"We’ll get better as we do it more often"

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Quote of the day from the Tomdispatch e-mailbag:

One of my sons is presently a soldier in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division – 123rd MSB I wish I could compare notes with other parents who have soldiers over there. For the little press our media is providing, many Americans must think all our soldiers are doing all day is sitting around playing cards. The truth is that our convoys are meeting much more opposition than is being reported in the media. In fact, unless there are casualties, most fighting never even makes the news. While we’d like to think we ‘saved’ the Iraqis, it certainly doesn’t seem they are very appreciative. My son says there are days that nearly every convoy is fired upon and everywhere they go the soldiers are yelled at, cursed at, and spat upon.

Although officially an average of 12-13 attacks a day are being reported, mostly in what is now called the “Sunni Triangle,” as this mother indicates the attacks are indeed said to be much more frequent and most are reportedly highly inaccurate (implying that many are not being made by trained military men). And there seem to be increasing mortar attacks on American bases as well. (See Borzou Daragahi, Associated Press, Mortar attacks on U.S. bases growing)

Yesterday, a team sent by the Pentagon to “assess security and reconstruction operations in Iraq” returned to report, according to the Washington Post, “that the window of opportunity for achieving postwar success is closing and requires immediate and dramatic action by U.S. military and civilian personnel.” (Vernon Loeb, Postwar Window Closing in Iraq, Study Says) In classic Vietnam-speak (and assessment teams liked this one cycled endlessly through Vietnam), the study added that “the ‘hearts and minds’ of key segments of the Sunni and Shi’a communities are in play and can be won, but only if the Coalition Provisional Authority and new Iraqi authorities deliver in short order.”

The Planner’s War in Washington:

We now know a good deal more about the kind of prewar planning that led to this debacle, or rather what we increasingly are coming to realize is that only one group seems to have done any effective planning for the prewar period, the men around Saddam Hussein. According to the same Post piece, “Another team member, Bathsheba Crocker, a former State Department attorney, said officials she met with in the southern city of Basra now believe the looting there was orchestrated by Hussein’s regime. ‘This wasn’t just the result of overexcitement or venting or whatever it was we thought it was at the beginning,’ she said. ‘The devastation is unbelievable.'” (Remember that Robert Fisk, covering Baghdad in the first days after its fall for the British Independent alone reported that some of the looters were being bussed into and out of Baghdad in a clearly organized way.)

On our side, it seems, people were mostly being kept out of Iraq, not bussed in. The Detroit Free Press reports (Jonathan S Landay and Warren P. Strobel, Internal U.S. feud hurt postwar Iraq planning):

“A small group of top civilians in the Defense Department did not develop postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops and that Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile figure as the country’s leader.

“The [State Department’s] Future of Iraq project, which involved dozens of exiled Iraqi professionals and 17 U.S. agencies, including the Pentagon, prepared strategies for everything from drawing up a new Iraqi judicial code to restoring the unique ecosystem of Iraq’s southern marshes. Virtually none of the Future of Iraq project’s work was used once Hussein fell.

“The first U.S. administrator in Iraq, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, wanted the Future of Iraq project director, Tom Warrick, to join his staff in Baghdad. Pentagon civilians vetoed his appointment, said one current and one former official. “

Landay and Strobel add that the planning, such as it was, for the postwar era was supervised by the Office of Special Plans, “a highly secretive group of analysts and consultants within the Pentagon’s Near East/South Asia bureau. Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski said she and her colleagues were allowed little contact with the Office of Special Plans and were often told by the officials who ran it to ignore the State Department’s concerns and views. ‘We almost disemboweled State,’ Kwiatkowski said.”

The Los Angeles Times has just published a long, detailed report on the woeful state of postwar planning, governmental blindness, pure ignorance, arrogance, and vicious bureaucratic infighting that led to what Gen. Tommy Franks has called “catastrophic success” (Mark Fineman, Robin Wright and Doyle McManus, Preparing for War, Stumbling to Peace). It begins this way:

“The date was Feb. 21. More than 100,000 U.S. and British troops were already poised at Iraq’s doorstep.Yet this two-day gathering at the Pentagon’s National Defense University was the first time all of these planners had gathered under one roof to address an equally vital matter: how to win the peace in Iraq once the war was over.

