureaucracy has become utterly risk averse.”

    Bullshit. The UN monitored elections in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in lots of places where they were put at physical risk. The fact that these people aren’t suicidal doesn’t mean thay are “utterly risk averse.” UN election monitors have demonstrated a hell of a lot more sack than the 101st Fighting Keyboarders who have so much fun impugning their commitment.

  11. Exaggerated jokes about Bush’s stupidity aside, I think it’s been clear from the start that a Bush Administration would be one of strong advisors since the Great Leader was essentially a figurehead elected on name recognition and (relative) congeniality. You had to hope his advisors would know their shit. Regardless of whether a Kerry Administration would do any better, which I don’t claim to know, it’s becoming painfully clear that Rumsfeld is more about arrogant bluster than nuts-and-bolts know-how or wisdom.

  12. Why is it that Hit and Run seems more like a loser’s convention every day?

  13. Gordon’s article was very good.

    I wish he would have written more about the expectation we would be greeted as liberators, and how the “cakewalk” crowd ultimately influenced the post battle plan. What a bunch of fucking morons.

  14. Speaking of “Rock the Vote” (previous topic), is this current ramping up of violence in Iraq some sort of lame Bush attempt to rock his vote?

    if it is, it’s as poorly thought out as rummy’s low-boot-count war plan. if polling continues to trend, or even just stops where it is, kerry is the 44th POTUS.

  15. “Why is it that Hit and Run seems more like a loser’s convention every day?”

    Because your boy’s going down, that’s why.

    You expect the anti-government partisans who read Reason to look at the massive, expensive, bloody screw up the federal government carried out in Iraq at George Bush’s behest, and just be quiet? I don’t think that’s going to happen.

  16. Symbolic and characteristic of the post modern trends.

    agreed, jacob — but i wouldn’t exempt american government from that description. bush’s bureaucracy has been, for all its bluster, a miserable example of poor execution, institutional turf wars and decadent loggerheads.

  17. I am not really sure that putting more boots on the ground would have been better. I know there are a few generals, and Paul Bremer that say so. I am not sure I buy it.

    I think this is sort of the same mentality that believes that a federal swat team can prevent underage people from drinking or doing drugs.

    I think that in some ways putting more boots on the ground would have enabled US troops to act as a police in Iraq. However, they would have been a bigger target, and they would have also been more to have US troops caught in Rodney King, or Abu Ghraib type stuff.

    You have enough troops to be able to provide fire onto any portion of Iraq. And that is all you want to do in modern warefare. You want to provide as small a footprint as possible, and still be able to direct fire adecuately.

    I was very impressed with the way the war in Afganistan has been carried out. I don’t know if you all remember the Russian generals predicting doom and gloom, and preaching on CNN that our weapons and technology would not prevail in the end.

  18. Also fuck the UN, man, fuck the UN.

  19. “bush’s bureaucracy has been, for all its bluster, a miserable example of poor execution, institutional turf wars and decadent loggerheads.”

    Maybe.
    And what is the remedy proposed by Kerry ? Bring in the UN ! Decadence squared ! Poor execution coupled with unwilingness to execute anything.

  20. the piece actually shows Bush to be poorly served by his subordinates, most prominently Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

    And, who is ultimately to blame for Rumsfeld and the fact that he still has a job?

    See “Post-war planning non-existent”.

    For how Kerry would do things differently, see Kerry would fight terrorism better.

  21. “Maybe.
    And what is the remedy proposed by Kerry ? Bring in the UN ! Decadence squared ! Poor execution coupled with unwilingness to execute anything.”

    Then you shouldn’t vote for Kerry. But since we know for a fact that Bush is dishonest and incompetent, you shouldn’t vote for him, either.

  22. “You have enough troops to be able to provide fire onto any portion of Iraq. And that is all you want to do in modern warefare.”

    If defeating the military forces of the Iraqi government were the entire mission, you are correct.

