Saturday, March 18, 2006

Compare and Contrast

From an interview yesterday on Democracy Now! Gen. Trainor and Michael Gordon are co-authors of a new book, Cobra II, about the invasion of Iraq. Notice the difference between the General and the Journalist:

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, these -- I think it can be generally stated that there were erroneous assumptions made upon which the planning floundered. The ground attack went to Baghdad in record time. However, along the way they ran into the sort of resistance that they had not expected. But if you're looking for the weak link in the process, it wasn't the operation itself, the invasion itself. It was the plan for the end of the invasion. And I use the term "plan," because a lot of people say that there wasn't any plan after Saddam's regime fell.

But there was a plan. And the plan was for the United States military to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible, turn Iraq over to a U.S.-supported Iraqi government, on the assumption that the infrastructure, both the political and economic infrastructure, would be largely intact, and that the international community, the U.N. and others, would get involved in the post-Saddam period. That was a fatally flawed assumption, and as a result, a fatally flawed plan.

So, if you're looking for the problem that emerged with the insurgency, that would be kind of the fundamental principle. There were lots of other little mistakes that went through it, which turned out to be very large mistakes: disbanding the Iraqi army, not having sufficient American forces to follow on the invasion -- as a matter of fact, cutting back on the forces that were involved in the invasion -- and all of these things closed a window of opportunity of reasonable stability that existed immediately after the fall of Baghdad. But that window of opportunity only stayed open for a short period of time, and it slammed shut, and the insurgency emerged.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Gordon, do you think the invasion itself was a mistake?

MICHAEL GORDON: Well, that's a policy judgment and a political judgment that’s really beyond the scope of our book. Our book is not about whether we should or should not have gone to war. The book is about how we went to war. And one thing that our analysis and reporting shows, as General Trainor said, is in the summer of 2003 -- and I was embedded throughout this period in Baghdad then -- I think most of the U.S. military commanders there thought that there was a chance to put Iraq on a better course had we done some things differently, had we had more troops, had we had effective nation-building policies, had we not disbanded the army. And it was the combination of these errors that created an environment which allowed the insurgency to gain some traction.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Gordon, your book is especially critical throughout of the role of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. You talk about a variety of ways in which he directly participated in the planning and even when troops would be deployed, micromanaged the military at a level unprecedented. Could you talk a little bit about that and why you were so critical of Secretary Rumsfeld?

MICHAEL GORDON: Well, you know, in our book, General Trainor and I, we didn't set out to do an investigation of Secretary Rumsfeld or General Franks. We just laid out the facts, and we had a lot of documents and a lot of interviews. And what the facts show is that Secretary Rumsfeld came to the Defense Department with an agenda. The agenda was to transform the American military. There's some good in that. We're not saying that's all bad by any means. But he wanted to create a force that could be basically lean and mean and carry out operations that were far smaller than, let's say, an invasion force that Colin Powell would put together. I think the force that he put together -- and he didn't actually order the generals to do it this way or that way, but he guided them, through suasion, as one of his aides put it, by asking the appropriate questions, by demanding certain briefings, by sending down papers that he wanted the generals to read.

But basically, the force that he essentially established for the invasion was adequate for the task of taking Baghdad and getting there, although there were a few hairy moments along the way, but utterly inadequate for what followed, you know, the so-called -- what the military called "Phase IV” or really the post-war operations. He was really a dominating presence. But, you know, General Franks, I'd say, was very much on the same wavelength, and the two, you know, basically collaborated to put together the plan. You know, one very interesting thing is that the joint chiefs of staff were largely marginalized in this process, and in certain respects, the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Powell were pretty much cut out of it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: General Trainor, you talk about the troika -- President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld -- making the decisions?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: That's correct.That's a correct -- the three of them were joined at the hip, if I can use that expressio n. They all thought basically the same way, and their perceptions became reality. I think the President, I would describe it as the man who presided over the troika. I think Vice President Cheney was very influential in terms of the policy. And certainly, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was a man in charge of the execution of the policy. Everybody else was what I would describe as in the outer circle. The National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and even the neo-cons, which gained so much blame for things going wrong. But those people were -- they were in the outside of the private sanctum of the President, Vice President and Secretary of Defense. Those three thought alike and acted in unison.
You will note, if you read the entire interview, that at no time does Gordon mention any other name than Rumsfeld's. And Rumsfeld is already the designated fall guy for the errors of Iraq, per William Buckley and William Kristol. So it's safe to blame them, according to Beltway CW, apparently; but not yet safe to rope Cheney and Bush into it. But then, Gordon wants to continue working in D.C.; Trainor is retired and probably on to other things.

