August 08, 2006

Speechless, Again....

Just when you think your capacity to be surprised by some blunder or mishap committed by this Administration has reached some sad apex--so that your ability to get dumbfounded anew has just plain maxed out--you are left sadly awestruck by the sheer scale of the bollixing yet again. I'm reading Tom Rick's "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq" and stumbled across this gem about confusion (whether real, feigned, or otherwise) all the way to the highest levels about the most rudimentary understanding of the Iraq chain of command:

But even at the top of the reporting pyramid there appears to have been confusion. In a meeting in the White House situation room one day, there was a lot of 'grousing' about Bremer, a senior administration official who was there recalled. As the meeting was breaking up, Rice, the national security adviser, reminded Rumsfeld that Bremer reported to him. "He works for you, Don," Rice said, according to this official. "No, he doesn't," Rumsfeld responded--incorrectly--this official recalled. "He's been talking to the NSC, he works for the NSC." Bremer relates a similar anecdote in his memoir, saying that Rumsfeld told him later in 2003 he was "bowing out of the political process," which apparently meant he was detaching himself from dealing with Iraq--a breathtaking step for the defense secretary to take after years of elbowing aside the State Department and staffers on the National Security Council. (pp.181-182)

Phase IV, at best, was marked by gross negligence. I say, at best, because the supposed negligence was so FUBAR, wanton and reckless, that you can't help wondering whether there wasn't an intent prong--at least among some at civilian DoD--so that the essentially criminal ineptitude brought to bear (in terms of a total lack of a post-major combat plan) is more by way of willfull malfeasance. That or they are truly some of the worst public servants to have ever served the Republic. I highly recommend to those who insist on denigrating us former war supporters turned critics (you know, cheap ex post carpers, armed with 20-20 hindsight, whiney arm-chair quarterbacks to a man) that they read books like Rick's. They are really eye-openers. All but the most committed Caesarists and 43 cultists will find them bleak reading indeed, forcing them to belatedly reckon with the scale of the epic blunders committed these past years. In this context, let us recall too: "(b)ut I'm the decider, and I decide what is best...(a)nd what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defense," and ponder what that might mean in terms of epic fiascos perhaps still awaiting us. Rumsfeld is a man, after all, who told Bremer way back in '03 that he was "bowing out of the political process," which is to say, not getting involved with the pesky details that come with a massive nation-building effort. Without competent strategic leadership brought to the helm, is it little wonder our Iraq effort is mostly a tragic shambles?

UPDATE: As if on cue, Caesarist-in-Chief Hugh Hewitt does his level best to attack the credibility of Tom Rick's book, or more particularly, all those who make up the nefarious "cadre of Clinton-era senior brass" (translation: not well behaved Rummy-sycophants like Dick Myers and Pete Pace, or per Hewitt-land, disgruntled left-leaning traditionalists who don't have the requisite courage to face off against the Islamofascists in WWIV):

HH: Okay, a second take on this, Thomas Ricks. A cadre of Clinton-era senior brass, who did not see it coming, it being the Islamist world war, got bitter and angry at having been passed over and pushed aside by the 9/11, post-9/11 Pentagon, and they have spent the next five years doing their best to undermine this administration, using reporters like you who are good, to carry out that story, and amplify every mistake, and there are many, and to downgrade every success, and there are many, in a continued war against the people who tossed them out, and perhaps against their own conscience for not having seen it coming. Your response?

TR: Convenient, cute, but much too pat and not attached to the reality, as that most of these guys are deeply non-partisan. Those that are partisan tend to be Republicans. And speaking to a reporter like me about this, you can just see their guts twisting as they do it.

HH: Is Shinseki going to run for Senate in Hawaii?

TR: I don't know.

HH: Have you heard that?

TR: I asked one officer why are you talking to me about these things, and he looked down at his hands, and he said because I have the blood of American troops on my hands. And I said what do you mean? And he said because when I said to Rumsfeld we need that division, and Rumsfeld said no, I gave up. I compromised. And he said U.S. troops died because of that. And he said that's why I'm talking to you.