“‘The messiah could not have organized a sufficient relief and reconstruction or humanitarian effort in that short a time,’ recalled Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst who attended the session.

“The Pentagon planners also made two key assumptions that proved faulty. One was that American and British authorities would inherit a fully functioning modern state, with government ministries, police forces and public utilities in working order – a ‘plug and play’ occupation. The second was that the resistance would end quickly.”

What makes the piece chilling, however, is a series of quotes that end the piece, for it turns out that the same Pentagon officials who planned this catastrophe are already preparing for the next one, “studying the lessons of Iraq closely – to ensure that the next U.S. takeover of a foreign country goes more smoothly.”

Lawrence Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld, is quoted as saying: “This is the future for the world we’re in at the moment. We’ll get better as we do it more often.”

This was a war powered not by planning but by dreaming – and the arrogance that ensues when you believe your own dreams. Remember, despite the thousands of exiled anti-Saddam Iraqis in this country, we managed to arrive in Iraq without Iraqis, right down to translators. Such arrogance brings me to my Where’s Cheney/Wolfowitz contest from my dispatch two days ago. Cheney, a sharp-eyed reader discovered, was at that moment in Birmingham, Alabama, giving a speech at a fundraiser for Congressman Terry Everett (“We’re all here, obviously, for one very particular reason. And I’m sure you paid more than I did to get in. [Laughter.]”) And he was still plugging those weapons of mass destruction as he got ready to return to Washington and privately rally the Republican congressional “troops.”

“What we have to do is to have a strategy, as well, that puts us on offense. We have to go after those wherever they are who pose a threat to the United States or to our friends and allies. And thus in Iraq, where a brutal dictator threatened the peace and gave support to terrorists and developed weapons of mass destruction [back when Cheney and his ilk were still supporting him, of course], the United States launched one of the most extraordinary military campaigns every conducted. And that regime is no more. We’ll stay in Afghanistan and in Iraq just as long as we have to, to make absolutely certain that the job is done before we move on. We’ll stay until we’ve wrapped up all the weapons of mass destruction and eliminated all of those who are enemies of the United States. Around the world, the war on terrorism will go on until every enemy who plots against the American people is confronted and defeated.

Wolfowitz, it turns out, has just arrived in Baghdad for another of those “assessment” visits. It’s already evidently assessment gridlock in central Iraq. One reader asked, “How about John Bolton or Douglas Feith? While he hasn’t much been in the news in quite a while, what about Bush’s recess appointment, Otto Reich?” Others mentioned Douglas Feith, who planned the postwar disaster from the Pentagon, Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and former CIA director Woolsey, who assured us, prewar, that we were already in World War IV. And, of course, they’re all still around doing their darnedest. But can there be any question that they’ve been forced to lower their “profiles” and quiet down? Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sees it that way as well in a rip-roaring column I’ve included below on arrogance and our cabal of neocons.

Into the media Twilight Zone:

By the way: my nominees for the most propitious planning of retirements: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and General Tommy Franks, who, if they’re smart, are sipping Tequilas and relaxing in the sun somewhere in Baja, Mexico right now. And who’s the biggest sad sack of the moment – other, of course, than George (“the target”) Tenet – why Scott McClellan, the new White House press secretary, who has, as in a Twilight Zone episode, stepped directly into an alternate universe. From a press corps cowed since 9/11, we suddenly get exchanges like the following (picked up off Josh Marshall’s Talkingpointsmemo website):

QUESTION: Regardless of whether or not there was pressure from the White House for that line, I’m wondering where does the buck stop in this White House? Does it stop at the CIA, or does it stop in the Oval Office?

Scott McClellan: Again, this issue has been discussed. You’re talking about some of the comments that — some that are —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about anybody else’s comments. I’m asking the question, is responsibility for what was in the President’s own State of the Union ultimately with the President, or with somebody else?

Scott McClellan: This has been discussed.

QUESTION: So you won’t say that the President is responsible for his own State of the Union speech?

Scott McClellan: It’s been addressed.

QUESTION: Well, that’s an excellent question. That is an excellent question. (Laughter.) Isn’t the President responsible for the words that come out of his own mouth?…

And so on, and on, and on.