    However, I seem to recall somebody connected with the administration making some references to “democracy,” “regime change,” “securing WMD sites,” “preventing a civil war,” and “keeping Iranian and Wahabbist agents from crossing the border and fostering an insurgency.”

    BTW, have you seen any of the stories about the nuke sites being looted, dismantled, and sold on the black market? I sure wish they’d had enough troops to spare to keep those buildings secure, but sadly, they only had enough to escort Ahmed Chalabi, and guard the Oil Ministry.

  23. Joe,
    yeah I’ve seen those stories. I don’t know how much stock to put on those stories. If you double and triple the amount of troops you would still have to decide what to guard and what not to. There was a shit ton of bases and stockpiles, and we didn’t know what was in all of them and could not guard all of them.

    It may be easy to note in hindsight many things we should have done, and places that we should have rather guarded than the ones we did.

    On the whole regime change thing. I think the major mistake may have been to dispand the Iraqi army. That the administration was too concerned in proving to the Iraqi people that we were not going to simply switch figure heads. To my knowlede we left the German army and govt intact after WW2 until we could gradually change key positions and flush the true nazis.

    However even on this I am not sure. Iraq is a different country than Germany was. The conflict between Shia and Sunni might have been a harder confilict to solve if we had left the Sunnis in charge.

    I have been in Iraq, and I do believe that the way we are going now, we will end up with a democratic Iraq, an ally of the US. I can’t tell you how much longer it will take, or how many more succesfull terrorist attacks will happen.

  24. Joe you forgot “winning hearts and minds.”

    Oh, yeah, and how about “Securing the Iraqi Army ammo dumps from looting.” Seeing as Iraq had amassed one of the largest stockpiles of ammo in the world, that one would have made sense.

    Instead, I recall reading Newsweek in Summer of 2003!!, about wholesale, massive looting of unguarded ammo dumps. WTF?

  25. Michael Young’s lame attempt to pass the buck down the line to Rumsfeld, etc., makes one wonder whether he would take a broom up the ass for Bush.

    Indeed, it makes one question whether Young has the same naive faith of the Narod; because it seems that like Russian common people (the Narod) in the 18th century in their relationship to the Tsar, he sees Bush as the batiushka, or “affectionate father,” who is held in ignorance by his subordinates. If only he knew what his subordinates were doing, he would set them to rights and bring prosperity to all.

  26. Huh. Imagine that — an imperfect postwar occupation. And after a highly contentious UN showdown, and no cooperation from Turkey, and porous borders with terrorists pouring in on 3 sides. What are the odds?

    How would more troops help? We weren’t fighting troops — we were, and are, fighting terrorists and ex-Baathists, Sunnis who know they are dead meat in any future vision of Iraq.

    These articles and discussions about how f’ed up Iraq is always cast blame at Bush and the Pentagon, but never at Department of State, which would argue with George Bush if he said the sky was blue. State is also a beloved resource at NYT and WaPo, and filled with careerist bureaucrats who lean way left and have domains they want protected. But none of that could possibly tilt the discussion.

    Right.

  27. never at Department of State

    mr brokaw, i sincerely don’t think they have enough of a budget anymore to oppose anything meaningfully. convenient ideological scapegoat, perhaps, but obstacle?

    fwiw,

    How would more troops help?

    probably gets answered by

    porous borders with terrorists pouring in on 3 sides

    mr kwais,

    It may be easy to note in hindsight many things we should have done, and places that we should have rather guarded than the ones we did.

    i tend to agree on some level — you can’t keep all the water in the sieve. but the “plan”, so called, did not even attempt to hold *some* of the water in. i don’t think a person can make an honest argument against the fact that rumsfeld immanentized his eschaton and sent far too few troops — over the advice of all his generals — to prove an ideological point and willfully ignored or overwrote entire meaningful aspects of war planning to do so.

    that’s a fuckup, and he has to be made to pay — or you are inviting unaccountability in the posts of government where accountability matters most.

    one needs look no further than the bitter venom and antipathy with which virtually the entire general staff views rummy to see that the man must go. he’s earned their hatred the hard way — by killing american kids needlessly.