HH: And you can't name him, though?

TR: No.

HH: Well, you'll pardon me, Tom, Mr. Ricks.

TR: And he was practically crying as he spoke to me about this.

HH: Yeah, I'm just not going to buy that. If you've got blood on your hands of American soldiers, every officer I have ever known would not be so cowardly as not to use their name. And I've known a lot of officers, as you have. And so, I'm just not buying that. In fact, and now, this raises...I'm going to try to put this gently, because I do respect your work tremendously. Why should anyone believe you, given the number of anonymous sources here, and given the politicized nature of this debate? I'm not doubting that people told you this. I'm just doubting that we have a picture upon which we can rely, because it's all anonymous sources.

TR: Well, it's a perfectly good question. I'm happy to respond to it. First of all, the majority of sources in the book are named, and with some very courageous officers, going on the record about their views. I mean, look through the book. When I did the article on the 4th Infantry Division that we drew out of the book for the Washington Post, I think out of probably dozens of sources, there was only one anonymous one. The second thing is, to go back to your Clinton-era cadre question, most of the evidence in the book, the documentary evidence, comes from inside today's military, and it's not from politicized, Clinton-era generals. It's from colonels and majors and lieutenant colonels doing their jobs, sometimes as investigators, sometimes as commanders doing reports, in which they describe what happened in Iraq. Most of the evidence in this book is from today's military in the course of executing their professional duties. It's internal reports. It's looking at the mistakes that were made. It's Army war college studies. It's professional work. It is not partisan, it is not a bunch of burn-out generals. It is the military trying to do the best it can in an extremely difficult situation. And to disregard it and slap it aside, if you'll excuse me, I think is aiding and abetting the enemy.

HH: I'm not slapping it aside. I'm asking to point, to give me names for those parts that are anonymous, so that they can be evaluated that way.

TR: Go look at the book, and look at...most of them is on the record. They were actually very few anonymous sources.

It's a good thing our favorite Caesarist cheerleader is inviting Tom R. for a second interview, because Hugh got pretty schooled (as in taken to the woodshed) during the course of this one, including having the (rather cravenly) disingenuous spin he merrily incorporates into his interrogatories denuded as nothing more than: "convenient, cute, but much too pat and not attached to the reality". Yes, quite an apt description, I'd say. Meantime, it's quite chuckle-inducing to see Hugh (elsewhere in the interview) all giddy that U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are so well positioned for further action in Iran. Hugh, you might want to go read Fred Kagan on this, so as to get on the clue train:

Such a prolongation has always been problematic from a political perspective, but it has become worrisome from a regional perspective as well. The United States has ground and air forces stationed on both the western and eastern borders of Iran at a time of crisis over Iran's nuclear programs. In principle, that presence should give the United States leverage in Tehran; the Iranians clearly feared this in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the oft-repeated American determination to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan as rapidly as possible, together with the continuing violent insurgencies in both countries, has turned the tables. The Iranians now derive leverage from America's difficulties on their borders, and may be emboldened to press harder on the nuclear issue than they would otherwise find comfortable.

Hugh's in la-la land, as per the usual. He's not alone, of course. Glenn Reynolds and other foreign policy savants still believe the Iranians are somehow spooked by the fact that 130,000 U.S. soldiers are enmeshed in the Mesopotamian bog. Even more laughably, Glenn has suggested ("Hmm", he ponderously noted) that joint U.S.-Iraqi forces might mount "large helicopter-borne assault operations" against Iran. Yes, the Shi'a-led government in Baghdad is going to join us in a war against Shi'a Iran lickety-split, the better so they can spread their newly won democratic freedoms (read: anarchic killing fields) to their eagerly awaiting religious brethren to the East. But let's just make sure Ahmad Chalabi doesn't hand over the invasion plans before, OK, so as not to spoil the surprise factor...

Posted by Gregory at August 8, 2006 10:43 AM

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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