Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trapped in Lies and Delusions

by Jacob G. Hornberger

I could, of course, be proven wrong but my hunch is that the United States will be trapped in Iraq for the indefinite future. Despite the recent election results and increasing demand among the American people for a withdrawal, I believe that there is no possibility that President Bush is going to order a withdrawal any time soon. More likely than not, U.S. troops will continue to be sitting ducks for snipers and ambushers for at least the next two years.

But the world may well be witnessing the beginning of a political collision of colossal proportions – with the American people demanding withdrawal, on one side, and President Bush insisting on “staying but varying the course,” on the other. If so, the troops in Iraq, who have faithfully and loyally carried out their commander in chief’s orders to attack and occupy Iraq, will continue to pay the price at the hands of snipers and ambushers for at least the next two years.

Ask yourself: How in the world could President Bush, from a political standpoint, order the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? For the past three years, he and Vice President Cheney have been suggesting that people who call for exiting Iraq are nothing more than weak-kneed cowards who would “cut and run” from the battlefield and subject the United States to terrorism.

Thus, by ordering a withdrawal from Iraq, would they not be implicitly admitting that they themselves had joined the ranks of the cut-and-run cowards who would put the nation at risk from the terrorists? Indeed, how would they explain a withdrawal to all the Iraqis who collaborated with the occupier and who would then be at the mercy of Iraqis who didn’t?

Worst of all, how would Bush explain the withdrawal to every American family that has lost a loved one in Iraq? No matter how hard each such family has tried to suppress it, a critically important question would inevitably surface within their consciousness: “What exactly did my son, daughter, spouse, or parent die for, Mr. President?” Indeed, those troops who have come back minus legs, arms, or eyesight or with some other permanent injury would inevitably ask that one-word question that we all asked as children: “Why?”

Let’s not forget that this is Bush’s and Cheney’s war and occupation. It was they who chose not to go to Congress for the constitutionally required declaration of war, no doubt convinced that some sharp members of Congress would challenge their WMD justification for attacking Iraq. It was they who ultimately chose not to go to the United Nations for express authorization to wage war against a member country, no doubt convinced that they could not secure the required unanimous consent of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. It was they who decided not to give the UN inspectors more time to search for what turned out to be nonexistent WMDs. It was they who ignored and disregarded massive anti-war protests around the world. It was they who knew that as soon as they ordered the invasion, Americans would come on board through the skillful use of the “support the troops” mantra.

And the fact is that Bush and Cheney got exactly what they wanted, especially when they openly dared “the terrorists” to “bring it on.” They just miscalculated the depth of anger and hatred that people in the Middle East have for the United States after decades of U.S. government abuse and mistreatment of people in that part of the world.

Hanging over the Iraq debacle, however, is that one overriding moral issue that unfortunately all too many Americans have yet to confront: neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. That means that in this conflict, which has killed more than 600,000 Iraqis, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation.

Why is that issue so important? Because it involves morality, not pragmatics. Do U.S. troops have the moral right to be killing people, when they are part of a military force that has aggressed against another country? Do they have the moral right to kill people who have done nothing worse than defend their nation from attack or attempt to oust an occupier from their midst? Does simply calling an action “war” excuse an aggressor nation from the moral consequences of killing people in that war?

In other words, does the United States have the moral right to violate the principles against aggressive war, for which it prosecuted Germany at Nuremberg and condemned the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

By invading and occupying Iraq, Bush and Cheney have put the American people in the uncomfortable position of either supporting their government and its troops or supporting morality. Should a person support the actions of his government and its troops or should he obey the laws of God, when the government has placed its actions in contravention to those laws? What are the moral consequences for each individual faced with that choice?

Americans, quite naturally, want to continue believing that the federal government projects its power around the world just to help people. They want to believe that their government invaded Iraq just to help the Iraqi people – well, at least after the WMDs failed to materialize and that primary justification for the invasion fell by the wayside.

But it’s all a life of the lie – a life of self-imposed deception and delusion – a life that has refused for decades to confront the brutal and hypocritical role of the federal government in the affairs of other nations, including ouster of democratically elected leaders (e.g., Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala), assassinations and military coups (e.g., Vietnam and Chile), the support of brutal dictators (e.g., Saddam in Iraq, the Shah of Iran, and Musharraf in Pakistan), brutal and deadly sanctions and embargoes (e.g., Iraq and Cuba), foreign aid to socialist or authoritarian regimes (e.g., Israel and Egypt), the teaching of torture to Latin American military brutes at the School of the Americas, interference in the domestic affairs of other nations (e.g., Venezuela) under the guise of promoting “democracy,” and, of course, the far-flung secret empire of torture camps run by the CIA.

But the prospect of indefinite failure and continuous death might well cause people to face reality and cause them to confront the painful facts and truth about U.S. foreign policy. If my hunch is right – that is, if the United States is really trapped in Iraq for the indefinite future – then it is quite possible that the American people are about to be confronted by reality on an ever-increasing basis, especially as they begin to realize what Americans began realizing about the Vietnam War – that U.S. soldiers are killing and dying for nothing.

Of course, it is still impossible to predict how the Iraq debacle is going to play out. It’s entirely possible that Bush and Cheney will get lucky and find a way out. But it is also possible that the debacle could prove to be one of monumental proportions, especially if the troops are trapped for the indefinite future in a daily cycle of snipers and ambushes and civil war, all to maintain a radical Islamic Shiite regime, which has aligned itself with Iran, in power. In fact, it is entirely possible that Bush and Cheney might just be presiding over the deadly dead end of the pro-empire, pro-intervention paradigm that has held our nation in its grip for so long.

If so, we can hope that that will cause the American people to come to the realization that the solution to the foreign-policy woes that afflict our country, including the threat of terrorism, is not simply a withdrawal from Iraq. The long-term solution instead involves returning to first principles – to our nation’s founding principles of individual liberty, free markets, and a constitutional republic – principles that are contrary to our nation’s current paradigm of militarism, standing armies, empires, foreign aid, foreign entanglements, foreign interventions, foreign wars, assassinations, coups, sanctions, and embargoes.

November 21, 2006

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He will be among the 22 speakers at FFF’s upcoming conference on June 1–4 in Reston, Virginia: “Restoring the Constitution: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties.”

Copyright © 2006 Future of Freedom Foundation


Seattle protest targets Zionist AIPAC dinner

Monday, November 20, 2006
By: Jane Cutter

'Stop the Israeli seige of Gaza!'

Around 60 people braved cold and wind to protest at the Westin Hotel as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs

Committee, held its annual membership dinner in Seattle. AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization in the United States. On its website, AIPAC proudly proclaims its success in helping Israel attain "$2.46 billion in aid critical to Israel's security." It also trains college students to become pro-Israel activists.

The protest was initiated by Seattle Jewish Voice for Peace. Other participating organizations included Voices of Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Committee, ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Stand Up Seattle and Women in Black. Many protesters felt special urgency to oppose AIPAC in the context of the intensified U.S.-sponsored Israeli seige of Gaza.


The Way Out of War

A blueprint for leaving Iraq now

Posted on Wednesday, November 8, 2006.
Originally from October 2006.

By George S. McGovern and William R. Polk.

SourcesStaying in Iraq is not an option. Many Americans who were among the most eager to invade Iraq now urge that we find a way out. These Americans include not only civilian “strategists” and other “hawks” but also senior military commanders and, perhaps most fervently, combat soldiers. Even some of those Iraqis regarded by our senior officials as the most pro-American are determined now to see American military personnel leave their country. Polls show that as few as 2 percent of Iraqis consider Americans to be liberators. This is the reality of the situation in Iraq. We must acknowledge the Iraqis’ right to ask us to leave, and we should set a firm date by which to do so.

We suggest that phased withdrawal should begin on or before December 31, 2006, with the promise to make every effort to complete it by June 30, 2007.

Withdrawal is not only a political imperative but a strategic requirement. As many retired American military officers now admit, Iraq has become, since the invasion, the primary recruiting and training ground for terrorists. The longer American troops remain in Iraq, the more recruits will flood the ranks of those who oppose America not only in Iraq but elsewhere.

Withdrawal will not be without financial costs, which are unavoidable and will have to be paid sooner or later. But the decision to withdraw at least does not call for additional expenditures. On the contrary, it will effect massive savings. Current U.S. expenditures run at approximately $246 million each day, or more than $10 million an hour, with costs rising steadily each year. Although its figures do not include all expenditures, the Congressional Research Service listed direct costs at $77.3 billion in 2004, $87.3 billion in 2005, and $100.4 billion in fiscal year 2006. Even if troop withdrawals begin this year, total costs (including those in Afghanistan) are thought likely to rise by $371 billion during the withdrawal period. Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary of commerce, have estimated that staying in Iraq another four years will cost us at least $1 trillion.

Let us be clear: there will be some damage. This is inevitable no matter what we do. At the end of every insurgency we have studied, there was a certain amount of chaos as the participants sought to establish a new civic order. This predictable turmoil has given rise to the argument, still being put forward by die-hard hawks, that Americans must, in President Bush’s phrase, “stay the course.” The argument is false. When a driver is on the wrong road and headed for an abyss, it is a bad idea to “stay the course.” A nation afflicted with a failing and costly policy is not well served by those calling for more of the same, and it is a poor idea to think that we can accomplish in the future what we are failing to accomplish in the present. We are as powerless to prevent the turmoil that will ensue when we withdraw as we have been to stop the insurgency. But we will have removed a major cause of the insurgency once we have withdrawn. Moreover, there are ways in which we can be helpful to the Iraqis—and protect our own interests—by ameliorating the underlying conditions and smoothing the edges of conflict.The first of these would be a “bridging” effort between the occupation and complete independence.

* * *

To this end, we think that the Iraqi government would be wise to request the temporary services of an international stabilization force to police the country during and immediately after the period of American withdrawal. Such a force should itself have a firm date fixed for its removal. Our estimate is that Iraq would need this force for no more than two years after the American withdrawal is complete. During this period, the force could be slowly but steadily cut back in both personnel and deployment. Its purpose would be limited to activities aimed at enhancing public security. Consequently, the armament of this police force should be restricted. It would have no need for tanks or artillery or offensive aircraft but only light equipment. It would not attempt, as have American troops, to battle the insurgents. Indeed, after the withdrawal of American troops, as well as British regular troops and mercenary forces, the insurgency, which was aimed at achieving that objective, would almost immediately begin to lose public support. Insurgent gunmen would either put down their weapons or become publicly identified as outlaws.