After a couple of weeks away from a working television set, I turned on ABC’s prime time news the other evening and had that Twilight Zone feeling myself. They were displaying the forged Niger documents, pointing out that the forgeries were worse than previously described, mentioning a striking, if previously taboo, subject, the possibility that among the non-battle deaths in Iraq there were already five suicides, and showing disgruntled soldiers from the Third Infantry in Fallujah, saying things like — though this is taken from Jeffrey Kofman, A Big Letdown, —

“The sergeant at the 2nd Battle Combat Team Headquarters pulled me aside in the corridor. ‘I’ve got my own ‘Most Wanted’ list,’ he told me. He was referring to the deck of cards the U.S. government published, featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons and other wanted members of the former Iraqi regime.

“‘The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz,’ he said. He was referring to the four men who are running U.S. policy here in Iraq – the four men who are ultimately responsible for the fate of U.S. troops here.”

Startling as this may be, it is not, strictly speaking, a media event – though the right-wing is already beginning to howl. The media is emerging in a far more adversarial stance only because they’ve been provided cover by the various angry or disturbed bureaucrats and officials now starting to emerge from the innards of this administration to tell their tales, by mainstream Democrats finally offering criticism of the president, and of course by the Iraqi resisters who continue to throw their sabots (as in sabotage) into the machinery of occupation in their own country.

For a thoroughly enjoyable piece on the media and the moment, check out Eric Alterman’s ‘Lyndon B. Bush’ in the Nation magazine). It begins:

“At some point, something had to give. Yes, much of the mainstream media treated George W. Bush with Lewinsky-like devotion, but could it really go on forever? The Bush people seemed to think it could, and in their hubris lies their demise.

“It was an amazing run. They won the presidency by losing an election. They bankrupted the treasury, trashed the environment, turned the nation’s system of justice over to religious fanatics and, finally, deceived the nation into an unprovoked war. They probably would have gotten away with that too, except they forgot to make any sensible plans about how to run the place afterward. (“Dude, where’s my ‘coalition’?”) In the ensuing chaos and guerrilla warfare against the vulnerable and undermanned US forces, well, somebody was bound to start asking questions.”

But let’s admit it, too, for reporters, there’s now some fun at hand. For the first time in quite a while, journalists in Washington find themselves no longer fully “embedded” and, providentially, amidst all the in-fighting and cat-fighting, they now have (as a friend suggested to me recently) a form to exploit: the mystery. Whodunit is always a draw.

Take this passage beginning a story yesterday in the Washington Post (Ken Guggenheim, Democrat: Bush Official Wanted Iraq Claim):

“CIA Director George Tenet told members of Congress a White House official insisted that President Bush’s State of the Union address include an assertion about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear intentions that had not been verified, a Senate Intelligence Committee member said Thursday.

“Sen. Dick Durbin, who was present for a 4 1/2-hour appearance by Tenet behind closed doors with Intelligence Committee members Wednesday, said Tenet named the official. But the Illinois Democrat said that person’s identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings.”

A person whose identity can’t be revealed but of course will be revealed, undoubtedly within days, what could be more perfect? What a hook – and it’s only one of many. Among recent speculations about identity, for instance, Jason Leopold has suggested that Paul Wolfowitz was the man responsible for the Niger forgery sentence making it into the State of the Union speech and Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect magazine and now sometime columnist for the Post, has turned up a devastating passage in plain sight, in a Newt Gingrich Foreign Policy piece (take a look yourself) and offers this comment:

“Gingrich has just criticized an intelligence assessment of what Iraq is for being out of sync with Bush’s views on what Iraq should be. Those of us who’ve called for investigations of whether the administration slanted its intelligence should be abashed. What’s to investigate? Here’s a member of the administration’s Defense Policy Board who argues in print that the very purpose of intelligence is to confirm the president’s vision of a proper planet. In the mind of Newt Gingrich, where synapses must misfire at close to the speed of light, the descriptive and the normative are as one.”

But, of course, the mystery form itself is a kind of a shuck, as Meyerson implies, since we already know who did it — the men who seized the Florida election and then the shock of 9/11, revved up the tanks, launched the missiles, sent in the troops, and waited for the results. It’s a “mystery” to the press only because they’ve been in a kind of folly of denial for these many months.

