Sunday, October 29, 2006

Neoconservative Mythology

tHaving watched conservatives for decades, one of the things I have to conclude about the WMD theory about Iraq is that neoconservatives found it convenient in the 1990s to hold the belief that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. During the 90s, being out of power, it wasn't necessary for neoconservative intellectuals to lie about WMDs exactly because so many conservatives were amplifying and passing along the nonsense. From about the middle of the 90s to the launching of the war in Iraq, however, the evidence was very thin that Iraq had any kind of WMDs left and the evidence for a nuclear program was always the thinnest. None of the neoconservatives who ever provided the intellectual framing of the war in Iraq seem to have spent much time doing their homework.

I noticed a paragraph in Ron Suskind's, The One Percent Doctrine (page 22) that I feel a need to respond to since that paragraph is a good example of the mythologies of conservatives over the last twenty-five years that begin to be accepted in some places as canon. Here's the paragraph concerning some of the beliefs of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon regarding the CIA (meaning people like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle):
They all also shared a well-seasoned antipathy for the CIA. The cited grievances were vast, a catalog of CIA failures and foolish pride dating back twenty years. It had missed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the Ayatollah Kohmeni in Iran. It had missed the fall of the Soviet Union. It had missed Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait. As to 9/11, the critics' case for CIA incompetence was clouded by the repeated warnings from Tenet and top deputies about the al Qaeda threat, starting with their first briefing to the incoming President. Neither Bush nor the more experienced Cheney had reacted with a plan of action. Bin Laden was a problem without a ready solution, a combination that often spells inertia for the vast U.S. government. The primary focus, January 2001 at the first NSC meeting of the Bush presidency—was on "how Iraq is destabilizing the region," and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Throughout the spring and summer of 2001, dozens of reports were generated inside the Defense and State Departments about a possible invasion of Iraq, as the CIA increasingly warned about the threat from al Qaeda.

I recall reading in the late 1970s that there was a CIA report that the Soviet Union might fall in ten to twenty years because of ethnic and economic problems and also because of the rampant corruption at the time under Brezhnev; at the same time, before the invasion of Afghanistan, there was concern about the Soviet Union expanding its navy and flexing its muscles in other areas. Although I don't know if the CIA caught this particular angle, there had to be people who noticed that the Soviet Union might be engaging in some military activity as a way of distracting domestic attention from the growing problems.

It's odd to charge the CIA with having failed to read Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq when the problem had more to do with the State Department at the time misreading Saddam Hussein and not giving strong assurances that an invasion would be unacceptable (if I recall correctly, a wink may even have been given for taking a small slice of Kuwaiti territory where some shared oil fields straddled the border). We also need to remember that the first President Bush was at first reluctant to deal with the invasion of Kuwait until Scowcroft and Margaret Thatcher made it clear that allowing the invasion of other territories in the post-Cold War world was not a particularly good idea (by no means was Saddam Hussein the only one out there with an itchy finger).

Although I'm an admirer of Jimmy Carter, it was clear he had some shortcomings and one of those shortcomings was his tendency to micromanage without following through necessarily on what the consequences were of his changes. The CIA was not oblivious to Khomeni; they had been paying him monthly payments for years while he was in exile. Apparently Carter, for budget and moral reasons, cut Khomeni's funding and it appears this was one of the reasons Khomeni returned to Iran. I don't believe Carter is exclusively to blame; there was an institutional breakdown of some sort that can be traced to some of the chaos that went from the Nixon to Carter years, a time, by the way, during which the first President Bush served a stretch as CIA Director and Cheney and Rumsfeld were serving in the Ford Administration.

Institutional memory has been a problem in every administration since World War Two. Some administrations have been better at passing on issues that may not be at the forefront of the thinking of the incoming administration, and some administrations have been poor at listening to what was being passed on. There's plenty of evidence that the Bush Admnistration not only did not listen well to the outgoing Clinton Administration, but that much of Bush's inner circle and his neoconservative advisers simply discounted much of what had happened in foreign policy during the 1990s. By 2001, the thinking of the Bush Administration was already fossilized, and in more ways than one.

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