We imagine that the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi people, would find the composition of such a force most acceptable if it were drawn from Arab or Muslim countries. Specifically, it should be possible under the aegis of the United Nations to obtain, say, five contingents of 3,000 men each from Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. Jordan and Syria might also be asked to contribute personnel. If additional troops were required, or if any of these governments were deemed unacceptable to Iraq or unwilling to serve, application could be made to such Muslim countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Other countries might be included if the Iraqi government so wished.

It would benefit both Iraq and the United States if we were to pay for this force. Assuming that a ballpark figure would be $500 per man per day, and that 15,000 men would be required for two years, the overall cost would be $5.5 billion. That is approximately 3 percent of what it would cost to continue the war, with American troops, for the next two years. Not only would this represent a great monetary saving to us but it would spare countless American lives and would give Iraq the breathing space it needs to recover from the trauma of the occupation in a way that does not violate national and religious sensibilities.

The American subvention should be paid directly to the Iraqi government, which would then “hire” the police services it requires from other governments. The vast amount of equipment that the American military now has in Iraq, particularly transport and communications and light arms, should be turned over to this new multinational force rather than shipped home or destroyed.

* * *

As the insurgency loses its national justification, other dangers will confront Iraq. One of these is “warlordism,” as we have seen in Afghanistan, and other forms of large-scale crime. Some of this will almost certainly continue. But the breakdown of public order will never be remedied by American forces; it can only be addressed by a national police force willing to work with neighborhood, village, and tribal home guards. Ethnic and regional political divisions in Iraq have been exacerbated by the occupation, and they are unlikely to disappear once the occupation is over. They are now so bitter as to preclude a unified organization, at least for the time being. It is therefore paramount that the national police force involve local leaders, so as to ensure that the home guards operate only within their own territory and with appropriate action. In part, this is why Iraq needs a “cooling off” period, with multinational security assistance, after the American withdrawal.

While the temporary international police force completes its work, the creation of a permanent national police force is, and must be, an Iraqi task. American interference would be, and has been, counterproductive. And it will take time. The creation and solidification of an Iraqi national police force will probably require, at a rough estimate, four to five years to become fully effective. We suggest that the American withdrawal package should include provision of $1 billion to help the Iraqi government create, train, and equip such a force, which is roughly the cost of four days of the present American occupation.

Neighborhood, village, and tribal home guards, which are found throughout Iraq, of course constitute a double-edged sword. Inevitably, they mirror the ethnic, religious, and political communities from which they are drawn. Insofar as they are restricted each to its own community, and are carefully monitored by a relatively open and benign government, they will enhance security; allowed to move outside their home areas, they will menace public order. Only a central government police and respected community leaders can possibly hope to control these militias. America has no useful role to play in these affairs, as experience has made perfectly clear.

* * *

It is not in the interests of Iraq to encourage the growth and heavy armament of a reconstituted Iraqi army. The civilian government of Iraq should be, and hopefully is, aware that previous Iraqi armies have frequently acted against Iraqi civic institutions. That is, Iraqi armies have not been a source of defense but of disruption. We cannot prevent the reconstitution of an Iraqi army, but we should not, as we are currently doing, actually encourage this at a cost of billions to the American taxpayer. If at all possible, we should encourage Iraq to transfer what soldiers it has already recruited for its army into a national reconstruction corps modeled on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The United States could assist in the creation and training of just such a reconstruction corps, which would undertake the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by the war, with an allocation of, say, $500 million, or roughly the cost of two days of the current occupation.

Withdrawal of American forces must include immediate cessation of work on U.S. military bases. Nearly half of the more than 100 bases have already been closed down and turned over, at least formally, to the Iraqi government, but as many as fourteen “enduring” bases for American troops in Iraq are under construction. The largest five are already massive, amounting to virtual cities. The Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad, has a miniature golf course, 2 PXs, a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, and a jail. Another, under construction at al-Asad, covers more than thirteen square miles. Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated on December 23, 2005, that “at the moment there are no plans for permanent bases. . . . It is a subject that has not even been discussed with the Iraqi government,” his remarks are belied by action on the ground, where bases are growing in size and being given aspects of permanency. The most critical of these are remote military bases. They should be stood down rapidly. Closing these bases is doubly important: for America, they are expensive and already redundant; for Iraqis, they both symbolize and personify a hated occupation. With them in place, no Iraqi government will ever feel truly independent. It is virtually certain that absent a deactivation of U.S. military bases, the insurgency will continue. The enormous American base at Baghdad International Airport, ironically named “Camp Victory,” should be the last of the military bases to be closed, as it will be useful in the process of disengagement.

We should of course withdraw from the Green Zone, our vast, sprawling complex in the center of Baghdad. The United States has already spent or is currently spending $1.8 billion on its headquarters there, which contains, or will contain, some 600 housing units, a Marine barracks, and more than a dozen other buildings, as well as its own electrical, water, and sewage systems. The Green Zone should be turned over to the Iraqi government no later than December 31, 2007. By this time, the U.S. should have bought, or rented, or built a “normal” embassy for a considerably reduced complement of personnel. Symbolically, it would be beneficial for the new building not to be in the Green Zone. Assuming that a reasonable part of the Green Zone’s cost can be saved, there should be no additional cost to create a new American embassy for an appropriate number of not more than 500 American officials, as opposed to the 1,000 or so Americans who today staff the Green Zone. Insofar as is practical, the new building should not be designed as though it were a beleaguered fortress in enemy territory.

Withdrawal from these bases, and an end to further construction, should save American taxpayers billions of dollars over the coming two years. This is quite apart from the cost of the troops they would house. America should immediately release all prisoners of war and close its detention centers.

* * *

Mercenaries, euphemistically known as “Personal Security Detail,” are now provided by an industry of more than thirty “security” firms, comprising at least 25,000 armed men. These constitute a force larger than the British troop contingent in the “Coalition of the Willing” and operate outside the direct control—and with little interference from the military justice systems—of the British and American armies. They are, literally, the “loose cannons” of the Iraq war. They should be withdrawn rapidly and completely, as the Iraqis regard them as the very symbol of the occupation. Since the U.S. pays for them either directly or indirectly, all we need to do is stop payment.

Much work will be necessary to dig up and destroy land mines and other unexploded ordinance and, where possible, to clean up the depleted uranium used in artillery shells. These are dangerous tasks that require professional training, but they should be turned over wherever possible to Iraqi contractors. These contractors would employ Iraqi labor, which would help jump-start a troubled economy and be of immediate benefit to the millions of Iraqis who are now out of work. The United Nations has gained considerable knowledge about de-mining—from the Balkans, Afghanistan, and elsewhere—that might be shared with the Iraqis. Although cleanup will be costly, we cannot afford to leave this dangerous waste behind. One day’s wartime expenditure, roughly $250 million, would pay for surveys of the damage and the development of a plan to deal with it. Once the extent of the problem is determined, a fund should be established to eradicate the danger completely.

These elements of the “withdrawal package” may be regarded as basic. Without them, Iraqi society will have little chance of recovering economically or governing itself with any effectiveness. Without them, American interests in the Middle East, and indeed throughout the world, will be severely jeopardized. These measures are, we repeat, inexpensive and represent an enormous savings over the cost of the current war effort. Building on them are further actions that would also help Iraq become a safe and habitable environment. To these “second tier” policies we now turn.

* * *

Property damage incurred during the invasion and occupation has been extreme. The World Bank has estimated that at least $25 billion will be required to repair the Iraqi infrastructure alone—this is quite apart from the damage done to private property. The reconstruction can be, and should be, done by Iraqis, as this would greatly benefit the Iraqi economy, but the United States will need to make a generous contribution to the effort if it is to be a success. Some of this aid should be in the form of grants; the remainder can be in the form of loans. Funds should be paid directly to the Iraqi government, as it would be sound policy to increase the power and public acceptance of that government once American troops withdraw. The Iraqis will probably regard such grants or loans as reparations; some of the money will probably be misspent or siphoned off by cliques within the government. It would therefore benefit the Iraqi people if some form of oversight could be exercised over the funds, but this would tend to undercut the legitimacy and authority of their government, which itself will probably be reconstituted during or shortly after the American occupation ends. Proper use of aid funds has been a problem everywhere: America’s own record during the occupation has been reprehensible, with massive waste, incompetence, and outright dishonesty now being investigated for criminal prosecution. No fledgling Iraqi government is likely to do better, but if reconstruction funds are portioned out to village, town, and city councils, the enhancement of such groups will go far toward the avowed American aim of strengthening democracy, given that Iraqis at the “grass roots” level would be taking charge of their own affairs.

We suggest that the United States allocate for the planning and organization of the reconstruction the sum of $1 billion, or roughly four days of current wartime expenditure. After a planning survey is completed, the American government will need to determine, in consultation with the Iraqi government (and presumably with the British government, our only true “partner” in the occupation), what it is willing to pay for reconstruction. We urge that the compensation be generous, as generosity will go a long way toward repairing the damage to the American reputation caused by this war.

Nearly as important as the rebuilding of damaged buildings and other infrastructure is the demolition of the ugly monuments of warfare. Work should be undertaken as soon as is feasible to dismantle and dispose of the miles of concrete blast walls and wire barriers erected around present American installations. Although the Iraqi people can probably be counted on to raze certain relics of the occupation on their own, we should nonetheless, in good faith, assist in this process. A mere two days’ worth of the current war effort, $500 million, would employ a good many Iraqi demolition workers.

