2004 October 20 Wednesday
Iraq, Pre-War Intelligence Estimates, Bush, His Advisors

Michael Gordon of the New York Times is working on a book about the Iraq war and is writing a series of articles that are based on material he collected for the book. One article discusses the Bush Administration's naive expectations for invasion and post-invasion Iraq.

Huddling in a drawing room with his top commanders, General Franks told them it was time to make plans to leave. Combat forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60 days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little more than a division, about 30,000 troops.

To help bring stability and allow the Americans to exit, President Bush had reviewed a plan the day before seeking four foreign divisions - including Arab and NATO troops - to take on peacekeeping duties.


In the debate over the war and its aftermath, the Bush administration has portrayed the insurgency that is still roiling Iraq today as an unfortunate, and unavoidable, accident of history, an enemy that emerged only after melting away during the rapid American advance toward Baghdad. The sole mistake Mr. Bush has acknowledged in the war is in not foreseeing what he termed that "catastrophic success."

But many military officers and civilian officials who served in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003 say the administration's miscalculations cost the United States valuable momentum - and enabled an insurgency that was in its early phases to intensify and spread.

My take: The insurgency was inevitable. It could have been anticipated and handled better. Post-war reconstruction could have been handled more quickly and better as well. But to handle the insurgency better would have required building up the size of the US military before invasion of Iraq. That would have taken a lot of time (a year or longer) and money (easily in the tens of billions and probably in the hundreds of billions of dollars). Also, even if it had been handled better the insurgency still would have happened.

While the CIA has come under a lot of criticism for not having better Al Qaeda intelligence prior to 9/11 and also for believing that Saddam Hussein had a substantial WMD development program what has been less recognized is the CIA's failure to foresee the post-invasion Iraq insurgency.

In a major misreading of Iraq's strategy, the C.I.A. failed to predict the role played by Saddam Hussein's paramilitary forces, which mounted the main attacks on American troops in southern Iraq and surprised them in bloody battles.

The agency was aware that Iraq was awash in arms but failed to identify the huge caches of weapons that were hidden in mosques and schools to supply enemy fighters.

On postwar Iraq, American intelligence agencies underestimated the decrepit state of Iraq's infrastructure, which became a major challenge in reconstructing the nation, and concluded erroneously that Iraq's police had had extensive professional training.


The National Intelligence Council, senior experts from the intelligence community, prepared an analysis in January 2003 on postwar Iraq that discussed the risk of an insurgency in the last paragraph of its 38-page assessment. "There was never a buildup of intelligence that says: 'It's coming. It's coming. It's coming. This is the end you should prepare for,' " said Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the former head of the United States Central Command and now retired, referring to the insurgency. "It did not happen. Never saw it. It was never offered."

Rumsfeld deserves a large fraction of the blame in spite of the CIA's failures. So do his neocon advisors. But I think a focus on which indiividuals in government to blame or what agency is to blame misses a far larger problem: America's intellectual elites are far more ignorant of other cultures, of history, and of human nature than they realize. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Noble Savage", communist Russia's "New Soviet Man", and other myths live on in somewhat dilute form when intellectuals examine the Middle East and ask themselves why the place is the way it is. A more realistic assessment of human nature would lead to more realistic foreign policies.

Also in the New York Times Ron Suskind has an article entitled "Without A Doubt on Bush's religious beliefs and how religious faith influences how Bush makes decisions.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

This White House aide needs to realize that there are other historical actors out there creating historical facts. America is nowhere nearly as powerful as this aide imagines it to be. If we were so powerful we would have accomplished far more (in a positive sense) in the Middle East than we have today. So far the US intervention in Iraq does not appear to have created a net benefit to the United States. So how powerful is our "empire"?

I think Suskind goes too far in his argument. Bush's character is not the product of his religious beliefs. It is more like Bush finds justification for his gut instincts by imagining that God is sending him his fundamental beliefs and judgements. Though Bush's religious beliefs probably make it easier for Bush to feel more certain without learning much about an issue before making a decision.

Pat Robertson says Bush told him before the Iraq invasion that the United States would have no casualties invading Iraq.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The founder of the U.S. Christian Coalition said Tuesday he told President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that he should prepare Americans for the likelihood of casualties, but the president told him, "We're not going to have any casualties."

Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, said he had that conversation with the president in Nashville, Tennessee, before the March 2003 invasion. He described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

I see the Iraq debacle as being the product of a sort of "Perfect Storm" effect. Our left-wing intellectuals in academia and the press have an unrealistic view of human nature and few have had a proper education in history. So they were primed to see Iraq as full of people just yearning to be free to create a liberal democracy. The neoconservatives are ideologues who use many of the same left-liberal assumptions about human nature and so were equally prone to delusions on Iraq's people. The neocons also wanted to use US foreign policy to benefit Israel. Then in the Presidency there is George W. Bush. Bush's own ignorance is more a product of his character. But his religious beliefs provide him a rationalization for why his ignorance is not a problem. Bush appointed neocons and some less than stellar non-neocon advisors.