  28. gm –

    State doesn’t have enough of a budget to leak info to newspapers in order to embarrass a president? You’re kidding, right?

    More troops wouldn’t make a bit of difference with porous borders when those borders have very little in the way of actual barriers, or roads on which to put checkpoints. It’s near impossible to police such borders.

    And try some capital letters, it really isn’t that hard to hit the shift key.

  29. Jeff,

    No one is criticizing the post-war occupation because it’s “imperfect.” That would be a strawman. Lots of people, even Republicans, are criticizing the administration because there was no post-war occupation plan. The one that the state department prepared was tossed.

    It’n not unreasonable to suggest that the lack of a plan indicates incompetence on part of the war “planners.”

  30. State doesn’t have enough of a budget to leak info to newspapers in order to embarrass a president? You’re kidding, right?

    no, certainly they can do that — what i mean is that’s not an obstacle. it’s politics. the army does (and has done) no differently. if he can’t manage executive branch infighting from entrenched interests, he shouldn’t have the job.

    it begs the question: why should the president (republican or democrat, mind you) be a holy figure? fuck him. dragging him through the mud a bit is a fantastic idea — i’d be surprised if such activity does any material or lasting damage to the national interest, and it educates all of us (his job evaluators, after all, the only remaining check on his power) on whether, where and how he’s fucking up.

    and, fwiw, i think it plain that

    who lean way left

    is a mischaracterization of state. the department is extremely complex, with many factions within, some of which are very hawkish. imo, you’re repeating an inaccurate old saw thrown about by republicans every time there’s trouble in paradise.

    if you want real sources of embarassment for the president, look at cia — hardly a bastion of liberalism, but a repository of hatred for the president and manifold leaks.

  31. Jeff Brokaw, amen.

    The state dept and the pentagon have a bunch of disgruntled dudes that see their kingdom as not being respected by Rummy et al. They constantly gripe to the press and provide leaks and such.

    The state dept is a liberal bastion. And the CIA is not what it used to be, congress neutered it a while ago (I suggest reading ‘See no Evil’ by Robert Baer). It does seem like the CIA is coming back though. All the right kind of Americans are drawn to it.

    I see some mistakes as having been made. But over all the administration listened to many generals and chose some over others. Over all I think they made the right choice.

  32. kwais, Brokaw, etc.,

    It doesn’t matter what the State Department did or didn’t do. Their actions have had nothing to do with the problems seen in Iraq. Indeed, laying the blame on them is so disigenuous as to make an absolute mockery of the truth.

    The state dept is a liberal bastion. And the CIA is not what it used to be, congress neutered it a while ago (I suggest reading ‘See no Evil’ by Robert Baer).

    The CIA was properly de-fanged. It was committed to its own foreign policy and unaccountable to elected officials. See Hayek on the need to have such accountability.

  33. The Bushbots kwais and Brokaw’s remarks can be summed up thusly:

    The State Department said bad things about the Pentagon; that’s what caused the problems in Iraq.

  34. Les –

    Perhaps. I’m still tired of hearing about what a failure it is when every email from the boots on the ground says things are going well. Would State’s plan have resulted in tighter security and fewer terrorists kidnapping and murdering local citizens in order to prevent their cooperation, and therefore been more effective than something the Pentagon could improvise on the spot? I doubt that. Our armed forces have been very good at adapting to changing realities and using just enough force to send messages. This story doesn’t get told enough, and so perhaps I’m just sick of hearing the constant negativity and carping about seemingly inconsequential issues.

    gm –

    The reason he can’t manage it is because they lean way left – you basically refuted your own argument. And this same thing happens with every Republican president.

    Anyway, the larger point is that State had a big hand in the occupation, and it is disingenous for the NYT and others to constantly criticize the Pentagon and the White House and say nothing negative about their beloved State Dept.