Another residue of war and occupation has been the intrusion of military facilities on Iraqi cultural sites. Some American facilities have done enormous and irreparable damage. Astonishingly, one American camp was built on top of the Babylon archaeological site, where American troops flattened and compressed ancient ruins in order to create a helicopter pad and fueling stations. Soldiers filled sandbags with archaeological fragments and dug trenches through unexcavated areas while tanks crushed 2,600-year-old pavements. Babylon was not the only casualty. The 5,000-year-old site at Kish was also horribly damaged. We need to understand that Iraq, being a seedbed of Western civilization, is a virtual museum. It is hard to put a spade into the earth there without disturbing a part of our shared cultural heritage. We suggest that America set up a fund of, say, $750 million, or three days’ cost of the war, to be administered by an ad-hoc committee drawn from the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities or the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the British Museum, the World Monuments Fund, the Smithsonian Institution, and what is perhaps America’s most prestigious archaeological organization, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, to assist in the restoration of sites American troops have damaged. We should not wish to go down in history as yet another barbarian invader of the land long referred to as the cradle of civilization.

* * *

Independent accounting of Iraqi funds is urgently required. The United Nations handed over to the American-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) billions of dollars generated by the sale of Iraq petroleum with the understanding that these monies would be used to the benefit of the Iraqi people and would be accounted for by an independent auditor. The CPA delayed this audit month after month, and it was still not completed by the time the CPA ceased to exist. Any funds misused or misappropriated by U.S. officials should be repaid to the proper Iraqi authority. What that amount is we cannot predict at this time.

Although the funds turned over to the CPA by the U.N. constitute the largest amount in dispute, that is by no means the only case of possible misappropriation. Among several others reported, perhaps the most damaging to Iraq has been a project allocated to Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root as part of a $2.4 billion no-bid contract awarded in 2003. The $75.7 million project was meant to repair the junction of some fifteen pipelines linking the oil fields with terminals. Engineering studies indicated that as conceived the project was likely to fail, but KBR forged ahead and, allegedly, withheld news of the failure from the Iraqi Ministry of Petroleum until it had either spent or received all the money. Despite this, KBR was actually awarded a bonus by the Army Corps of Engineers, even though Defense Department auditors had found more than $200 million of KBR’s charges to be questionable. There would seem to be more greed than prudence in the repeated awards to Halliburton in the run-up to the war, during the war itself, and in contracts to repair the war damages. Especially given that Vice President Dick Cheney was formerly CEO of Halliburton, the U.S. should make every effort to investigate this wrongdoing, prosecute and correct it, and depart from Iraq with clean hands.

* * *

The United States should not object to the Iraqi government voiding all contracts entered into for the exploration, development, and marketing of oil during the American occupation. These contracts clearly should be renegotiated or thrown open to competitive international bids. The Iraqi government and public believe that because Iraqi oil has been sold at a discount to American companies, and because long-term

“production-sharing agreements” are highly favorable to the concessionaires, an unfair advantage has been taken. Indeed, the form of concession set up at the urging of the CPA’s consultants has been estimated to deprive Iraq of as much as $194 billion in revenues. To most Iraqis, and indeed to many foreigners, the move to turn over Iraq’s oil reserves to American and British companies surely confirms that the real purpose of the invasion was to secure, for American use and profit, Iraq’s lightweight and inexpensively produced oil.

It is to the long-term advantage of both Iraq and the United States, therefore, that all future dealings in oil, which, after all, is the single most important Iraqi national asset, be transparent and fair. Only then can the industry be reconstituted and allowed to run smoothly; only then will Iraq be able to contribute to its own well-being and to the world’s energy needs. Once the attempt to create American-controlled monopolies is abandoned, we believe it should be possible for investment, even American investment, to take place in a rapid and orderly manner. We do not, then, anticipate a net cost connected with this reform.

* * *

Providing reparations to Iraqi civilians for lives and property lost is a necessity. The British have already begun to do so in the zone they occupy. According to Martin Hemming of the Ministry of Defence, British policy “has, from the outset of operations in Iraq, been to recognize the duty to provide compensation to Iraqis where this is required by the law. . . . [B]etween 1 June 2003 and 31 July 2006, 2,327 claims have been registered . . .” Although there is no precise legal precedent from past wars that would require America to act accordingly, American forces in Iraq have now provided one: individual military units are authorized to make “condolence payments” of up to $2,500. The United States could, and should, do even more to compensate Iraqi victims or their heirs. Such an action might be compared to the Marshall Plan, which so powerfully redounded to America’s benefit throughout the world after the end of the Second World War. As we go forward, the following points should be considered.

The number of civilians killed or wounded during the invasion and occupation, particularly in the sieges of Fallujah, Tal Afar, and Najaf, is unknown. Estimates run from 30,000 to well over 100,000 killed, with many more wounded or incapacitated. Assuming the number of unjustified deaths to be 50,000, and the compensation per person to be $10,000, our outlay would run to only $500 million, or two days’ cost of the war. The number seriously wounded or incapacitated might easily be 100,000. Taking the same figure as for death benefits, the total cost would be $1 billion, or four days’ cost of the war. The dominant voice in this process should be that of Iraq itself, but in supplying the funds the United States could reasonably insist on the creation of a quasi-independent body, composed of both Iraqis and respected foreigners, perhaps operating under the umbrella of an internationally recognized organization such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies or the World Health Organization, to assess and distribute compensation.

In the meantime, a respected international body should be appointed to process the claims of, and pay compensation to, those Iraqis who have been tortured (as defined by the Geneva Conventions) or who have suffered long-term imprisonment. The Department of Defense admits that approximately 3,200 people have been held for longer than a year, and more than 700 for longer than two years, most of them without charge, a clear violation of the treasured American right of habeas corpus. The number actually subjected to torture remains unknown, but it is presumed to include a significant portion of those incarcerated. Unfortunately, there exists no consensus, legal or otherwise, on how victims of state-sponsored torture should be compensated, and so it is not currently possible to estimate the cost of such a program. Given that this is uncharted legal territory, we should probably explore it morally and politically to find a measure of justifiable compensation. The very act of assessing damages—perhaps somewhat along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission— would, in and of itself, be a part of the healing process.

* * *

America should also offer—not directly but through suitable international or nongovernmental organizations—a number of further financial inducements to Iraq’s recovery. These might include fellowships for the training of lawyers, judges, journalists, social workers, and other civil-affairs workers. Two days’ cost of the current war, or $500 million, would ably fund such an effort.

In addition, assistance to “grass roots” organizations and professional societies could help encourage the return to Iraq of the thousands of skilled men and women who left in the years following the first Gulf war. Relocation allowance and supplementary pay might be administered by the Iraqi engineers’ union. Medical practitioners might receive grants through the medical association. Teachers might be courted by the teachers’ union or the Ministry of Education. Assuming that some 10,000 skilled workers could be enticed to return for, say, an average of $50,000, this would represent a cost to the American taxpayer of $500 million. Roughly two days’ cost of the war would be a very small price to pay to restore the health and vigor of Iraqi society and to improve America’s reputation throughout the world.

We should also encourage the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and similarly established and proven nongovernmental organizations to help with the rebirth of an Iraqi public-health system by rebuilding hospitals and clinics. One reason for turning to respected international organizations to supervise this program is that when the CPA undertook the task, funds were squandered.

At last count, some seventeen years ago Iraq possessed an impressive health-care infrastructure: 1,055 health centers, 58 health centers with beds, 135 general hospitals, and 52 specialized hospitals. Many of these facilities were badly damaged by a decade of sanctions and by the recent warfare and looting. If we assume that fully half of Iraq’s hospitals and health centers need to be rebuilt, the overall outlay can be estimated at $250 million, one day’s cost of the current war. Equipment might cost a further $170 million. These figures, based on a study prepared for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals project, throw into sharp relief the disappointing results of the American “effort”: one American firm, Parsons Corporation, has been investigated for having taken a generous “cost plus” contract to rebuild 142 clinics at a cost of $200 million; although the company put in for and collected all the money, only twenty clinics were built.

Estimating the cost of staffing these facilities is more complicated. Theoretically, Iraq has a highly professional, well-trained, reasonably large corps of health workers at all levels. Yet many of these people left the country in the years following the 1991 war. The Iraqi Health Ministry has estimated that about 3,000 registered doctors left Iraq during the first two years of the American occupation. Hopefully these workers will return to Iraq once the occupation and the insurgency have ended, but even if they do so, younger replacements for them need to be trained. The UNMDG study suggests that the training period for specialists is about eight years; for general practitioners, five years; and for various technicians and support personnel, three years. We suggest that a training program for a select number, say 200 general practitioners and 100 advanced specialists, be carried out under the auspices of the World Health Organization or Médecins Sans Frontières, especially given that some of this training will have to be done in Europe or America. Even if the estimated cost of building and equipping hospitals turned out to be five times too low, even if the American government had to cover the bulk of salaries and operating costs for the next four years, and even if additional hospitals had to be built to care for Iraqis wounded or made ill by the invasion and occupation, the total cost would still be under $5 billion. It is sobering to think that the maximum cost of rebuilding Iraq’s public-health system would amount to less than what we spend on the occupation every twenty days.

* * *

The monetary cost of the basic set of programs outlined here is roughly $7.25 billion. The cost of the “second tier” programs cannot be as accurately forecast, but the planning and implementation of these is likely to cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10 billion. Seventeen and a quarter billion dollars is a lot of money, but assuming that these programs cut short the American occupation by only two years, they would save us at least $200 billion. Much more valuable, though, are the savings to be measured in what otherwise are likely to be large numbers of shattered bodies and lost lives. Even if our estimates are unduly optimistic, and the actual costs turn out to be far higher, the course of action we recommend would be perhaps the best investment ever made by our country.

Finally, we as a nation should not forget the young Americans who fought this war, often for meager pay and with inadequate equipment. As of this writing, more than 2,600 of our soldiers have been killed, and a far greater number wounded or crippled. It is only proper that we be generous to those who return, and to the families of those who will not.

That said, we should find a way to express our condolences for the large number of Iraqis incarcerated, tortured, incapacitated, or killed in recent years. This may seem a difficult gesture to many Americans. It may strike them as weak, or as a slur on our patriotism. Americans do not like to admit that they have done wrong. We take comfort in the notion that whatever the mistakes of the war and occupation, we have done Iraq a great service by ridding it of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Perhaps we have, but in the process many people’s lives have been disrupted, damaged, or senselessly ended. A simple gesture of conciliation would go a long way toward shifting our relationship with Iraq from one of occupation to one of friendship. It would be a gesture without cost but of immense and everlasting value—and would do more to assuage the sense of hurt in the world than all of the actions above.