All these players were positioned and then 9/11 happened. 9/11 made the American public far more hawkish and desiring to strike out at some target to get even. At that point the Iraq debacle was inevitable. The only potential upside I can see to the Iraq invasion is that it may contribute to the undermining of widely held false assumptions about human nature. Kinship networks matter. Ethnic loyalties matter. Not everyone holds freedom or democracy as very high values. Not every population group has the intellectual resources and conditions needed to build a Western-style liberal democracy and modern high tech economy.

Thanks to Greg Cochran and Derek Copold for some of the links.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 October 20 12:10 PM  Mideast Iraq

Invisible Scientist said at October 20, 2004 2:32 PM:

But in addition to the general academic lesson that all invasions are
followed by guerilla warfare, the US already had the Viet Nam experience!

Then how is it possible that we walked in such an obvious trap?

In some articles, it was written that the Iranian intelligence
also manipulated the information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction, so that the US is forced to invade Iraq. Can you comment on this

In any case, the perfect trap was so obvious, that it is a mystery that so many
Harvard and West Point educated people both in the government and the military, overlooked
the guerilla war.

The new issue is this: HOW will America extricate itself from this mess? Given that
retreat from Iraq under fire, would encourage further vicious attacks on the US and Europe,
what can be done to get out of this situation? This is my question.

Brian said at October 20, 2004 3:52 PM:

Such an obvious trap? So, let me get this right - a quarter million people in the Federal government miss that there is going to be an insurgency...or a quarter million people in the Federal government are passive-aggressive and decide that they just aren't going to inform the President that there might be a problem. Where is the bigger problem?

Hmmm...Iraq, the mess. Let's look at the facts. Carter in 1980 issues the doctrine that any attempt to take-over the Middle East by force will be met with American force. Saddam from 1979 to 2001 invades virtually every one of his neighbors, and is finally defeated by the US-led coalition. Clinton in 1998 signs into law the requirement to overthrow Saddam. UN goes through 17 resolutions demanding Saddam comply, and fails. Turns out France, Russia, China is on the take (the Coalition of the Bribed), as well as the UN to protect Saddam (true multilateralism!). Coalition of the Willing (or the Virtuous?) of 34 nations goes in and removes Saddam with relatively loss of life. Don't give in to the "any life lost is wrong" garbage - fewer civilian's lives have been lost in the whole campaign then the French lost due to the heat last year when Chiraq went on vacation. Al Quida is badly damaged in both Iraq and Saudi Arabia because most of their victims have been Iraqi. Notice how Zarqawi has been complaining that Al Quida is being suffocated to death in Iraq? Think strategically - read Gaddis's latest book on American foreign policy. There has been no "uprising of the Arab street". The crickets are sounding pretty loud these days. There has been no swarming legions of Arab nationalists marching to Iraq. So far, about 15,000 insurgents and terrorists killed in Iraq - about half foreign, the other half Iraqi. It is true that Iraq has become the front line of the War on Terror - and we've been killing off the bad guys by the hundred. Notice that there has been no major terrorist bombing in the US, UK, or Australia? Post-war rebuilding of a country is always difficult - we may have sped up the WW2 German and Japanese model by a factor of four in getting an Iraqi government up and rolling again. But the charge that Iraq is falling apart - not even close to reality.

And, why do we need to get out now? We've kept troops in Korea and Germany fifty to sixty years after the end of those wars to stablize the region. That is the price we pay for having global interests. We are not leaving the Middle East or Iraq for the remainder of this generation, period. The Middle East has been an economic basket-case for the last 15 years with exploding populations and stagnant economies ruled by unrepresentative governments. The majority of people not posing with their kaffiahs and AK-47s for the BBC want the United States to mean what it says, and do as it claims.

gcochran said at October 20, 2004 3:54 PM:

As for Vietnam, well, they forgot. It's been years, after all.

Actually, this is much more straightforward case of nationalist resistance than Vietnam was. Here, we invaded, rather than coming in at the invitation of a government that had a fair amount of support. It's easier in the sense that no tightly regimented neighbor is sending in armored divisions, harder in that we have almost no locals on our side at all. Thus, no division-scale battles like Vietnam, but then there are hardly any places in the country where an American or westerner can walk freely.

It's hard for me to understand why the powers that be thought there wouldn't be any resistance. I mean, I thought it was pretty likely - are they collectively that much dumber than I am? Hmm.. scratch that, of course they are. Still, _why_ are they so much dumber? What _kind_ of fools are they? This one wasn't hard. You could look at the Israelis in Lebanon, only 20 years ago - they were at first welcomed by the Shi'ites who later drove them out. Was that so fast back as to be lost in the mists of time?

