The Coming Outrage

We’ve been so wrapped up in the Iraq funding issue that this bomb is going off nearly unnoticed. Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq that ousting Saddam Hussein would create a “significant risk” of sectarian strife, encourage al-Qaida attacks and open the way for Iranian interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday released declassified prewar intelligence reports and summaries of others that cautioned that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “long, difficult and probably turbulent” and said that while most Iraqis would welcome elections, the country’s ethnic and religious leaders would be unwilling to share power.

Nevertheless, President Bush, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top aides decided not to deploy the major occupation that force military planners had recommended, planned to reduce U.S. troops rapidly after the invasion and believed that ousting Saddam would ignite a democratic revolution across the Middle East.

The Senate Intelligence Committee ought to know better than to dump something like this on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. I suspect there’s a story behind that, and I’d like to know what it is.

You might remember that the Senate Intelligence Committee released its first report dealing with pre-war intelligence assessments about Iraq in July 2004. Then the committee, um, stopped reporting. In November 2005, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid “shut down” the Senate, forcing it into a rare, secret closed door session, threatening to delay legislative action until the Intelligence Committee followed through on its planned investigation of prewar Iraq intelligence failures.

In April 2006, Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) released a schedule for releasing the rest of the report, in which he declared the remainder of the work had been broken into five parts. The first two reports of Phase II were released in August 2006 (nice dead news time, that) and looked at post-war findings about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda.

Yesterday’s was the first of the Phase II reports released since the Democratic takeover of the Senate. As it was, five Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to keep sitting on what they knew. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine joined majority Democrats in approving the release, making the final vote 10-5. Although the Dems were in the majority, I can’t help but wonder if the timing of the release was part of a deal.

Cliff Schecter has more details about what the report says.

Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung write in today’s Washington Post.

Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and “probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups” in the Muslim world.

The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, said that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge.” The assessments noted that Iraqi political culture was “largely bereft of the social underpinnings” to support democratic development.

Dan Froomkin dedicated much of yesterday’s column to this issue. Among other things, he quotes an Associated Press report:

The committee also found that the warnings predicting what would happen after the U.S.-led invasion were circulated widely in government, including to the Defense Department and the Office of the Vice President. It wasn’t clear whether President Bush was briefed.

Of course it wasn’t.

I don’t believe this information is entirely new. James Fallows said something like it in the January/February 2004 issue of Atlantic Monthly, in his article “Blind Into Baghdad.” Today’s news stories are about pre-war reports from U.S. intelligence that were studiously ignored, whereas Fallows wrote about studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of State that were studiously ignored. If you’ve never read this article I urge you to do so (the link is to a page outside the Atlantic subscription firewall). Even though it is more than three years old, there’s stuff in it that I bet will make your jaw drop even now. Anyway, one of the pre-war issues Fallows addressed was the absence of Bush:

… in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say “We took this step because the President indicated …” or “The President really wanted …” Instead I heard “Rumsfeld wanted,” “Powell thought,” “The Vice President pushed,” “Bremer asked,” and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan’s or Clinton’s Administration—or Nixon’s, or Kennedy’s, or Johnson’s, or most others—to sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover. The other conspicuously absent figure was Condoleezza Rice, even after she was supposedly put in charge of coordinating Administration policy on Iraq, last October. It is possible that the President’s confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President’s authority whenever they possibly can (“The President feels strongly about this, so …”).

To me, the more likely inference is that Bush took a strong overall position—fighting terrorism is this generation’s challenge—and then was exposed to only a narrow range of options worked out by the contending forces within his Administration. If this interpretation proves to be right, and if Bush did in fact wish to know more, then blame will fall on those whose responsibility it was to present him with the widest range of choices: Cheney and Rice.

I doubt very much that Bush did want to know more. He had issues with Saddam Hussein, and White House courtiers were all too eager to supply him with justifications to smack the Iraqi dictator down. The details could be left up to the hired help. I say any President of the United States who was so colossally incurious about what Hurricane Katrina had done to New Orleans that his staff had to make him watch a video is perfectly capable of launching a war without thinking about the consequences real hard.