About the Author
George S. McGovern, the United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger, was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. He is the author of numerous books, including The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time. William R. Polk was a member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East and, later, professor of history and founder-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. His latest book on the Middle East is Understanding Iraq. This essay was adapted from the book Out of Iraq, which is being published this month by Simon & Schuster.

This is The Way Out of War, a feature, originally from October 2006, published Wednesday, November 8, 2006. It is part of Features, which is part of Harpers.org.


Where's Rumsfeld?


More Ethnic Cleansing

Israel Issues Last Permits to Foreigners, Splitting Families
November 21st, 2006 Posted in Press Releases, Denial of entry

Contacts: Basil Ayish Coordinator, Media Committee: +970-(0)59-817-3953

November 20, 2006

All foreign passports of spouses and children of Palestinian ID-holders who had applied for visa extensions were marked recently by the Israeli authorities as “last permit”, and require the passport holders to exit from Israeli controlled entry/exit points before the end of the year. The Israeli Ministry of Interior office at Beit El began returning the passports after a six week Israeli strike. Those who overstay their allotted time will be considered “illegal” and are subject to immediate deportation from the occupied Palestinian territory. In an effort to avoid being considered “illegal” and threatened with arrest by the Israelis, some families are opting to relocate; a silent ethnic cleansing.

The impact of Israel’s practice includes the forced separation of parents from their children and spouses, educators and students from their schools, healthcare, NGO and humanitarian workers from access to needy communities, and business owners from their investments. According to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Interior, hundreds of applications for Israeli visa extensions following Israeli guidelines were submitted in October and are still pending. An estimated 120,000 family unification residency applications have not been processed by Israel.

Despite official complaints by foreign governments of Israeli discrimination against their citizens, Israel continues to disregard its obligations under international law and agreements and persists in its practice of changing the demographics within the occupied Palestinian territory. Every denial of entry and visa renewal refusal impacts an estimated 10 people, many of whom subsequently resort to moving to another country.

Because Israel refuses to permit non-Jewish foreigners from receiving residency status in the occupied Palestinian territory, the only mechanism for foreign passport-holding spouses and children of Palestinian ID-holders to join their families was to be repeatedly issued 3-month ‘visitor’ permits. The practice was widely expected to be a transitory measure until adequate mechanisms were put in place to provide permanent residence status for non-ID holding family members. Some family members have been following this procedure for more than 30 years as the only option open to them.

On October 14, eleven Palestinian university presidents called on the international community to protect access to education, with Birzeit University reporting a 50 percent decline in foreign passport-holding faculty and staff. The U.S. State Department, EU, and at least one Latin American country have all protested to Israeli officials since October. Foreigners wishing to visit, work in or reside in the occupied Palestinian territory continue to be banned at Israeli-controlled ports of entry.


Gaza's Reality

Living conditions in the Gaza strip.



"Winning hearts and minds"

American asshats at large

Iraqi Kid Runs For Water


University students targeted for arrest in northern West Bank

(Jenin) Ali Samoudi

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

“My son was arrested without reason and has lost his academic future,” Salah Tawfiq Zaid said of his son. Israeli forces detained the western Jenin village university student on 14 November.

He explained on Tuesday that Israeli forces have recently stepped up the campaign against students in the northern West Bank, subjecting them to detention, beatings, and interrogation. Sources in the Palestinian Prisoner Society reported today that Israeli forces arrested 20 university students in November.

They were taken to the Israeli military installation in the northern West Bank's Salem without disclosing a reason for the arrests.

Nineteen year old Zaid was arrested at the Zatara Checkpoint without cause, reports his father. In the presence of eyewitnesses Israeli forces took the Ramallah Teacher's College student. “He was in a car, which the soldiers stopped. They inspected it, checked identities, and then detained my son. They searched and questioned him, and then took him to a nearby military camp,” Zaid's father told PNN.

“We learned from the Palestinian Prisoner Society lawyer that Zaid was transferred to the Salem detention center in western Jenin where he is currently languishing. The Israeli police and investigators told the lawyer that Zaid will be held without charge.”

Zaid's story is representative of those of northern West Bank students in the past weeks. His father continued, “The occupation forces will not release him despite the fact that his arrest was based on nothing other than wrong place at the wrong time. There are no charges and he does not belong to any political party. His academic future is at risk.”

Nablus' An Najah University student Mahmoud Rushdie was arrested at a flying checkpoint on the road between the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin. He was not charged with anything but still the Israeli forces refuse to release him. Instead he joins the hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners being held without charge or trial in Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian Prisoner Society is calling for international intervention as more students fear the trip to universities.


Congress Should Immediately Terminate the 2001 AUMF

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dave Lindorff

Forget Nancy Pelosi's "100 Hours" agenda for the new Democratic Congress.

The first thing Democrats need to do when they walk into the Senate and House chambers this January is to vote out a joint resolution repealing the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was the authorization for the U.S. attack Al Qaeda forces and the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

That AUMF has been used, wholly inappropriately and wantonly, by President Bush as the justification for his assault on the US Constitution, for his willful violation of laws domestic and international, and for his unconstitutional usurpation of legislative and judicial power.

The president has claimed that the AUMF, far from simply being an authorization to go to war against Afghanistan and against the Al Qaeda organization there, was an open-ended authorization for him to initiate an unending "War on Terror," which he has subsequently claimed has no boundaries, and will be fought around the globe and within the U.S.

Bush has further claimed, without a shred of Constitutional authority, that this AUMF makes him commander in chief in that never-ending global conflict, and that as commander in chief, he is not bound by either law or Constitution. It is this spurious and sweeping claim of dictatorial power that the president has used to justify his signing statements, which he has used to render inoperative in whole or in part some 850 or more acts passed by Congress since 9-11. It is this same claim that the president has used to justify his deliberate violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—a felony and violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It is likewise this AUMF that he has used to justify his authorization of torture, kidnapping and detention without charge, his refusal to answer legitimate requests for information from Congress and the 9-11 commission, and his ignoring of direct orders from the federal courts.

All of these actions by the president are manifestly unconstitutional, and cry out for his impeachment. (The Constitution clearly defines and limits the president’s commander in chief role to simply making him the senior officer of the military, not a generalissimo. Furthermore, as Barbara Olshanski and I explain in our book The Case for Impeachment, the AUMF never gave Bush any authority at all to conduct war inside the U.S. In fact, Tom Daschle, who as a Democratic Senator from South Dakota was the Senate Majority Leader at the time the AUMF was passed, specifically denied a last-minute request from the White House to have the words "in the United States" inserted into the wording of the resolution authorization.)

Bush should be impeached for all of his abuses of power, as well as for many other crimes, such as his deception in leading the nation into an illegal war against Iraq. But clearly, it will take time for a growing mass movement to pressure a timid Democratic leadership into taking their oath of office seriously and initiating impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, Congress can pull the rug out from under this usurper right away by simply revoking the September AUMF. The situation is akin to a teenager who has been given a car and then drives around banging it up and ruining it. At some point, the parents have got to take away the keys.

There is no justification for the continuation of the 2001 AUMF. Afghanistan is no longer a war. The U.S. is simply contributing military assets to a NATO action in that country at the request of the elected government in Kabul. Such an action requires no AUMF. Meanwhile, the prevention of terror is clearly an intelligence and police issue, not a war. It too does not require an AUMF.

A simple majority vote of House and Senate would put the U.S. Constitution back in place, and would restore the balance of power between executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Then Congress can get to work on investigating the crimes and abuses of this administration, and to passing progressive legislation without fear of further unconstitutional signing statements and further presidential law-breaking.

So how about it Rep. Pelosi and Senator Reid? Are you ready to uphold and defend the Constitution? Are you ready to take the president's keys away?


Gore Vidal: Living Through History

Vidal on Bush: “There are a few crazies who want to cheer the flag and this yappy little terrier as though he were a real president. Well, he’s not a real president. He’s a thing, a chimera who was put together by the Supreme Court, first time around, and reelected by Diebold ... .”

Posted on Nov 21, 2006

Watch the full 36-minute interview , including Gore Vidal’s memories of the Kennedy clan and his take on the JFK assassination.

Iconic author and historian Gore Vidal speaks with Robert Scheer about his new memoir, “Point to Point Navigation,” and the events that shaped his life and his country, from war with Hitler to the “waking nightmare” of Iraq.


Former Attorney General Janet Reno Sues Bush

Nov 20, 10:27 PM EST

Reno files challenge to terror law


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Attorney General Janet Reno and seven other former Justice Department officials filed court papers Monday arguing that the Bush administration is setting a dangerous precedent by trying a suspected terrorist outside the court system.

It was the first time that Reno, attorney general in the Clinton administration, has spoken out against the administration's policies on terrorism detainees, underscoring how contentious the court fight over the nation's new military commissions law has become. Former attorneys general rarely file court papers challenging administration policy.

Suspected al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is the only detainee being held in the United States.

The former prosecutors challenged the Justice Department's right to bring al-Marri before a military commission.

A citizen of Qatar, he was arrested in 2001 while studying in the United States. He had faced criminal charges until authorities designated him an enemy combatant and ordered him held at a naval base in South Carolina.

The Justice Department said in court papers last week that a new anti-terrorism law strips detainees such as al-Marri of the right to challenge their imprisonment in court.

"The government is essentially asserting the right to hold putative enemy combatants arrested in the United States indefinitely whenever it decides not to prosecute those people criminally - perhaps because it would be too difficult to obtain a conviction, perhaps because a motion to suppress evidence would raise embarrassing facts about the government's conduct, or perhaps for other reasons," the former Justice Department officials said.

Some of the eight attorneys named in the document are now in private practice and represent detainees at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most served under President Clinton, though the list includes former U.S. Attorneys W. Thomas Dillard and Anton R. Valukas, who served under President Reagan.

