Washington Whodunits and the Iraq War
Evangelist Pat Robertson has ignited a firestorm by telling CNN that President Bush alleged in March of 2003 that “there will be no casualties” in the Iraq war. Robertson said he had pressed the president to prepare the public for casualties.
White House spinmeister Karl Rove is denying that Bush said any such thing. But actually I think the conversation recounted is entirely plausible. A lot of Bush supporters were proclaiming that the Iraq war would be a “cakewalk” and Iraqis would greet the US soldiers with garlands. Robertson, a former Marine and a rightwinger, may well have been alarmed that all this cakewalk talk could harm the Republican Party if the war was harder-fought than advertised.
So you can imagine Robertson warning Bush to tone down the over-optimistic talk and to ready the public for casualties.
Bush would have been thinking about the war itself, and would have known that many Iraqi officers had already made a deal with the CIA to just leave the barracks and go home, ordering their men to do the same. And plus Bush knew about the US military’s overwhelming air superiority, and ability to make mincemeat of the Iraqi tank corps from the air.
So Bush expected few or no casualties. And March 19-April 9, during the period the US was overthrowing the Baath regime and actively attacking the Iraqi military, only a litle over a hundred US servicemen were killed, as I remember. That is not “no casualties,” especially for them and their families, but it is a small number. The US and its allies lost 6,000 men at the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II, and that was just one battle (the Japanese lost 24,000).
Clearly Bush did not foresee further casualties as the result of a guerrilla war after the main war. There were other US government analysts who did fear that kind of trouble, especially at the CIA and in the State Department, but they were actively ignored.
It may well be that the real significance of Robertson’s statement is an indication that the US evangelicals are rethinking their support of the Iraq War. If that were true, it would signal big problems for Bush in the forthcoming election.
Michael R. Gordon has given us a long account of the decision to disband the Iraqi military, taken by Paul Bremer on May 23, 2003. Maddeningly, the article does not actually tell us how the decision was made or why.
We get lots of denials. Bush denies being the one who made the decision. Condi Rice says it was not discussed in the National Security Council. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other officers, including John Abizaid, were against this step. Jay Garner and Col. Paul Hughes of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the first American civil administration of Iraq, were against it.
It is even revealed that Douglas Feith, the number three man in the Defense Department, assumed as late as March, 2003, that the Iraqi army would be maintained but that the high officers would be retired or vetted.
So, over the next two months, thinking on this matter changed radically. Feith appears to say that by May, 2003, he was also in favor of dissolving the Iraqi army.
A decision like this should have been made by President Bush. That he and Condi farmed these things out to the Department of Defense is shameful. What way is that to run a country? Or two countries, for that matter? Do we really want this Absent President fumbling through world politics for another four years?
Garner said on the BBC last spring that Bremer made this decision because he was afraid that the Iraqi military, as a Baathist institution, might remain powerful enough to block his project of economic liberalization for Iraq.
That is, Bremer wanted to do economic shock therapy, on the model of Poland, suddenly transforming Iraq’s Arab Socialist command economy into a free market.
But the question remains of who told Bremer to take this step, or who authorized it. It seems to me that it has to come at least from Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. Very possibly it was coming from Dick Cheney.
Like many bad decisions in Iraq, including the idea to wage unilateral war, this decision to get rid of the Baath army was probably over-determined. That is, it probably had many causes.
Economic shock therapy was probably part of the reason for it, but is unlikely to be the whole story.
There are other important players here, who could have intervened with Cheney and the Neocons. One is Ahmad Chalabi, who we know wanted extreme de-baathification. He was afraid of the Baathists and would have supported the dissolution of the army if he did not initiate it. Chalabi was in alliance both with the Kurds, who hated the Baath Army for good reason, and who have issued a demand that no Federal troops should ever set foot on their soil. They would clearly have liked to see the old Baath Army evaporate. Chalabi was also close to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which likewise hated the Baath Army. And, Chalabi also instituted extreme debaathification of the bureaucracy and schoolteaching, throwing thousands out of work. Chalabi was a pet of Wolfowitz and Feith, and he may have convinced them to dissolve the army.
The neoconservatives are also close to the Likud Party in Israel, which may also have wanted the Baath Army dissolved. The Iraqi army was one of the few credible deterrents in the region to Israeli military aggression, and the Likud supported the war wholeheartedly.
It is no wonder that Feith, who is at the nexus of extreme laissez-faire thinking, Chalabi and the Israelis, suddenly changed his mind. Did he give Bremer the order to do it?
In other news, Pakistan captured two al-Qaeda members. One was a Yemeni, Salih Nu`man, who is said to be important in the new or second-generation al-Qaeda leadership. The other was a low-level computer communications expert.
It is not exactly the October surprise Bush was hoping for, but the Pakistanis are doing the best they can given that they don’t want to risk the possible social explosion that might occur if they arrest Bin Laden and hand him over to the US. Bin Laden has warm supporters in the United Action Council, which holds 17 percent of the seats in Parliament and has effectively campaigned to deadlock that body and block Musharraf from accomplishing much, as it is. Likewise, jihadis have tried to kill Musharraf twice in the past year, and he will raise the bounty on his head if he captures Bin Laden.
So a Yemeni and a computer geek is all that can be scraped up for Bush. Hope it is worth $3 bn.