Anyway, as Fallows documented, all kinds of details had been worked out by armies of experts, including Iraqis. Among other items the report warned of possible looting and lawlessness after the Baathist government fell; of the need to restore water, electricity and jobs as quickly as possible; and not to disband the Iraqi army.

Two names that come up frequently in the Fallows article are Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. Rummy actually opposed planning for the post-war period. Here Fallows is talking to Douglas Feith:

When I asked what had gone better than expected, and what had gone worse, he said, “We don’t exactly deal in ‘expectations.’ Expectations are too close to ‘predictions.’ We’re not comfortable with predictions. It is one of the big strategic premises of the work that we do.”

The limits of future knowledge, Feith said, were of special importance to Rumsfeld, “who is death to predictions.” “His big strategic theme is uncertainty,” Feith said. “The need to deal strategically with uncertainty. The inability to predict the future. The limits on our knowledge and the limits on our intelligence.”

In practice, Feith said, this meant being ready for whatever proved to be the situation in postwar Iraq. “You will not find a single piece of paper … If anybody ever went through all of our records—and someday some people will, presumably—nobody will find a single piece of paper that says, ‘Mr. Secretary or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is going to look like, and here is what we need plans for.’ If you tried that, you would get thrown out of Rumsfeld’s office so fast—if you ever went in there and said, ‘Let me tell you what something’s going to look like in the future,’ you wouldn’t get to your next sentence!”

“This is an important point,” he said, “because of this issue of What did we believe? … The common line is, nobody planned for security because Ahmed Chalabi told us that everything was going to be swell.” Chalabi, the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress, has often been blamed for making rosy predictions about the ease of governing postwar Iraq. “So we predicted that everything was going to be swell, and we didn’t plan for things not being swell.” Here Feith paused for a few seconds, raised his hands with both palms up, and put on a “Can you believe it?” expression. “I mean—one would really have to be a simpleton. And whatever people think of me, how can anybody think that Don Rumsfeld is that dumb? He’s so evidently not that dumb, that how can people write things like that?” He sounded amazed rather than angry

In other words, Rummy et al. were opposed to “expectations,” because expectations become predictions (which are bad), but because Ahmed Chalabi had made rosy predictions about the post-war period, the Defense Department crew didn’t expect it to be all that hard. Got it.

As for Wolfie’s part, do read Sidney Blumenthal’s recent article, “Wolfowitz’s tomb.”

With the end of the Cold War the cold warrior without a mission fastened onto a new id´e fixe. As the undersecretary of defense for policy in the first Gulf War, serving under Secretary Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz had concurred in the decision not to pursue Saddam Hussein to Baghdad after expelling him from Kuwait. He had been present at the Feb. 21, 1991, meeting where that policy was approved and uttered not a skeptical or contrary word. But when the elder Bush was defeated, Wolfowitz in exile became the champion of regime change. He developed an elaborate utopian scheme based on the overthrow of Saddam — instant democracy in Iraq, inciting democratic revolutions throughout the Middle East, accompanied by the equally sudden quiescence of the Palestinians, creating peace for Israel while doing away with any negotiations involved in a peace process. And he imagined Saddam, a brutal enough tyrant, as an octopus, his tentacles manipulating nearly every horror. Even after every available piece of evidence and trials proved otherwise, he continued to insist that Saddam was behind the Oklahoma City and 1993 World Trade Center bombings. …

… [After becoming a deputy to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] Wolfowitz set to work at once to implement his master plan. He brought up overthrowing Saddam in the first National Security Council meeting with the president, eight months before 9/11. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Wolfowitz hammered on the idea of striking at Iraq.