Buy AP Photo Reprints

Legal Briefs Filed on Behalf of Detainees, Nov. 1, 2006
Briefs by Former Federal Judges on Behalf of Detainees, Nov. 1, 2006

"The existing criminal justice system is more than up to the task of prosecuting and bringing to justice those who plan or attempt terrorist acts within the United States - without sacrificing any of the rights and protections that have been the hallmarks of the American legal system for more than 200 years," the attorneys wrote.

The al-Marri matter is before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., and is one of three appeals court cases that will help determine the scope of the new military commissions law. That law allows the CIA to use tough - but undefined - interrogation techniques and says detainees may not use civilian courts to challenge their imprisonment.

Human rights groups have challenged the law. The former prosecutors wrote that they worried the government would increasingly use the law to avoid criminal trials "and the rights associated with them, such as the defendant's right to counsel and the government's obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The government was standing behind its position, Justice Department spokeswoman Kathleen Blomquist said in a statement Monday night.

"These are complex and difficult legal issues, and while we respect the right of other legal minds to be heard on these issues, we believe we are on firm legal footing in this case as both the magistrate judge and district court concluded," Blomquist said.

Last weekend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the nation's handling of the detainees. He said they are afforded more rights than required.

"What is extraordinary, in other words, is how much - not how little - our law protects enemy combatants," he said.


Israelis Support Large Slaughter in Gaza Strip

Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research

Israelis Support Large Scale War in Gaza Strip

November 20, 2006

- Many adults in Israel believe their country should increase its military operations in the Palestinian territories, according to a poll by Maagar Mochot released by Israel Radio. 51 per cent of respondents support a large scale military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Fatah faction, won the January 2005 presidential ballot with 62.32 per cent of all cast ballots. In January 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council election, securing 74 of the 112 seats at stake. Ismail Haniyeh officially took over as prime minister on Mar. 28. The Israeli government believes Hamas is directly responsible for the deaths of 377 citizens in a variety of attacks, which include dozens of suicide bombings.

On Jun. 28, Israel launched a military operation in response to a joint raid carried out by Palestinian militants on a military post outside of the Gaza Strip, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, and one more, Gilad Shalit, was captured.

In March, Israeli voters renewed the Knesset. Kadima, founded by former prime minister Ariel Sharon and led by Ehud Olmert, secured 29 seats. Labour, the Retired People’s Party (Gil) and the International Organization of Torah-observant Sephardic Jews (Shas) joined Kadima in a coalition. Last month, the Israeli cabinet approved the addition of Israel Our Home to the government. Olmert’s coalition now has the support of 78 of the Knesset’s 120 members.

In December 2005, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Israel be removed from the Middle East and questioned the Holocaust, saying, "They have fabricated a legend under the name ‘Massacre of the Jews’ and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves."

After being branded as part of an "axis of evil" by United States president George W. Bush in January 2002, Iran has contended that its nuclear program aims to produce energy, not weapons. Only 20 per cent of respondents express confidence in Olmert’s handling of the nuclear threat and the conflict with Iran.

Israel Our Home leader Avigdor Lieberman has been named minister for strategic affairs. On Nov. 19, Lieberman called for the leadership of Hamas to be "cleared out, sent to heaven."

Polling Data

Do you support a large scale military campaign in the Gaza Strip?




Do you have confidence on prime minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the nuclear threat and the conflict with Iran?




Source: Maagar Mochot / Israel Radio
Methodology: Interviews with 671 Israeli adults, conducted on Nov. 14, 2006. Margin of error is 3 per cent.


