Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thomas E. Ricks on the Failures in Iraq

Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post has written a book called, FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. I heard him on Meet the Press and I was struck by one comment he made about Rumsfeld, that our secretary of defense was paralyzed for two months after the fall of Baghdad and the looting; Rumsfeld essentially refused to believe we had a problem and therefore did nothing. We may revise the history of our war in Iraq in time but ideological rigidity and therefore blindness and incompetence seem to fit much of what we now know.

There is no question the Bush Administration deliberately plays all kinds of games, particularly around public relations, politics and campaigning, and that it does some of this well. But that is separate from the issue of incompetence, recklessness and ideology when it comes to something critical such as diplomacy or war. For the last sixty-five years, Democrats have had their A team when it comes to foreign policy and the Republicans have had their A team when it comes to foreign policy. Every administration has had its weak links but most of the time there were capable people who more than made up for poor judgment.

But things have changed and we now have the most conservative government since the 1920s. And the competence is unquestionbly gone. Bush, including himself and Cheney, has more weak links than he has people with the kind of judgment needed these days. In the Bush Administration, loyalty, arrogance and ideology became substitutes for the competence we've taken for granted for so long. A flawed ideology now dominates our government and errors in judgment are only slowly being recognized by members of the administration.

The Washinton Post has excerpts from the book by Thomas E. Ricks:
...there is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, "De-Baathification of Iraq Society." The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending: "By nightfall, you'll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you'll really regret this."

He was proved correct, as Bremer's order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Ricks gives a number of examples of both civilian and military mistakes. But the biggest errors can be traced to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. That will be the verdict of history. Curiously, many of those errors can be traced to a rigid ideology and that ideology can be traced to fifty years of self-reinforcing propaganda. That is an irony that at this point doesn't help us much. But it is a lesson to be remembered.


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