But what's really interesting is this ahistorical justification, by Gordon:

We're the nation that invented nuclear weapons. So, you know, it's a fair assumption that you would think that if we physically have the evidence, we have certainly nuclear expertise in this country, you know, they would be able to diagnose what they were intended for. Anyway, the C.I.A. took a very strong view on this, as did some of their allies in the intelligence community, and this was reflected as one of the key judgments in the National Intelligence Estimate that went to congress. So you know, if you took aside the -- whatever the New York Times wrote or others wrote, this is the heart of the National Intelligence Estimate that goes to the Congress, goes to the President, and in this, you know, what we now -- what I now better understand, is that while this was the kind of dominant view and certainly the institutional view of the C.I.A., there were a few other views within the intelligence community.

The Defense -- the Energy Department did not agree that these centrifuges were intended for nuclear purposes. However, they didn't really take a clear stand on this, because they also agreed, the same Energy Department that said the centrifuges were not for nuclear purposes, took the view that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program for other reasons. So the Energy Department sort of had a foot in each camp. The State Department experts in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, they're the only part of the American government that completely challenged the view that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program. The Energy Department didn't do it.

By the way, here's an interesting footnote. The British government, in a public report, more or less a few weeks later, challenged the notion that the centrifuges were for nuclear purposes, but then also asserted for other reasons, that Saddam was reviving its nuclear program. So it was a kind of a complicated picture.

There was no agency in the American government that said Saddam was not involved in W.M.D. You know, the State Department, although it's turned out to be correct, certainly on the nuclear issue, did not turn out to be – you know, didn't challenge the biological case, the chemical case, and I'm going to offer you this last thought, and I'm happy to respond to any questions you have, but you know, there are a number of complicated W.M.D. issues --
We "invented nuclear weapons," so apparently we can never be wrong about judging other people's programs of nuclear weapons. No one in the Bush Administration, says Gordon, thought Iraq didn't have WMD; but certainly U.N. Weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter thought there was less than a 10% likelihood they did. But the British Government, (and let's set aside the publicized errors of its' intelligence work, shall we? The Downing Street Memo, and other embarassing bits that show the Brits were as anxious as Bush&Co. to find an excuse to invade Iraq? Let's just hide behind the skirts of authority, shall we?) thought just like the Bush Administration. How could you question that? And, when it turns out, "everyone" in the Administration was wrong, well: who knew?

And his escape clause? Well, there were, it turns out, a "few other views" in the intelligence community. And plenty of evidence since that those views were ruthlessly repressed by, among other things, unprecedented visits to Langley by the Vice President who, hey! surprise!, just happens to be a member of that "troika"! But no mention of that by Mr. Gordon. Apparently that would be unseemly! No, no, we must maintain the passive voice and rely on the vague and glittering generalization, and assure the public that, despite appearances, all is well.

Why do you think that is, Mr. Gordon? Could it be that intelligence is not unquestionable facts, but always questionable interpretation? And data does not speak to us, we decipher it? And in the process of interpretation, a supposed objectivity that allows us to stand outside time, space, and unreason, doesn't actually exist? Sort of like when the Energy Dept. said the tubes weren't useful for a uranium processing centrifuge, but that basically the absence of evidence was not evidence of absence? And I suppose it's a "fair assumption" we would never be led into a war on lies, huh? Can you really be an NYTimes reporter, and be this obtuse?

Apparently so.

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