Mark Danner: How a War of Unbound Fantasies Happened

Tomgram: Mark Danner, How a War of Unbound Fantasies Happened

From fantasies come consequences caught, in the case of Iraq, by the following headline from the Houston Chronicle, "At least 700 Iraqis die in 8 days of unrelenting violence." ("They've been beheaded, tortured and blown up while looking for work. They've been shot, kidnapped and felled by mortars.") Think of this as George W. Bush's Iraq. Mark Danner, one of our most incisive writers on Bush's war, steps back in this moment that he calls "the time of solutions" to consider just how we got from the soaring rhetoric (not to speak of the lies and manipulations) of the Bush administration, from those planet-encompassing dreams of domination, to the most singularly sordid situation imaginable -- with the possibility of worse still ahead.
This is certainly one of the longest pieces the New York Review of Books has ever run in a single issue. (It will appear in the December 21st issue, soon on the newsstands.) It won't even fit in the Tomdispatch "shell" and so I'm proud to post it, with the kind permission of the editors of the New York Review of Books, as an instant two-part piece. Most of you will be breaking for Thanksgiving. So now you have your assignment for the extended weekend. I couldn't send along a better journalist -- or writer -- as company.
Tomdispatch.com will return on Monday afternoon, November 27th, with a week of genuine surprises, part of an explosive special book project long underway at the site. Look for it. Tom
Iraq: The War of the ImaginationBy Mark Danner
[This piece, which appears in the December 21, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books, is posted here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.]
"Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end." -- George F. Kennan, September 26, 2002
"I ask you, sir, what is the American army doing inside Iraq?... Saddam's story has been finished for close to three years." -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes, August 13, 2006
In the ruined city of Fallujah, its pale tan buildings pulverized by Marine artillery in the two great assaults of this long war (the aborted attack of March 2004 and then the bloody, triumphant al-Fajr (The Dawn) campaign of the following November), behind the lines of giant sandbags and concrete T-walls and barbed wire that surrounded the tiny beleaguered American outpost there, I sat in my body armor and Kevlar helmet and thought of George F. Kennan. Not the grand old man of American diplomacy, the ninety-eight-year-old Father of Containment who, listening to the war drums beat from a Washington nursing home in the fall of 2002, had uttered the prophetic words above. I was thinking of an earlier Kennan, the brilliant and ambitious young diplomat who during the late 1920s and 1930s had gazed out on the crumbling European order from Tallinn and Berlin and Prague and read the signs of the coming world conflict.
For there in the bunkered Civil-Military Operations Center (known as the C-Moc) in downtown Fallujah, where a few score Marines and a handful of civilians subsisted in a broken-down bunkered building without running water or fresh food, I met young Kennan's reincarnation in the person of a junior State Department official: a bright, aggressive young man who spent his twenty-hour days rumbling down the ruined streets in body armor and helmet with his reluctant Marine escorts, meeting with local Iraqi officials, and writing tart cables back to Baghdad or Washington telling his bosses the truth of what was happening on the ground, however reluctant they might be to hear it. This young diplomat was resourceful and brilliant and indefatigable, and as I watched him joking and arguing with the local sheikhs and politicos and technocrats -- who were meeting, as they were forced to do, in the American bunker -- I thought of the indomitable young Kennan of the interwar years, and of how, if the American effort in Iraq could ever be made to "work," only undaunted and farseeing young men like this one, his spiritual successor, could make it happen.
This was October 2005, on the eve of the nationwide referendum on Iraq's proposed constitution, and I had come to Fallujah, the heart of rebellious Anbar province, to see whether the Sunnis could gather the political strength to vote it down. In a provision originally insisted on by the Kurds, a provision that typified an American-designed political process that had been intended to unify the country but that instead had helped pull it inexorably apart, the proposed constitution could be rejected if, in three of Iraq's eighteen provinces, more than two in three Iraqis coming to the polls voted no. During the first post-Saddam election the previous January, the televised extravaganza of "waving purple fingers" which had become perhaps the most celebrated of the many promised "turning points" of this long war, the Sunnis had boycotted the polls. This time, after Herculean efforts of persuasion and negotiation by the American ambassador, most Sunnis were expected to vote. What would draw them, though -- or such anyway was the common wisdom -- was the chance not to affirm the constitution but to doom it, and the political process along with it.
And so as I sat after midnight on the eve of the vote, scribbling in my notebook in the dimly lit C-Moc bunker as the young diplomat explained to me the intricacies of the politics of the battered city, I was pleased to see him suddenly lean forward and, with quick glances to either side, offer me a confidence. "You know, tomorrow you are going to be surprised," he told me, speaking softly. "Everybody is going to be surprised. People here are not only going to vote. People here – a great many people here -- are going to vote yes."
I was stunned. That the Sunnis would actually come out to support the constitution would be an astonishing turnabout and, for the American effort in Iraq, an enormously positive one; for it would mean that despite the escalating violence on the ground, especially here in Anbar, Iraq was in fact moving toward a rough political consensus. It would mean that beneath the bloody landscape of suicide bombings and assassinations and roadside bombs a common idea about politics and compromise was taking shape. It would mean that what had come to seem a misbegotten political process that charted and even worsened the growing divisions among Iraqis had actually become the avenue for bringing them together. It would mean there might be hope.
I took the young diplomat's words as an invaluable bit of inside wisdom from the American who knew this ground better than any other, and I kept them in mind a few hours later as I traveled from polling place to polling place in that city of rubble, listening as the Fallujans told me of their anger at the Americans and the "Iranians" (as they called the leading Shiite politicians) and of their hatred for the constitution that they believed was meant to divide and thus destroy Iraq. I pondered the diplomat's words that evening, when I realized that in a long day of interviews I'd not met a single Iraqi who would admit to voting for the constitution. And I thought of his words again several days later when it was confirmed that in Anbar province -- where the most knowledgeable, experienced, indefatigable American had confided to me what he had plainly ardently believed, that on the critical vote on the constitution "a great many people would vote yes" -- that in Anbar ninety-seven out of every hundred Iraqis who voted had voted no. With all his contacts and commitment, with all his energy and brilliance, on the most basic and critical issue of politics on the ground he had been entirely, catastrophically wrong.
"You know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end."
The ninety-eight-year-old George F. Kennan, sitting in the Washington nursing home as the war came on, knew from eight decades of experience to focus first of all on the problem of what we know and what we don't know. You know, though you spend your endless, frustrating days speaking to Iraqis, lobbying them, arguing with them, that in a country torn by a brutal and complicated war those Iraqis perforce are drawn from a small and special subset of the population: Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives by meeting with and talking to Americans. Which is to say, very often, Iraqis who depend on the Americans not only for their livelihoods but for their survival.
You know that the information these Iraqis draw on is similarly limited, and that what they convey is itself selected, to a greater or lesser extent, to please their interlocutor. But though you know that much of your information comes from a thin, inherently biased slice of Iraqi politics and Iraqi life, hundreds of conversations during those grueling twenty-hour days eventually lead you to think, must lead you to think, that you are coming to understand what's happening in this immensely complicated, violent place. You come to believe you know. And so often, even about the largest things, you do not know.
As this precious stream of flickering knowledge travels "up the chain" from those on the shell-pocked, dangerous ground collecting it to those in Washington offices ultimately making decisions based upon it, the problem of what we really know intensifies, acquiring a fierce complexity. Policymakers, peering second-, third-, fourth-hand into a twilight world, must learn a patient, humble skepticism. Or else, confronted with an ambiguous reality they do not like, they turn away, ignoring the shadowy, shifting landscape and forcing their eyes stubbornly toward their own ideological light. Unable to find clarity, they impose it. Consider, for example, these words of Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking about the Iraq war on November 9, two days after the election and the day after President Bush fired him:
"It is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success. It's clear that in Phase Two of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough."
Such analyses are not uncommon from Pentagon civilians; thus Dov Zakheim, a former Rumsfeld aide, to a television interviewer later that evening:
"People will debate the second part, the second phase of what happened in Iraq. Very few are arguing that the military victory in the first phase was anything but an outright success."
Three years and eight months after the Iraq war began, the secretary of defense and his allies see in Iraq not one war but two. One is the Real Iraq War -- the "outright success" that only very few would deny, the war in which American forces were "greeted as liberators," according to the famous prediction of Dick Cheney which the Vice President doggedly insists was in fact proved true: "true within the context of the battle against the Saddam Hussein regime and his forces. That went very quickly."
It is "within this context" that the former secretary of defense and the Vice President see America's current war in Iraq as in fact comprising a brief, dramatic, and "enormously successful" war of a few weeks' duration leading to a decisive victory, and then...what? Well, whatever we are in now: a Phase Two, a "postwar phase" (as Bob Woodward sometimes calls it) which has lasted three and a half years and continues. In the first, successful, Real Iraq War, 140 Americans died. In the postwar phase 2,700 Americans have died -- and counting. What is happening now in Iraq is not in fact a war at all but a phase, a non-war, something unnamed, unconceptualized --unplanned.
Anyone seeking to understand what has become the central conundrum of the Iraq war -- how it is that so many highly accomplished, experienced, and intelligent officials came together to make such monumental, consequential, and, above all, obvious mistakes, mistakes that much of the government knew very well at the time were mistakes -- must see beyond what seems to be a simple rhetoric of self-justification and follow it where it leads: toward the War of Imagination that senior officials decided to fight in the spring and summer of 2002 and to whose image they clung long after reality had taken a sharply separate turn.
In that War of Imagination victory was to be decisive, overwhelming, evincing a terrible power -- enough to wipe out the disgrace of September 11 and remake the threatening world. In State of Denial, Woodward recounts how Michael Gerson, at the time Bush's chief speechwriter, asked Henry Kissinger why he had supported the Iraq war:
"Because Afghanistan wasn't enough," Kissinger answered. In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. "And we need to humiliate them." The American response to 9/11 had essentially to be more than proportionate -- on a larger scale than simply invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. Something else was essential. The Iraq war was essential to send a larger message, "in order to make a point that we're not going to live in this world that they want for us."
Though to anyone familiar with Kissinger's "realist" rhetoric of power and credibility his analysis will come as no surprise, Gerson, the deeply religious idealist who composed Bush's most soaring music about "ending tyranny" and "ridding the world of evil," seems mildly disappointed: Kissinger "viewed Iraq purely in the context of power politics. It was not idealism. He didn't seem to connect with Bush's goal of promoting democracy."
Gerson, of course, was author of what would come to be called the Bush Doctrine, a neoconservative paean to democracy that maintains that "the realistic interests of America would now be served by fidelity to American ideals, especially democracy." Others in the administration, however, plainly did "connect" with Kissinger's stark realism: Donald Rumsfeld, for example, who Ron Suskind depicts, in The One Percent Doctrine, struggling with other officials in spring 2002 to cope with various terrifying warnings of impending attacks on the United States:
"All these reports helped fuel Rumsfeld's sense of futility as to America's ability to stop the spread of destructive weapons and keep them from terrorists. That futility was the fuel that drove the plans to invade Iraq... as soon as possible.
"Cheney's ideas about how 'our reaction' would shape behavior -- whatever the evidence showed -- were expressed in an off-the-record meeting Rumsfeld had with NATO defense chiefs in Brussels on June 6. According to an outline for his speech, the secretary told those assembled that 'absolute proof cannot be a precondition for action.'
"The primary impetus for invading Iraq, according to those attending NSC briefings on the Gulf in this period, was to make an example of Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."
In the great, multicolored braid of reasons and justifications leading to the Iraq war one might call this "the realist strand," and though the shape of the reasoning might seem to Gerson to stand as far from "democracy building" and "ending tyranny" as "power politics" does from "idealism," the distance is wholly illusory, dependent on an ideological clarity that was never present. In fact, the two chains of reasoning looped and intersected, leading inexorably to a common desire for a particular action -- confronting Saddam Hussein and Iraq -- that had been the subject of the administration's first National Security Council meeting, in January 2001, and that had been pushed to the fore again by Defense Department officials in the first "war cabinet" meeting after the September 11 attacks.
Woodward describes a report commissioned by Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, intended to produce "the kinds of ideas and strategy needed to deal with a crisis of the magnitude of 9/11." After the attacks, Wolfowitz talked to his friend Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, who gathered together a group of intellectuals and academics for a series of discussions that came to be known as "Bletchley II" (after the World War II think tank of mathematicians and cryptographers set up at Bletchley Park). Out of these discussions, Woodward tells us, DeMuth drafted an influential report, entitled "Delta of Terrorism," which concluded, in the author's paraphrase, that "the United States was in for a two-generation battle with radical Islam":
