Friday, July 28, 2006

Peter W. Galbraith On The Iraq War

Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador, reviews four new books on the Iraq war, and begins with an anecdote of his own experience in country at the beginning of the war:

I arrived in Baghdad on April 14, 2003, as a news consultant to the ABC investigative team led by veteran correspondent Brian Ross. Before the war, Brian had broadcast a profile of Uday and one of his first stops in Baghdad was at Uday's riverside residence. In the basement of the partially looted house, Bob Baer, another ABC news consultant, made an astounding discovery, the personnel files of the Saddam Fedayeen. We were amazed that the military had not inspected or secured such an obvious location and Ross made that point in his exclusive ABC news report. ABC had no further use for the files; but they had obvious value for the US military, containing as they did the names and addresses of the main resistance to the American occupation. I had thought Ross's story would arouse some interest from the Pentagon but there was no reaction. I then called Paul Wolfowitz's office to see if I could discreetly hand them over to the military. (I was still a professor at the National War College -- and therefore an employee of the Defense Department -- and wanted to help.) Although we were staying in the Ishtar Sheraton, a hotel guarded by US troops, the deputy secretary of defense could not arrange to pick up these documents before I had to leave the city.

In the three weeks that followed Baghdad's fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday's house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq's capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism -- the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war -- and the incipient insurgency.

As we now know, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon had no plan to secure any part of Baghdad. It allowed looters to destroy Iraq's governmental infrastructure and to steal thousands of tons of high explosives, weapons, and radioactive materials. And it had no coherent plan for Iraq's postwar governance.

Rumsfeld gets much of the well-deserved blame for the major mistakes made early in the ill-fated endeavor:

In late 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld convened a meeting in his Pentagon office to discuss the military campaign beyond Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the deputy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsible for operations, outlined OPLAN 1003-98, the contingency plan for invading Iraq.

As Newbold outlined the plan, which called for as many as 500,000 troops, it was clear that Rumsfeld was growing increasingly irritated. For Rumsfeld, the plan required too many troops and supplies and took far too long to execute. It was, Rumsfeld said, the product of old thinking and the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the military.

[The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B.] Myers asked Rumsfeld how many troops he thought might be needed. The defense secretary said in exasperation that he did not see why more than 125,000 troops would be required and even that was probably too many. Rumsfeld's reaction was dutifully passed to the United States Central Command.

Men who had put their lives on the line in combat were mostly unwilling to put their careers on the line to speak out against a plan based on numbers pulled out of the air by a cranky sixty-nine-year-old.

Convinced of his own brilliance, Rumsfeld freely substituted his often hastily formed opinions for the considered judgments of his military professionals. He placed in the most senior positions compliant yes-men, like Myers, and punished those who questioned his casually formed judgments. He enjoyed belittling his subordinates. The day before the September 11 attacks, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon meeting that the Defense Department bureaucracy "disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk." His aides followed the same approach: Steve Cambone, Rumsfeld's closest aide, "jested that Rumsfeld thought the Army's problems could be solved by lining up fifty of its generals in the Pentagon and gunning them down."


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