Sunday, July 30, 2006

Rule by the Bullies

I just finished reading Peter W. Galbraith's review of four relatively new books on Bush's War in the New York Review of Books. It is a very worthwhile, if depressing, read. This was someone who could see how an overthrow of Saddam Hussein might have been able to work, though the chances were always slim. It had little to do with military might and everything to do with bureaucratic organization. Early on in the article, he recounts being in Baghdad shortly after the US takeover:

I arrived in Baghdad on April 14, 2003, as a news consultant to the ABC investigative team led by veteran correspondent Brian Ross. Before the war, Brian had broadcast a profile of Uday and one of his first stops in Baghdad was at Uday's riverside residence. In the basement of the partially looted house, Bob Baer, another ABC news consultant, made an astounding discovery, the personnel files of the Saddam Fedayeen. We were amazed that the military had not inspected or secured such an obvious location and Ross made that point in his exclusive ABC news report. ABC had no further use for the files; but they had obvious value for the US military, containing as they did the names and addresses of the main resistance to the American occupation. I had thought Ross's story would arouse some interest from the Pentagon but there was no reaction. I then called Paul Wolfowitz's office to see if I could discreetly hand them over to the military. (I was still a professor at the National War College—and therefore an employee of the Defense Department—and wanted to help.) Although we were staying in the Ishtar Sheraton, a hotel guarded by US troops, the deputy secretary of defense could not arrange to pick up these documents before I had to leave the city.

In the three weeks that followed Baghdad's fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday's house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq's capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism—the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war—and the incipient insurgency.

As we now know, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon had no plan to secure any part of Baghdad. It allowed looters to destroy Iraq's governmental infrastructure and to steal thousands of tons of high explosives, weapons, and radioactive materials. And it had no coherent plan for Iraq's postwar governance. Gordon and Trainor retell very clearly the now familiar story (at least to readers of The New York Review) of the Bush administration's cavalier approach to postwar issues, but they also provide stunning insights into one key aspect of the postwar failure: the decision to invade Iraq with too few troops.

Mindless in Iraq

Reading this, I was struck by a thought, not terribly profound, but perhaps true, nevertheless. The Cheneyites treated Iraq and specifically Iraqi governance with the contempt they have for the US government, but are unable to fully exercise because the institutions here are still (barely) withstanding their attempts to break them down. Why should these bullies and braggarts have given a single moment of thought to the dull, mundane needs of ordinary state bureaucracy - water bills, street sanitation, records keeping - when they don't give a fig about such things at home? They only want the root 'em-toot 'em, rip-roaring, guns-a-blazin' fun stuff.

The parts of the US government that they want to destroy or neglect a la Grover Norquist (Be honest, do *you* think Grover Norquist is a hysterical blue furry man with really long floppy arms? I knew you did...) are what they turned their backs on in Iraq, too. They do not believe that ordinary bureaucracy can offer them anything of worth, so they pointedly ignored the very things that might have allowed something resembling normalcy to persist in the country.

It was replacing the rule of a dictator with the whims of a pack of bullies:

Trainor and Gordon [in their book Cobra II] present a devastating picture of Rumsfeld as a bully. Convinced of his own brilliance, Rumsfeld freely substituted his often hastily formed opinions for the considered judgments of his military professionals. He placed in the most senior positions compliant yes-men, like Myers, and punished those who questioned his casually formed judgments. He enjoyed belittling his subordinates.
Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush - the stories about them and their own behavior in front of the cameras betray their essentially thuggish attitude towards the world. It isn't even incompetence, really, as they aren't trying to govern in the first place. They want what they want, and they will do whatever it takes to get what they want.

It is with this in mind that I read Josh Marshall's post about the Cheneyites attempt to push Israel into attacking Syria as proxy for the US doing so itself:

But there do appear to be forces in Washington -- seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade -- who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. Condi's mindless 'birth pangs' remark wasn't just a gaffe -- or perhaps it was a gaffe in the Kinsleyan sense of inopportunely saying what you really think. That seems to be the thinking -- transformation through destabilization.
If you just hit hard enough, eventually you will get what you want. In another TPM post (this by guest poster DK) we are reminded that this is not something being foisted off on a clueless preznit - he's fully committed to governance by beating:

Time for some context on the current turmoil in and around Israel. This passage from Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty has special resonance given current events. The scene is the White House Situation Room in January 2001, where Bush is meeting for the first time with his National Security Council, 10 days after taking the oath of office. Bush has just asked who in the room has met Ariel Sharon:

He'd met Sharon briefly, Bush said, when they had flown over Israel in a helicopter on a visit in December 1998. "Just saw him that one time. We flew over the Palestinian camps," Bush said sourly. "Looked real bad down there. I don't see much we can do over there at this point. I think it's time to pull out of that situation."

And that was it, according to [Paul] O'Neill and several other people in the room. The Arab-Israeli conflict was a mess, and the United States would disengage. The combatants would have to work it out on their own.

[Colin] Powell said such a move might be hasty. He remarked on the violence on the West Bank and Gaza and on its roots. He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and Israeli army. "The consequences of that could be dire," he said, "especially for the Palestinians."

Bush shrugged. "Maybe that's the best way to get some things back in balance."

Powell seemed startled.

"Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things," Bush said.

With that, the rest of the meeting was devoted to Iraq.

If you can't "fix" it with violence, it isn't worth doing. The mishandling of Iraq after the intial invasion wasn't a bug, as far as the adminsitration was concerned. It was a feature.


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