"'The general analysis was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important, where they were confident and successful in setting up a radical government.' But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with, he said.
"But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable. DeMuth said they had concluded that 'Baathism is an Arab form of fascism transplanted to Iraq'...
"'We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. He was a gathering threat -- the most menacing, active and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.' That was the only way to transform the region.
According to Woodward, this report had "a strong impact on President Bush, causing him to focus on the ‘malignancy' of the Middle East" -- and the need to act to excise it, beginning with an attack on Iraq that would not only serve, in its devastating rapidity and effectiveness, as a "demonstration model" to deter anyone thinking to threaten the United States but would begin a process of "democratic transformation" that would quickly spread throughout the region. The geopolitical thinking animating this "democratic domino theory" could be plainly discerned before the war, as I wrote five months before U.S. Army tanks crossed the border into Iraq:
"Behind the notion that an American intervention will make of Iraq ‘the first Arab democracy,' as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it, lies a project of great ambition. It envisions a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq -- secular, middle-class, urbanized, rich with oil -- that will replace the autocracy of Saudi Arabia as the key American ally in the Persian Gulf, allowing the withdrawal of United States troops from the kingdom. The presence of a victorious American Army in Iraq would then serve as a powerful boost to moderate elements in neighboring Iran, hastening that critical country's evolution away from the mullahs and toward a more moderate course. Such an evolution in Tehran would lead to a withdrawal of Iranian support for Hezbollah and other radical groups, thereby isolating Syria and reducing pressure on Israel.
"This undercutting of radicals on Israel's northern borders and within the West Bank and Gaza would spell the definitive end of Yasir Arafat and lead eventually to a favorable solution of the Arab-Israeli problem. This is a vision of great sweep and imagination: comprehensive, prophetic, evangelical. In its ambitions, it is wholly foreign to the modesty of containment, the ideology of a status-quo power that lay at the heart of American strategy for half a century. It means to remake the world, to offer to a political threat a political answer. It represents a great step on the road toward President Bush's ultimate vision of ‘freedom's triumph over all its age-old foes.'"
It represented as well a breathtaking gamble, for if the victory in Iraq was to achieve what was expected -- which is to say, "humiliate" the forces of radical Islam and reestablish American prestige and credibility; serve as a "demonstration model" to ward off attacks from any rogue state that might threaten the United States, either directly or by supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists; and transform the Middle East by sending a "democratic tsunami" cascading from Tehran to Gaza -- if the Iraq war was to achieve this, victory must be rapid, decisive, overwhelming. Only Donald Rumsfeld's transformed military -- a light, quick, lean force dependent on overwhelming firepower directed precisely by high technology and with very few "boots on the ground" -- could make this happen, or so he and his planners thought. Victory would be quick and awe-inspiring; in a few months the Americans, all but a handful of them, would be gone: only the effect of the "demonstration model," and the cascading consequences in the neighboring states, would remain. The use of devastating military power would begin the process but once begun the transformation would roll forward, carried out by forces of the same thrilling "democratic revolution" that had erupted on the streets of Prague and Budapest and East Berlin more than a decade before, and indeed on the streets of Kabul the previous year. Here was an evangelical vision of geopolitical redemption.
Thus the War of Imagination draped all the complications and contradictions of the history and politics of a war-torn, brutalized society in an ideologically driven vision of a perfect future. Small wonder that its creators, faced with grim reality, have been so loath to part with it. Since the first thrilling night of shock and awe, reported with breathless enthusiasm by the American television networks, the Iraq war has had at least two histories, that of the war itself and that of the American perception of it. As the months passed and the number of attacks in Iraq grew, the gap between those two histories opened wider and wider. And finally, for most Americans, the War of Imagination -- built of nationalistic excitement and ideological hubris and administration pronouncements about "spreading democracy" and "greetings with sweets and flowers," and then about "dead-enders" and "turning points," and finally about "staying the course" and refusing "to cut and run" -- began, under the pressure of nearly three thousand American dead and perhaps a hundred thousand or more dead Iraqis, to give way to grim reality.
The election of November 7, 2006, marks the moment when the War of Imagination decisively gave way to the war on the ground and when officials throughout the American government, not least the President himself, were forced to recognize and acknowledge a reality that much of the American public had discerned months or years before. The ideological canopy now has lifted. The study groups are at their work. Americans have come to know what they do not know. If confronted with that simple question the smiling President Ahmadinejad of Iran put to Mike Wallace last August -- "I ask you, sir, what is the American Army doing inside Iraq?" -- how many Americans could offer a clear and convincing answer?
As the war drags on and alternatives fall away and American and Iraqi deaths mount, we seem to know less and less, certainly about "where we are going to end." Thus we arrive at our present therapeutic moment -- the moment of "solutions," brought on by the recognition, three and a half years on, that we have no idea how to "end" Phase Two. This is now a matter for James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group and the military's "strategic review team" and the new Democratic committee chairmen who will offer, to a chastened president who admits he thought "we would do all right" in the elections, the "new ideas" he now professes to welcome. However quickly the discussion now moves to the geopolitical hydraulics, to weighing partition against partial withdrawal against regional conferences and contact groups and all the rest, the truth is that none of these proposals, alone or in combination, will end the war anytime soon.
It bears noticing that Kennan himself, having predicted that we will never know where we are going to end in Iraq, lived to see disproved, before his death at the age of 101 last March, what even he, no innocent, had taken as a given: that "you know where you begin." For as the war's presumed ending -- constructed from carefully crafted images of triumph, of dictators' statues cast down and presidents striding forcefully across aircraft carrier decks -- has flickered and vanished, receding into the just-out-of-grasp future ("a decision for the next president," the pre-election President Bush had said), the war's beginning has likewise melted away, the original rationale obscured in a darkening welter of shifting intelligence, ideological controversy, and conflicting claims, all of it hemmed in now on all sides by the mounting dead.
Out of this maelstrom, how does one fix now on "how we began" in Iraq? One might do worse than the National Security Presidential Directive entitled "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy," the top-secret statement of American purpose intended to guide all the departments and agencies of the government, signed by President George W. Bush on August 29, 2002:
"US goal: Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and associated programs, to prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond.
"End Iraqi threats to its neighbors, to stop the Iraqi government's tyrannizing of its own population, to cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism, to maintain Iraq's unity and territorial integrity. And liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and assist them in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy....
"Objectives: To conduct policy in a fashion that minimizes the chance of a WMD attack against the United States, US field forces, our allies and friends. To minimize the danger of regional instabilities. To deter Iran and Syria from helping Iraq. And to minimize disruption in international oil markets."
This secret document, disclosed by Bob Woodward, is presumably the plainest, least ideological statement of what American officials thought the country they led would be trying to achieve in the coming war. The words have now a sad and antique air, as if scrawled on yellowed parchment and decipherable only by a historian skilled in the customs and peculiarities of a far-off time and place. What can we say now, as we look at the Iraq of November 2006, about these official goals and objectives of the Iraq war?
The famous weapons of mass destruction are gone, most of them probably fifteen years gone, and their absence has likely damaged the United States and its power -- the power, deployed daily, that depends on the authority of words and pronouncements and not directly or solely on force of arms -- more severely than their presence ever could have. While no doubt convinced that Iraq had at least some chemical and biological weapons, Bush administration officials, like the cop framing a guilty man, vastly exaggerated the evidence and in so doing -- and even as they refused to allow UN inspectors to examine and weigh that evidence -- they severely undermined the credibility of the United States, the credibility of its intelligence agencies, and the support for the war and U.S. policy among Americans, among Muslims, and around the world.
The containment of Iraq, threatened only in the realm of policymakers' imaginations before the war, has been breached. The country's "threat to the region," with jihadis flowing from neighboring Sunni powers into Anbar and Baghdad and Iranian intelligence agents flowing into the Shia south, is growing daily, with the ultimate worst-case future, the confused and blackened landscape of a regional sectarian war, already standing clearly visible on the horizon as a possible consequence of an escalating conflict.
Though Saddam stands convicted of mass murder and condemned to death, and though an elected and ineffectual government deliberates within the Green Zone, it is hard to argue that the "tyrannizing" of the Iraqi population beyond its walls has not worsened. Every day on average a hundred or more Iraqis die from the violence of an increasingly complicated civil war. Sunnis attack Shia with bombs of every description -- suicide bombers and car bombs and bicycle bombs and motorcycle bombs -- and they maintain the pace of terror at an unprecedented, almost unimaginable rate. In the last six months alone Baghdad has endured 488 "terror-related bombings," an average of nearly three a day.
Shia leaders respond with death squads, whose members, drawn from party militias and often allied with the Ministry of Interior and the Iraqi police, have by now tortured and assassinated thousands of Sunnis. As Iraqis do their shopping or say their prayers they are blown to pieces by suicide bombers. As they drive through the cities in broad daylight they are pulled from their cars by armed men at roadblocks who behead them or shoot them in the back of the neck. As they sit at home at night they are kidnapped by men in police or army uniforms who load them in the trunks of their cars and carry them off to secret places to be tortured and executed, their bound and headless bodies to be found during the following days in fields or dumps or by the roadside. These bodies, examined by United Nations officials in the Baghdad morgue,
"often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails."
As Iraqis know well, the power drills and nails were a favorite of Saddam's torturers -- though now, according to a United Nations expert on torture, "the situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein." The level of carnage is difficult to comprehend. According to official figures published by the United Nations, which certainly understate the case, 6,599 Iraqis were murdered in July and August alone. Estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the war range from a conservative 52,000, by the Web site Iraq Body Count, to 655,000 by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, with the Iraqi Health Minister recently announcing a cumulative total of 150,000.
As for the country's links to international terrorism, we might look to the official consensus of the American intelligence agencies issued in April 2006 that "the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives" and that "the Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." The Bush administration's fears about Iraq's possible collaboration with terror groups, largely conjectural, have since Sadam's fall attained a terrible reality. Iraq's "unity and territorial integrity," meantime, has become the central issue, as the war becomes increasingly sectarian, cities and regions are "ethnically cleansed," and the Shia have pushed through a law, in the face of bitter Sunni opposition, making possible the autonomy of the South, the culmination of a political process that, beginning with the first vote boycotted by Sunnis, has served to worsen sectarian conflict.
The central question of how power and resources should be divided in Iraq and what the country should look like, a question that was going to be settled peacefully by the nascent political institutions of the "first Arab democracy," has become the critical political issue dividing Kurd from Sunni and Sunni from Shia, and also dividing the sectarian political coalitions themselves. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the "unity government," on whom President Bush repeatedly calls to "dismantle the militias," is in fact dependent for his own political survival on Moqtada al-Sadr, the creator and leader of the largest militia, the Mahdi Army. Indeed, the two most important militias are controlled by the two most powerful parties in parliament.Increasingly the "unity government" itself, quarreling vituperatively within the Green Zone, serves as an impotent echo of the savage warfare raging beyond the walls. The partitioning of Iraq is now openly advocated by many -- including such prominent American politicians as Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- desperate to find "a solution," however illusory, to the war, anything that will allow the Americans to withdraw, while avoiding any admission of defeat.
Kennan's problem of knowing "where you are going to end" begins, as he knew well, on the ground; but it does not end there. Information obtained by dedicated but deeply fallible humans travels from places like Fallujah by cable and e-mail and word of mouth into the vast four-mile-square bunker of the Green Zone, with its half-dozen concentric layers of concrete blast walls and sandbags and barbed wire, and from there to the great sprawling labyrinth of the Washington national security bureaucracy, up through the thousands of competing staffers in the layers of bureaus and agencies and eventually to the highly driven people at the tops of the organizational pyramids: the people who, it is said, "make the decisions." In the best managed of administrations there exists, between those on the ground who listen and learn and those in the offices who debate and decide, a great deal of bureaucratic "noise." And this, alas, as so many accounts of decision-making on the war make all too clear, was not the best managed of administrations. Indeed, its top officials, talented and experienced as many of them were, seem to have willingly collaborated, for reasons of ego or ambition or ideological hubris, in making themselves collectively blind.