Signs of a militarily overextended empire:

At a moment when the Wall Street Journal is reporting that 10,000 more National Guard may be called to service by next winter, Paul Rogers, global analyst for, offers this rundown on our overstretched, draftless army (Far from home, alone):

“The US army is essentially organised into ten divisions, subdivided into thirty-three brigades and made up of about 200,000 troops in all. This is less than half of the total army personnel, but it represents the core of the fighting forces, essentially those capable of combat operations overseas. Of those ten divisions, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions, the 1st Armoured Division and the 101st Airborne Division are all in Iraq, together with elements of other divisions.

“The Iraq commitments therefore represent the equivalent of five divisions. Another division is committed to Afghanistan and another to Europe, including the Balkans; only one division is currently being held in reserve in the United States. A further measure of current pressures is that, at present, nineteen of the army’s thirty-three brigades are stationed or deployed overseas. The US army can also call on large numbers of reservists and National Guard units, but these are all people in regular employment and the numbers already called up are leading to strains in the system.”

In our present system, the National Guard and the reserves take the place of the draft, but not terribly effectively. In the meantime, our men in Washington are searching desperately for solutions. If you want a sign of how desperate they are, check out Emad Mekay’s piece in the Asia Times, US turns to Arabs to keep the peace, which indicates that we may now be trying to get “peacekeepers” from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the various Gulf states and emirates. To grasp the significance of this, you need to remember that we were going to shock and awe not just the Iraqis, but the Arabs generally into a new American version of the Middle East with this war. We weren’t going to ask them to save us; we were going to save (and subject) them. What a come-down this must be. (In Mekay’s piece, I noted, by the way, that Mongolia is among the countries we seem to be importuning for troops – perhaps on the theory that, having successfully sacked Baghdad back in the 13th century and set up a dynasty, they might have some tips for us.)

Finally, here’s part of a piece by veteran Guardian correspondent Martin Wollacott (The US needs allies – but is too proud to pay the price) that gives some sense of how we look out there at the moment:

“The disconnection between the American view of reality and that of other countries can be amazing. Reports speak of ‘calls’ from congressional committees – shocked by rising estimates of occupation – for ‘more international sharing’ of those costs. Such calls are made as if international help was available on tap whenever the US should choose to turn the faucet. There seems to be scant understanding, despite everything, of the way in which American resistance to cooperation with others, not only on Iraq, might induce in them a reluctance to cooperate with America. Senator Edward Kennedy would not make this mistake, and yet even he can speak of the ‘best trained troops in the world’ tied down in policing in Iraq as if it was self-evident, first, that they are in fact well trained, and, second, that others, not so well trained and more disposable, should take their place.”

In addition to Jay Bookman below, I include a scathing Newsday column by conservative James Pinkerton (highlighted today at the invaluable website) about the kind of dreaming that got us into this mess and that has nothing to do with conserving anything and everything to do with using up the world. Tom

U.S. high horse now riderless
By Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
July 17, 2003

Some people are born humble. Others have humility thrust upon them.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for example, was asked in a recent interview whether he still had faith in prewar intelligence claiming a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

“I think that the, the, information we had over a period of time that I cited that the intelligence community gave to me and I read as opposed to ad-libbing was correct. It, it, it was carefully stated . . .”

Talk about carefully stated.

It’s telling to see the bantam rooster of the Bush administration turn so halting and defensive, insisting that, hey, he had only been reading what somebody else handed him. Then again, there’s a lot of that going around these days.

In fact, if Vietnam was the place where America lost her innocence, Iraq may be the place where we lose our arrogance.

The once-triumphant Richard Perle has gone underground.

Jay Bookman is deputy editorial page editor.

To read more Bookman click here

The Iraq War, or America Betrayed
By James P. Pinkerton
July 15, 2003

One day, this Iraq War will be thought of as the Intellectuals’ War. That is, it was a war conceived of by people who possessed more books than common sense, let alone actual military experience.

Disregarding prudence, precedent and honesty, they went off – or, more precisely, sent others off – tilting at windmills in Iraq, chasing after illusions of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and false hope about Iraqi enthusiasm for Americanism, and hoping that reality would somehow catch up with their theory. The problem, of course, is that wars are more about bloodletting than book learning.

Tilting at windmills is what Don Quixote did. When I left for Iraq in June, I took along a copy of “The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote,” the comic/epic/tragic novel by Miguel de Cervantes.

To read more Pinkerton click here