So much of what was said was just nonsense. I remember Wolfowitz, I think, saying that Iraq had a relatively well-educated population and thus would even riper for democracy than, say Yemen or Saudi Arabia.. I said to myself "Myself, just what have they been studying?" Coke? Locke? Montesquieu's "The Spirit of Laws"? The Federalist Papers? Were those part of the Baathist curriculum?

I don't think so... Do you think they sat around reading about the struggle of the orders in Rome, or about the Peloponnesian Wars? Have they read Milton's Areopagitica? Probably not. Have they even heard of William Tell shooting the arrow off his kid's head?

Invisible Scientist said at October 20, 2004 8:40 PM:


You wrote:
"And, why do we need to get out now? We've kept troops in Korea and Germany fifty to sixty years after the end of those wars to stablize the region. That is the price we pay for having global interests. We are not leaving the Middle East or Iraq for the remainder of this generation, period. "

Although only 1 % of the US troops per year are dead, the casualty rate includes not only the
dead, but also the wounded and psychologically damaged. And according to the latter definition,
the US casualty rate per year, is close to 10 %, if the media reports are correct...
This would mean about 10,000 US casualties per year, and it is NOT acceptable if we are going to
stay in Iraq for the remainder of this generation, since 5 more years would be as many
casualties as Viet Nam, because it seems that the Al Qaeda guys
we are killing in Iraq, are easily replaced by others. What I am saying is that the situation
is almost certainly going to get more complicated in the future.

Derek Copold said at October 21, 2004 6:57 AM:

"Coalition of the Willing (or the Virtuous?)"

LOL. Please, we were bribing countries left and right. That's why it became known as the Coalition of the Billing. Aside from Britain and Australia, the other countries only provided nominal support during the invasion; they signed their names to a sheet of paper. More came in after the heavy lifting was done, but now most are looking for the exits, and quite a few have already left.

If the French, Russians, and Chinese were interested only in money, we would have happily matched whatever Saddam was giving them and even doubled it. This has to do with much, much more than money.

"Saddam from 1979 to 2001 invades virtually every one of his neighbors..."

Come again? This will come as a surprise to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. He did invade Kuwait and got what was coming to him, but his invasion of Iran was backed by us, so we can hardly hold that against him.

"Clinton in 1998 signs into law the requirement to overthrow Saddam."

The law did not require us to "overthrow" him. It only gave funds to dissident groups, who largely turned out to be thieves, like Ahmed Chalabi.

"UN goes through 17 resolutions demanding Saddam comply, and fails."

The UN also refused to give us authority to invade. One can't city UN authority as justification in this case.

"Al Quida is badly damaged in both Iraq..."

Al Qaeda never existed in Iraq before our invasion. Hussein kept them out. This according to our own government.

"So far, about 15,000 insurgents and terrorists killed in Iraq - about half foreign, the other half Iraqi."

That's bullsh*t. We've only found a few foreigners. The vast majority have been local dissidents. We've killed quite a few insurgents, but estimates of their numbers have grown from 5,000 to 20,000 since the occupation started. In point of fact, they are not being smothered by our presence; they're being nurtured.

Derek Copold said at October 21, 2004 7:00 AM:

"...because most of their victims have been Iraqi."

According to a leaked Iraqi Health Ministry report, our "precision bombing" has killed twice the number of civilians than have been killed by insurgent violence.

Whenever you're ready to join us here in the reality-based community, Bri-Bri, let us know.

seelow heights said at October 21, 2004 8:03 AM:

Since GWB thinks that the Mexicanization of the US is a fine thing, has anyone evaluated the capacity of Mexico for "freedom and democracy" ?

Derek Copold said at October 21, 2004 2:51 PM:

Probably not, but we'll get our chance in southern California, won't we?

lugh lampfhota said at October 21, 2004 9:55 PM:


Dissidents? Oh please spare us the leftist tripe. And how would you know what the ethnic/nationality mix of the fighters in Iraq is? The bottom line is that every damn terrorist-barbarian we kill there now is one less that will breed more sociopaths in the future.

Thanks to 30 years of spineless, limp-wristed Democrats running from the fight we have to expend blood and treasure to get the point across to these barbarians that we won't endure their anti-civilizational BS. Thanks Dems.

gcochran said at October 22, 2004 12:08 AM:

He knows because we've captured thousands, and of those captured, less than 2% were non-Iraqis. Why don't you know that?

riza said at October 24, 2004 1:48 PM:

to brian..

you wrote:

"And, why do we need to get out now? We've kept troops in Korea and Germany fifty to sixty years after the end of those wars to stablize the region. That is the price we pay for having global interests. We are not leaving the Middle East or Iraq for the remainder of this generation, period. "

We need to get out now, are you as heartless as Bush? don't you see our soldiers as people? Their families and themselves fear and worry everyday..a life is at risk. You'll probably understand more if a love-one of yours is deployed in Iraq.

I know you are intelligent, knows history and a lot of things, but brain is not all that matters. Our life will always have a part dedicated to the matters of the heart, why don't you use your heart now.. feel with them.

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