  35. Jeff,

    “I’m still tired of hearing about what a failure it is when every email from the boots on the ground says things are going well.”

    Every email? If you go to a site like Soldiers for Truth (http://www.sftt.org/), it becomes apparent that not every soldier in Iraq thinks things are going well.

    That doesn’t mean that things are going terribly, but when the same people who predicted a brief occupation and welcoming Iraqis (or that “major military operations” were over in May of ’03) report that things are better than they seem, I think skepticism is appropriate.

  36. Jeff Brokaw,

    I’m still tired of hearing about what a failure it is when every email from the boots on the ground says things are going well.

    This sort of statement demotes your crebility to zero. The only being disingenuous here is you. I think we can all now safely ignore your comments.

  37. Also, I should add I’m hardly the only example of a non-liberal who believes that a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that this war was sold dishonestly and waged incompetently and that the people who did so have lost the right to such profound responsibilities.

  38. More boots on the ground.
    More cops walking a beat.
    More money for public schools.
    Light at the end of the tunnel.
    The beat goes on.

  39. I am amazed that somebody would actually write this:

    “…and porous borders with terrorists pouring in on 3 sides. What are the odds?

    How would more troops help?”

    Please note the lack of internal elipses.

    BTW, for those of you bitching about the State Dept., and adopting the “20/20 hindsight” meme, please google “Future of Iraq Project.” The administration had all the post-war planning they needed, and deliberately ingored it, because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They were going to greet us with flowers, fall down on their knees before Ahmed Chalabi, and rebuild their country with their oil revenues while our troops spent their time demolishing massive WMD stockpiles. And anyone who says different is a nervous nellie commie pinko America hating moral relativist who’s view of the war is distorted by partisan blinders.

  40. The reason he can’t manage it is because they lean way left

    my god, man — so you’re saying that, in order for government to function effectively, it needs to be of unanimous will? no opposing viewpoints? all internal debate squelched? no dissent, as dissent equals subversion?

    never mind that you will never get that; why in the hell would you ever WANT it?

    too many simpleminds are confusing dissent with disloyalty. i WANT argument up there — we NEED it. democracy DEPENDS on it. what you’re calling for, mr brokaw — whether you know it or not — is tyranny.

    this same thing happens with every Republican president.

    you pretend that liberal presidents don’t have to contend with entrenched conservative cliques?

    this is a very revealing post, mr brokaw. are you one of those blind political partisans i hear so much about?

  41. Also, I should add I’m hardly the only example of a non-liberal who believes that a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that this war was sold dishonestly and waged incompetently and that the people who did so have lost the right to such profound responsibilities.

    AMEN! sy hersh’s book should be mandatory reading for voters on both sides. chapter 4, “the iraq hawks”:

    in the early summer of 2001, a career official assigned to a pentagon planning office undertook a routine evaluation of the assumption, adopted by hawks like wolfowitz and feith, that the INC (iraqi national congress) could play a major role in a coup d’etat to oust saddam hussein. he also analyzed their assumption that chalabi, after the coup, would be welcomed by iraqis as a hero. an official familiar with the evaluation described how it subjected that scenario to the principle of what planners call “branches and sequels” — that is, “plan for what you expect not to happen”. the official said, “it was a ‘what could go wrong’ study….”

    the people in the policy offices didn’t seem to care. when the official asked about the analysis, he was told by a colleague that the new pentagon leadership wanted to focus not on what could go wrong but on what will go right. he was told that the study’s exploration of options amounted to panning for failure. “their methodology was analogous to tossing a coin five times and assuming that it would always come up heads,” the official told me. “you need to think about what would happen if it comes up tails.”

    hersh’s book is brimming with such observations of high-level pentagon planning from government officers and agents both inside and outside the pentagon, with respect to operations in both iraq and afghanistan.

    and we’re talking about blaming state? please!! the failures of the DoD in iraq are a suicide, not a homicide.

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