Consider, for example, this striking but typical discussion in the White House in April 2003 just as the Iraq occupation, the vital first step in President Bush's plan "to transform the Middle East," was getting underway. American forces are in Baghdad but the capital is engulfed by a wave of looting and disorder, with General Tommy Franks's troops standing by. The man in charge of the occupation, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jay Garner, has just arrived "in-country." Secretary of State Colin Powell has come to the Oval Office to discuss the occupation with the President, who is joined by Condoleezza Rice, then his national security adviser. Powell began, writes Woodward, by raising "the question of unity of command" in Iraq:
"There are two chains of command, Powell told the president. Garner reports to Rumsfeld and Franks reports to Rumsfeld. The president looked surprised.
"'That's not right,' Rice said. ‘That's not right.'
Powell thought Rice could at times be pretty sure of herself, but he was pretty sure he was right.
"‘Yes, it is,' Powell insisted.
"‘Wait a minute,' Bush interrupted, taking Rice's side. ‘That doesn't sound right.'
"Rice got up and went to her office to check. When she came back, Powell thought she looked a little sheepish. ‘That's right,' she said."
What might Kennan, the consummate diplomatic professional, have thought of such a discussion between president, secretary of state, and national security adviser, had he lived to read of it? He would have grasped its implications instantly, as the President and his national security adviser apparently did not. Which leads to Powell's patient -- too patient -- explanation to the President:
"You have to understand that when you have two chains of command and you don't have a common superior in the theater, it means that every little half-assed fight they have out there, if they can't work it out, comes out to one place to be resolved. And that's in the Pentagon. Not in the NSC or the State Department, but in the Pentagon."
The kernel of an answer to what is the most painful and intractable question about the Iraq war -- how could U.S. officials repeatedly and consistently make such ill-advised and improbably stupid decisions, beginning with their lack of planning for "the postwar" -- can be found in this little chamber play in the Oval Office, and in the fact that at least two thirds of the cast seem wholly incapable of comprehending the script. In Woodward's account, Rice, who was then the official responsible for coordinating the national security bureaucracies of the U.S. government, found what was being said "a rather theoretical discussion," somehow managing to miss the fact that she and the National Security Council she headed had been cut out of decision-making on the Iraq war -- and cut out, further, in favor of an official, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who, if we are to believe Woodward, did not bother even to return her telephone calls.
The Iraq occupation would have all the weaknesses of two chains of command, weaknesses that would become all too apparent in a matter of days, when Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the junior three-star in the entire Army, replaced General Franks and L. Paul Bremer replaced Garner, leaving the occupation in the hands of two officials who despised one another and hardly spoke. And both chains would end not in the White House but in the Pentagon, a vast bureaucracy not known for the delicate political touch that would be needed to carry out an occupation of this degree of complexity. We hear again the patient explanation of Powell -- whose fate in the Bush administration seems to have been to play the role of Cassandra, uttering grim prophecies destined to be ignored as reliably as they were to be proved true -- letting Woodward (but this time not the President) know of his certainty that "the Pentagon wouldn't resolve the conflicts because Wolfowitz and Feith were running their own little games and had their own agenda to promote Chalabi."
The name of Ahmad Chalabi, the brilliant, charming, cunning impresario of the Iraqi exile community, evokes memories of disasters past and, from the Pentagon point of view, of dreams dashed: the king to be who was, alas, never crowned. He is an irresistible character and has served as the off-screen villain in the telling of many an Iraq war melodrama, with particular attention to his part in helping to supply intelligence to various willing recipients within the U.S. government, bolstering the case that Iraq had significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, however, Chalabi had a much more consequential role, that of the Pentagon's ruler-to-be, the solution to that vexing question of what to do about "the postwar."
Inherent in the War of Imagination were certain rather obvious contradictions: Donald Rumsfeld's dream of a "demonstration model" war of quick, overwhelming victory did not foresee an extended occupation -- on the contrary, the defense secretary abjured, publicly and vociferously, any notion that his troops would be used for "nation-building." Rumsfeld's war envisioned rapid victory and rapid departure. Wolfowitz and the other Pentagon neoconservatives, on the other hand, imagined a "democratic transformation," a thoroughgoing social revolution that would take a Baathist Party–run autocracy, complete with a Baathist-led army and vast domestic spying and security services, and transform it into a functioning democratic polity -- without the participation of former Baathist officials.
How to resolve this contradiction? The answer, for the Pentagon, seems to have amounted to one word: Chalabi. "When it came to Iraq," James Risen writes in State of War, "the Pentagon believed it had the silver bullet it needed to avoid messy nation building -- a provisional government in exile, built around Chalabi, could be established and then brought in to Baghdad after the invasion."
This so-called "turnkey operation" seems to have appeared to be the perfect compromise plan: Chalabi was Shiite, as were most Iraqis, but he was also a secularist who had lived in the West for nearly fifty years and was close to many of the Pentagon civilians. Alas, there was one problem: the confirmed idealist in the White House "was adamant that the United States not be seen as putting its thumb on the scales" of the nascent Iraqi democracy. Chalabi, for all his immense popularity in the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office, would not be installed as president of Iraq. Though "Bush's commitment to democracy was laudable," as Risen observes, his awkward intervention "was not really the answer to the question of postwar planning." He goes on:
"Once Bush quashed the Pentagon's plans, the administration failed to develop any acceptable alternative.... Instead, once the Pentagon realized the president wasn't going to let them install Chalabi, the Pentagon leadership did virtually nothing. After Chalabi, there was no Plan B."
An unnamed White House official describes to Risen the Laurel-and-Hardy consequences within the government of the President's attachment to the idea of democratic elections in Iraq:
"Part of the reason the planning for post-Saddam Iraq was so nonexistent was that the State Department had been saying if you invade, you have to plan for the postwar. And DOD said, no you don't. You can set up a provisional government in exile around Chalabi. DOD had a stupid plan, but they had a plan. But if you don't do that plan, and you don't make the Pentagon work with State to develop something else, then you go to war with no plan."
Anyone wanting to answer the question of "how we began" in Iraq has to confront the monumental fact that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, invaded Iraq with no particular and specific idea of what it was going to do there, and then must try to explain how this could have happened. In his account Woodward resists the lure of Chalabi but not the temptation of melodrama, instead choosing, with typically impeccable political timing, to place Donald Rumsfeld in the role of mustache-twirling villain, a choice that most of the country, in the wake of the elections and the secretary's instant fall from power, seems happy to embrace. And the secretary, truculent, arrogant, vain, has shown himself perfectly willing to play his part in this familiar Washington morality tale, setting himself up for the predictable fall by spending hours at the podium before fawning reporters and their television cameras during and after the invasion.
The Fall of Rumsfeld gives pace and drive to Woodward's narrative. No doubt this will please readers, who find themselves increasingly outraged at the almost unbelievable failures in planning and execution, rewarding them with a bracing wave of schadenfreude when the inevitable defenestration finally takes place -- outside the frame of the book but wholly predictable from its storyline. Indeed, the fact of State of Denial's publication a month before the election, complete with the usual national television interviews and other attendant publicity, was not the least of the signs that the knives were out and glinting and that the secretary's days were numbered.
Irresistible as Rumsfeld is, however, the story of the Iraq war disaster springs less from his brow than from that of an inexperienced and rigidly self-assured president who managed to fashion, with the help of a powerful vice-president, a strikingly disfigured process of governing. Woodward, much more interested in character and personal rivalry than government bureaus and hierarchies, refers to this process broadly as "the interagency," as in "Rice said the interagency was broken." He means the governing apparatus set up by the National Security Act of 1947, which gathered the government's major security officials -- secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, attorney general, director of national intelligence, among others -- into the National Security Council, and gave to the president a special assistant for national security affairs (commonly known as the national security adviser) and a staff to manage, coordinate, and control it. Through the national security council and the "deputies committee" and other subsidiary bodies linking the various government departments at lower levels, information and policy guidance are supposed to work their way up from bureaucracy to president, and his decisions to work their way down. Ron Suskind, who has been closely studying the inner workings of the Bush administration since his revealing piece about Karl Rove and John Dilulio in 2003 and his book on Paul O'Neill the following year, observes that "the interagency" not only serves to convey information and decisions but also is intended to perform a more basic function:
"Sober due diligence, with an eye for the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative."
This is precisely what the President didn't want, particularly after September 11; deeply distrustful of the bureaucracy, desirous of quick, decisive action, impatient with bureaucrats and policy intellectuals, the President wanted to act. Suskind writes:
"For George W. Bush, there had been an evolution on such matters -- from the early, pre-9/11 President, who had little grasp of foreign affairs and made few major decisions in that realm; to the post- 9/11 President, who met America's foreign challenges with decisiveness born of a brand of preternatural, faith-based, self-generated certainty. The policy process, in fact, never changed much. Issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the President's desk; and, if they did, it was often after Bush seemed to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as his ‘instinct' or ‘gut.'"
Woodward tends to blame "the broken policy process" on the relative strength of personalities gathered around the cabinet table: the power and ruthlessness of Rumsfeld, the legendary "bureaucratic infighter"; the weakness of Rice, the very function and purpose of whose job, to let the President both benefit from and control the bureaucracy, was in effect eviscerated. Suskind, more convincingly, argues that Bush and Cheney constructed precisely the government they wanted: centralized, highly secretive, its clean, direct lines of decision unencumbered by information or consultation. "There was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else," Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, remarks to Suskind. "There was never one from the start. Bush didn't want one, for whatever reason." Suskind suggests why in an acute analysis of personality and leadership:
"Of the many reasons the President moved in this direction, the most telling may stem from George Bush's belief in his own certainty and, especially after 9/11, his need to protect the capacity to will such certainty in the face of daunting complexity. His view of right and wrong, and of righteous actions -- such as attacking evil or spreading "God's gift" of democracy -- were undercut by the kind of traditional, shades-of-gray analysis that has been a staple of most presidents' diets. This President's traditional day began with Bible reading at dawn, a workout, breakfast, and the briefings of foreign and domestic threats.... The hard, complex analysis, in this model, would often be a thin offering, passed through the filters of Cheney or Rice, or not presented at all.
"...This granted certain unique advantages to Bush. With fewer people privy to actual decisions, tighter confidentiality could be preserved, reducing leaks. Swift decisions -- either preempting detailed deliberation or ignoring it could move immediately to implementation, speeding the pace of execution and emphasizing the hows rather than the more complex whys. What Bush knew before, or during, a key decision remained largely a mystery. Only a tiny group -- Cheney, Rice, Card, Rove, Tenet, Rumsfeld -- could break this seal."
To the rest of the government, of course, this "mystery" must have been excruciating to endure; Suskind describes how many of those in the "foreign policy establishment" found themselves "befuddled" by the way the traditional policy process was viewed not only as unproductive but "perilous." Information, that is, could slow decision-making; indeed, when it had to do with a bold and risky venture like the Iraq war, information and discussion -- an airing, say, of the precise obstacles facing a "democratic transition" conducted with a handful of troops -- could paralyze it. If the sober consideration of history and facts stood in the way of bold action then it would be the history and the facts that would be discarded. The risk of doing nothing, the risk, that is, of the status quo, justified acting. Given the grim facts on the ground -- the likelihood of a future terrorist attack from the "malignant" Middle East, the impossibility of entirely protecting the country from it -- better to embrace the unknown. Better, that is, to act in the cause of "constructive instability" -- a wonderfully evocative phrase, which, as Suskind writes,
"was the term used by various senior officials in regard to Iraq -- a term with roots in pre-9/11 ideas among neoconservatives about the need for a new, muscular, unbounded American posture; and outgrowths that swiftly took shape after the attacks made everything prior to 9/11 easily relegated to dusty history.
"The past -- along with old-style deliberations based on cause and effect or on agreed-upon precedents -- didn't much matter; nor did those with knowledge and prevailing policy studies, of agreements between nations, or of long-standing arrangements defining the global landscape. What mattered, by default, was the President's "instinct" to guide America across the fresh, post-9/11 terrain -- a style of leadership that could be rendered within tiny, confidential circles. America, unbound, was duly led by a President, unbound.
It is that "duly led," of course, that is the question. Information, history, and all the other attributes of a deliberative policy may inhibit action but they do so by weighing and calculating risk. Dispensing with them has no consequences only if you accept the proposition that the Iraq war so clearly disproves: that bold action must always make us safer.
For Part 2 of Mark Danner's "Iraq: The War of the Imagination," click here.

This article appears in the December 21, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books.