Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Deny, Deny, Deny - afer all, it's Grunts, not Generals, who do and who die

It is safe to say that 2005 provided the defining, crystallizing moments when the whole world woke up with a brutal hangover and realized just how badly we had fucked up.

By 2005, the momentum had shifted. More than a few people were figuring out that Iraq was a fiasco, and public support was starting to drain away as the realization set in that not only had Bush screwed the pooch royally with his ill-conceived pissing contest, but we had reelected the stupid fucker and were stuck with him for three more god-damned years.

He was already up a creek without a paddle before Katrina hit and we watched a national treasure drown while he strummed a guitar and shared some birthday cake with John McCain, then did a flyover a few days later, on his way back to Washington. After the PR disaster of Katrina, and the cratering approval ratings, he needed more than a booster shot. He needed more than a transfusion.

What he needed was a spectacular theatrical production.

And so, on November 30, 2005, he took to the stage at the Naval Academy. “The National Strategy for Victory in Iraqopened totepid reviews. Of course, the strategy he unveiled was essentially “We win, because I said so.” (I immediately wondered why he waited almost three years to issue such a powerful edict.)

And he stood there, behind the podium at one of the most hallowed institutions on American soil, and spun like a top - knowing full well that he was completely and utterly full of shit.

Months earlier, in the summer in fact, the RAND corporation had delivered the final report for a study commissioned by the Army in 2003 titled Rebuilding Iraq. Two versions of the RAND report were prepared - a classified one for internal consumption, and an unclassified one for public release, with the intent it might foster public discussion of the situation in Iraq.

The study spared no feelings and pulled no punches. It found plenty of shortcomings to point out - with the White House, the Department of Defense, the State Department. But the General staff at the Pentagon was not happy about being called out, so they took the cowards way out - they got busy and buried the report.
When RAND researchers began their work, nobody expected it to become a bone of contention with the Army. The idea was to review the lessons learned from the war, as RAND had done with previous conflicts.

The research was formally sponsored by Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, who was then the chief operations officer for the Army and now oversees Army forces in the Middle East, and Lt. Gen. David Melcher, who had responsibility for the Army’s development and works now on budget issues.

A team of RAND researchers led by Nora Bensahel interviewed more than 50 civilian and military officials. As it became clear that decisions made by civilian officials had contributed to the Army’s difficulties in Iraq, researchers delved into those policies as well.

The report was submitted at a time when the Bush administration was trying to rebut building criticism of the war in Iraq by stressing the progress Mr. Bush said was being made...

One of the serious issues detailed in the study was the assumption by the Bush administration that reconstruction would be minimal - negligible even. The administration persisted in clinging to the meme even after it was obvious that they had been utterly wrong, because admitting their errors did not fit the narrative. “Building public support for any pre-emptive or preventative war is inherently challenging, since by definition, action is being taken before the threat has fully manifested itself,” it said. “Any serious discussion of the costs and challenges of reconstruction might undermine efforts to build that support.”

But the most damning problem pointed out in the report was the pervasive and overarching lack of coordination. The right hand not only didn't know what the left hand was doing, it appeared to actively avoid coming in contact with comprehensive information. “There was never an attempt to develop a single national plan that integrated humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, governance, infrastructure development and postwar security,” the study said.

The study chided President Bush — and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned — as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” it said.

The Defense Department led by Donald H. Rumsfeld was given the lead in overseeing the postwar period in Iraq despite its “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.”

The State Department led by Colin L. Powell produced a voluminous study on the future of Iraq that identified important issues but was of “uneven quality” and “did not constitute an actionable plan.”

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, whose Central Command oversaw the military operation in Iraq, had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study said.

One result was that “the U.S. government did not provide strategic policy guidance for postwar Iraq until shortly before major combat operations commenced.” The study said that problem was compounded by General Franks, saying he took a narrow view of the military’s responsibilities after Saddam Hussein was ousted and assumed that American civilian agencies would do much to rebuild the country.

