Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Iraq Obsession

Credible evidence from several sources demonstrates that Iraq was in Bush's crosshairs from day one.

Richard Clarke was the head of the US government's anti-terrorism efforts leading up to 9/11. His book revealed some disturbing facts about the Bush administration's monomania regarding Iraq:

Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.

After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection."

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"So what did we do after 9/11? We invade an oil-rich and occupy an oil-rich Arab country which was doing nothing to threaten us. In other words, we stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda. And the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it, offshoots of it, second-generation al Qaeda have been greatly strengthened."

Sounds like Mr Clarke also thinks it was an oil grab. Of course, what does he know? He's just the guy who ran the black helicopters.

Paul O'Neill, Bush's Treasury Secretary tells some interesting stories about the early days of the Bush administration.

At cabinet meetings, he says the president was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection," forcing top officials to act "on little more than hunches about what the president might think."

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” says Suskind. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

The result of Bush's Iraq obsession has been to radicalize a generation of young Muslims, according to Rohan Gunartna. American security has been reduced as a result of Bush's refusal to let facts dictate the direction foreign policy should take.

Since the September 11 attacks, Al Qaeda’s strength shrank from about 4,000 members
to a few hundred members, and nearly 80 percent of Al Qaeda’s operational leadership
and membership in 102 countries has been killed or captured. Al Qaeda adapted, however, instilling its mission and vision in associated groups and transferring its capabilities to them. The U.S. focus on Iraq, Al Qaeda, and eliminating the Al Qaeda leadership limited the ability for U.S. officials to understand and respond better to the changing threat.
the U.S. invasion of Iraq increased the worldwide threat of terrorism many times over. Even moderate Muslims are angry about the invasion and postinvasion developments. This animosity toward the United States makes it easier for terrorist and extremist groups to continue to generate recruits and support from the suffering
and grieving Muslims of Iraq. Because of perceived injustices attributed to the West in general, particularly in Pakistan and Iraq, there will be significant support for the new generation of mujahideen in Iraq. Groups that were dying are making a comeback, and several new groups have emerged in Iraq, Indonesia, Pakistan, and even in Europe.
Although the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a fatal mistake, withdrawing from Iraq would be an even greater one. U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and turning responsibility over to the United Nations would only strengthen terrorist capabilities in general and Al Qaeda more specifically.

(And here's the part that I think gets forgotten in the red-meat rhetoric of the right.)

It is therefore crucial to develop a truly multipronged strategy to fight the multidimensional character of violent Islamists. Instead of only tactically targeting identifiable terrorist cells, it is essential to prevent the creation of terrorists strategically. The bloc of nations with staying power in the West must work with the Muslim countries—their governments and nongovernmental organizations—to target the ideology that is producing the terrorist. It is necessary to send the message that Al Qaeda and its associated groups are not Koranic organizations and that they are presenting a corrupt version of Islam by misinterpreting and misrepresenting the Koran and other texts. Only by countering the belief that it is the duty of every good Muslim to wage jihad can the extant and emerging terrorist threat be reduced. As Al Qaeda is constantly adapting to the changing security environment and morphing its structure, the key to defeating Al Qaeda and reducing the terrorist threat is to develop a multi-agency, multijuristic, and multinational strategy to combat this ideology.

Where I disagree with the author of the article (and I'm not so sure we actually disagree) is that I think that we have to plan for a post-occupation Iraq. In order to plan for it, we have to visualize what it should look like and create a plan for getting there.

The whole debate about "benchmarks" has gotten a bit silly. I saw a speech by McCain where he was clearly talking about benchmarks, but was dancing around trying to avoid using the "b" word. The idea behind a benchmark is that you state what your intermediate goal looks like and when and how you hope to achieve it. I can understand his reluctance to get tied into a "withdrawal schedule" or something as inflexible as that, but if you don't have a plan for getting someplace, you'll never get there.

Of course you have to take actual conditions into account. Even Obama is starting to "refine" his policy (gotta love that word!), stating that he will take "conditions on the ground" into account. (I also think that he hasn't even begun to mine the "refinement" possibilities of his refusal to define the difference between "combat" and "non-combat" units.)