Less than a month before the invasion, for which his intelligence operation had provided the justifications (later all disproved as sheer disinformation), Wolfowitz was approaching an ecstatic state of being. He could see the shape of things to come through the fog of war. On Feb. 19, 2003, in an interview with National Public Radio, he held forth on the new dawn: “But we’re not talking about the occupation of Iraq. We’re talking about the liberation of Iraq … Therefore, when that regime is removed we will find one of the most talented populations in the Arab world, perhaps complaining that it took us so long to get there. Perhaps a little unfriendly to the French for making it take so long. But basically welcoming us as liberators … There’s not going to be the hostility … There simply won’t be.”

Five months later, on July 23, 2003, after his trip to Iraq, Wolfowitz was still in an elevated state. “There is no humanitarian crisis,” he said. “There is no refugee crisis. There is no health crisis. There has been minimal damage to infrastructure — minimal war damage … So, fortunately, much of what … we planned for and budgeted for has not proved necessary.”

Historians often write about the founding of our country with a reverent wonder — isn’t it remarkable that so many giants among men could have been alive at the same place and the same time? We still defer to the Founders respectfully — Washington. Jefferson. Hamilton. Madison. Franklin. A fortunate confluence. But on 9/11 we had the unfortunate confluence of the worst pack of losers and idiots that ever ran a government — Bush. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz. Rice. Names which will in infamy.

Update: See “Pat Lang & Lawrence Wilkerson Share Nightmare Encounters with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Tenet.”

Update 2: Who needs a propaganda machine when the base is this good at lying to itself?

Speak for Yourself, Sir

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page. He’s a major tool for the Right, in other words. He says people in Spain don’t want to talk about politics.

Here, roughly, is the whole of a response from a right-of-center gentleman to a query about the current state of Spain’s politics, around a dinner table in a noisy, modern Madrid restaurant: “Well, yes, the Zapatero government.” Pause. “It’s painful, quite painful.” Pause. “It’s really not something one wants to talk about.” The rest of one’s heretofore voluble dinner companions mutter assent. Let’s discuss something else.

How like New York, where at this stage of our politics, Democrats and Republicans coexist to the extent they agree not to discuss George Bush, Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz or much of anything deeper than the celebrities of presidential politics.

Clearly, Mr. Henninger is being invited to the wrong parties. I’ve spent plenty of time with New Yorkers lately, and they’ll talk about Bush, Iraq, and Paul Wolfowitz loudly and lustily at the drop of a hat. You don’t even have to drop the hat, in fact.

But of course, I mostly hang out with other liberals. If there were a few genuine conservatives around — Mr. Henninger is proof there’s at least one in New York — I might hold my tongue. It’s like seeing that someone’s fly is unzipped; you don’t know whether to say something or, out of politeness, pretend not to notice.

That Henninger himself is a tad unzipped comes out in a subsequent paragraph. According to him, American political culture was wonderfully healthy and genteel until the 2000 elections.

It has been argued in this column before that the origins of our European-like polarization can be found in the Florida legal contest at the end of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential campaign. That was a mini civil war. With the popular vote split 50-50, we spent weeks in a tragicomic pitched battle over contested votes in a few Florida counties. The American political system, by historical tradition flexible and accommodative, was unable to turn off the lawyers and forced nine unelected judges to settle it. So they did, splitting 5-4. In retrospect, a more judicious Supreme Court minority would have seen the danger in that vote (as Nixon did in 1960) and made the inevitable result unanimous to avoid recrimination. A pacto. Instead, we got recrimination.

I know you’re hyperventilating right now. Take deep breaths.

From that day, American politics has been a pitched battle, waged mainly by Democrats against the “illegitimate” Republican presidency. Some Democrats might say the origins of this polarization traces to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. After that the goal was payback. To lose as the Democrats did in 2000 was, and remains, unendurable (as likely it would have for Republicans if they’d lost 5 to 4).

And Mr. Henninger wonders why people don’t want to talk about politics with him? Mr. Henninger, the problem is not “American politics.” It’s you.