Sunday, May 27, 2007

Parsing that pre-war intelligence report

“I’ll fire the next guy who asks about a post-war plan.” Donald Rumsfeld, 2003

(Yes, I know it is Sunday afternoon, and the report was released on Friday. But it is 229 pages long, and I’m not here to summarize a summary, even if it comes from McClatchy.)

Introduction & set-up

Two months before the war in Iraq was launched, two Intelligence Community Assessments (ICA’s) were compiled and widely disseminated throughout the administration by the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq and Regional Principle Challenges in Post Saddam Iraq both dealt with the aftermath of invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein. Both predicted the mess in the Middle East as it exists today, both inside Iraq and across the wider region as a whole – but were stubbornly ignored, and planning for the aftermath was actively discouraged. That is probably the stupidest policy decision ever made. Stupid to the point of criminal negligence.

I realize that a new term has just been introduced, so lets define it before we go on. Outside the intelligence community it is not widely known exactly what an ICA is most people have probably never even come across the term. ICA’s, like NIE’s, or National Intelligence Estimates, distill into a single document the findings of disparate intelligence agencies. Unlike NIE’s, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the National Foreign Intelligence Board do not have to approve the release.

The conclusions drawn by the 2003 reports, released Friday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, are so prescient and so damning, I am left to work through the stages of grief after reading the whole thing.

It was all foreseen, and it was all dismissed, discounted or flat-out ignored. To tragic results.

Establishing Democracy

Before the invasion was launched, the reports warned that attempts to establish Democracy in Iraq would prove to be a Sisyphean challenge in a nation with no tradition of open Democracy and the absence of “loyal opposition” political actors. The possibility that Iraq would slide backward, regressing to an authoritarian past was seen as highly likely; and the greatest medium- to long-range obstacle to a Democratized Iraq would be the difficulty of establishing a stable, representative political system in which multiple parties alternate power.

The reports noted the absence of “Political Islam” in Iraq, but also noted that in the absence of the Baathist Hussein regime, that could change rapidly and present daunting challenges. This came to pass.

Security, Terrorism & al Qa’eda

The rise in terrorism and the emergence of terrorist groups aligned with al Qa’eda, predicated by the opportunity presenting itself, was foreseen as well. The reports predicted that actors aligning themselves with al Qa’eda would attempt to replicate the methods of striking against the occupying forces that had been modestly successful in striking back against the American forces in Afghanistan. Additionally, it was predicted that the lines between disparate terrorist organizations would become blurred.

Indeed, this is witnessed nightly on the national news when every bombing and every attack is attributed to al Qa’eda. Either those few fellows are mighty industrious, the invasion and occupation have proven to be a magnificently effective recruiting tool for the organization, or the lines have blurred to the point that all bad actors are classified as al Qa’eda, or all-of-the-above. (If I were taking an exam, I would select “D.”)

Additional volatile elements were present in Iraq that did not exist in Afghanistan: The disparate ethnic groups and the possibility of rogue elements of the Iraqi Army forming alliances with terrorist organizations. The latter possibility became a “probability approaches one” scenario when the Iraqi Army was disbanded and dissolved, and all those trained and well armed personnel were displaced from their careers and livelihoods, still holding all those weapons. (Paul Bremmer’s decision in 2003 to disband the Iraqi Army puts him in contention for the dubious honor of exhibiting the most perfect, abject stupidity of anyone on the planet, currently held by Douglas Feith.)

Divided Society & the Potential for Civil War

The intelligence community determined prior to George Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power that the removal of Hussein would remove the stops that had prevented Iraqi society from devolving into sectarian strife. The years of Baathist oppression of the Shia majority would be avenged. Throughout Iraqi society, it was predicted, those who had suffered under the Hussein regime would retaliate viciously against those who had inflicted or enabled that suffering.

The only way reprisals and blood-letting could be avoided would be the presence of an overwhelming occupation force of 400,000 or more troops (see Desert Crossing). The invasion was launched with less than half the troops it was known would be necessary to secure the country after the removal of Hussein.

Refugees & Humanitarian Crises

Another “given” that was overlooked was the humanitarian and refugee crisis that would accompany the unrest that would certainly follow the removal of Hussein from power. It was estimated that 900,000 would be displaced internally and 1.45 million would become refugees. These numbers, as bad as they are, were gross underestimations. More than 2 million have been internally displaced, and at least that many have fled the country entirely. Food distribution is spotty, and the healthcare delivery system is in a shambles, frequently targeted by insurgent fighters from all sides. Health professionals, educated and with resources have left the country in droves. Those remaining are frequently the targets of attacks. The hospitals and clinics are attacked, but the doctors and nurses themselves are hunted down, attacked, tortured and killed outside of work as well, simply because they are non-partisan providers of health services.

The Emergence of Political Islam, & Rising Iranian Influence

Before the invasion, Political Islam had not found fertile soil in Iraq – due in large part to ruthless oppression by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The rebound over-effect that has played out was accurately forecast.

The intelligence community argued that an invasion of Iraq would cast ripples through the region, bolstering support for Islamist political parties in other countries, and would increase financial support for organizations that used terrorism as a tactic.

Neighboring countries, most with a vested interest in seeing Iraq remain intact. Various mechanisms would be employed by the neighboring nations as they jockeyed for control, and they would show little concern for American interests.

The biggest star on that stage would undoubtedly be Iran – (which made overtures to the United States that were rebuffed.) The intelligence community asserted that assuring Iran a place at the table when negotiating the fate of post-Saddam Iraq could help to defuse long-running tensions between the United States and Iran. The administration chose to instead scornfully dismiss Iran, and as a result, the tensions between the two nations have ratcheted up to near 1979-80 levels.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

It was determined by the intelligence community before the invasion that the military approach to eliminating Iraq’s (non existent) WMD’s would not deter other nations in the region and in Asia to abandon their nuclear programs, or even to back off on those development programs. Instead, nations would deem that the programs were necessary and proceed apace. If the invasion has had any effect in this area, it has been to achieve exactly the opposite ends – programs to develop nuclear weapons have increased in effort and intensity. The thinking behind that strategy: Get ‘em now, and use ‘em as a deterent before they can be preemptively attacked and the programs decimated.

Oil & Infrastructure

Before the war, it was known that Iraq’s water and power infrastructure was rickety at best, after a decade of sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was also known that the next government of Iraq would require prodigious outside assistance to repair and restore the electrical grid and water purification systems.

In January 2003, those reports stated that securing the elements of the infrastructure would be crucial. (This has not been done, and the chlorine looted from water purification plants has been looted and used to make bombs with a secondary-kill capability.)

On the oil front, it was projected that if the oil infrastructure was relatively undamaged by the war, it would be possible to increase Iraq’s oil production by approximately 700,000 barrels per day, and that Iraq would be able to pay for at least part of their own reconstruction efforts. (This - the one aspect of the pre-war assessments that could have been considered "potentially promising" has not worked out.)

Thankfully, Pat Roberts is no longer chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, or this damning report would never have seen the light of day. (Thank you for the majority and the chairmanship, Missouri, Virginia and Montana voters!)

[Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose]

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