General Tommy Franks is not spared one iota in the findings. It was, after all, his command, and he got virtually everything absolutely wrong. He assumed that the Iraqi police and civilian government employees would stay on the job, and had no contingency plan in the event they did not.

Poor planning.

When Baghdad fell, the heavily mechanized American forces were not suited for restoring order in the absence of the local police and security forces. Anarchy ensued. (And Rumsfeld incredulously asked, in the wake of the looting, how many antique vases a country could have, anyway?)

Then there was the decision by Rumsfeld and Franks to stop the deployment of the First Cavalry Division and other forces to Baghdad after the city fell - they opted to project an image of victory for the cameras at the expense of securing the city.

In the months that followed, tensions mounted between civilian and military occupation personnel. And the law of unintended consequences reared it's ugly head. The lack of planning for the occupation and the possibility of insurgent actions had the inadvertent effect of strengthening the insurgency that was forming the minute the first armored vehicle rolled across the border. And the negative aspects of the occupation stood out in sharp contrast and fueled the insurgents who cropped up in resistance. The American military was unable to seal the borders after the invasion, which allowed weapons and foreign jihadist fighters to stream into the country virtually unchecked. The RAND report warned that sealing the borders was still not a priority in 2005.

Needless to say, the Army's top brass was not happy with being taken to task by the impudent snots at RAND, and started questioning the reports accuracy and methodology. RAND sent a rebuttal, but the Army s an obstinate organization. They were not swayed and refused to allow publication of the unclassified version, and the classified version was not widely distributed throughout the Pentagon. “The RAND study simply did not deliver a product that could have assisted the Army in paving a clear way ahead; it lacked the perspective needed for future planning by the U.S. Army,” said General Lovelace, one of the Generals who commissioned the study, but who refused to be interviewed by the Times for the source article.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton would like to make that determination for himself.

Within hours of reading the article in the paper on Monday, Representative Skelton fired off a leter to Army Secretary Pete Geren:

Dear Secretary Geren:

I am writing to express the sincere disappointment I felt upon reading the article in today’s New York Times entitled, “Army Buries Study Faulting Iraq Planning.” I find it inexcusable that the Army would apparently allow itself to become politicized in such a manner.

The United States Army has a long and honorable tradition of carrying out the nation’s business in a professional, nonpolitical, and extremely competent manner. This makes it all the more important that when the Army finds itself involved in a situation that has not gone according to expectations, it undertake a critical assessment of what went wrong, even if that assessment reflects poorly on the Army, the Department of Defense, the Executive Branch, or Congress. We cannot improve future results without studying past failures any more than we can wish that the war in Iraq had proceeded as outlined in some of the rosier scenarios laid out before the war started.

In September 2002 and March 2003, before the invasion of the Iraq, I wrote to the President to express my serious concerns about the lack of planning for post-war Iraq. The news reports about the unreleased RAND study seems to confirm that my concerns were on the mark. The New York Times article, if accurate, suggests that the RAND study points out a variety of failures, some by military personnel, some by civilians, and some, such as the lack of coordination between agencies, more worryingly, seem to be systemic problems. Such an analysis would not only be useful to the Army going forward, but would seem to be useful to the Department of Defense and the government of the United States at large. To try to not release such a useful report, seemingly to avoid political problems, is not in the fine tradition of the United States Army and should not be acceptable to you.

Again, I write to express my disappointment regarding the Army’s refusal to release the RAND study on Iraq. I would hope that you would take this opportunity to rectify this mistake, to release the full, classified version of the report to the appropriate committees in Congress, and to allow the publication of the unclassified summary of the report.

I hope Skelton is effective, but I am not going to hold my breath. Geren was, after all, a Bush appointee, and we all know that not a one of those craven fucks have a shred of honor, and their loyalty is, inexplicably, to the pretender to the throne, when it is supposed to be to their country.

Yet again, I hang my head in shame.

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