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From the Mosaic
Friday, August 20, 2004
On Hiatus

As if I wasn't stalling enough, I'll be on vacation until August 31. I'll try to get Yet More Plan of Attack up at that time.

Plan of Attack, Part 3

I've received some complaints from friends and loved ones about the relative lack of content in Part 2, in particular the fact that I haven't done much more, to this point, than summarize Plan of Attack. Guilty as charged -- I've been summarizing, not reviewing or analyzing. Now, as it happens, I think that pulling the particularly interesting pieces out of the book is an important public service, considering we're talking about reporting of facts that went into the decision to go to war in Iraq, but I understand the desire for a genuine review. I intend to provide one once I'm done highlighting the things I learned or found illuminating.

On September 11, 2002, the day before Bush gave a speech at the UN calling for new resolutions to disarm Iraq, Senate Democrats, including Bob Graham of Florida, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a classified letter to George Tenet, the CIA director. The letter formally requested information on how the CIA's covert plans might pertain to the military and diplomatic plans in Iraq, what the relationship was between Iraq and the global war on terrorism, whether the Iraq threat was immediate, and what the postwar landscape would be like.

The CIA refused this request, on the grounds that the information requested amounted to an assessment of US strategy and policy, which fell well outside the mission of the CIA. Tenet did, however, authorize a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's WMD capability in order to provide senators with at least some of the information they sought. The longer NIEs typically have an executive summary at the front, called "Key Judgments." NIEs had often been criticized in the past by policy-makers for being too filled with hedging, qualifications, and caveats, and so the analysts at the CIA wanted to avoid equivocation; John McLaughlin, who was at that time the deputy CIA director, felt they had to dare to be wrong in order to make judgments that were sufficiently clear. Moreover, this NIE was prepared well after Cheney's August 26 statement, which was unsubstantiated by intelligence, that Saddam definitively had weapons of mass destruction.

The NIE, which was presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 2, stated, "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." This statement was made as part of the Key Judgments, and it was made without qualification, in accordance with the CIA's thinking that equivocation should be avoided. Deeper within the NIE, a reader could find caveats and uncertainty, including "low confidence" in an assessment of whether Saddam's regime had "directed attacks against US territory" and whether Saddam himself might give al Qaeda assistance in a WMD attack. But none of this lack of confidence was mirrored in the Key Judgments, which is what busy high-level officials actually use to form policy. This, coupled with the Administration's continuing insistence that Iraq had WMD and was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, ultimately resulted in Administration critics being unable to make an effective argument against a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

While there was talk within the Administration of what grounds to use for a UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq, no issue other than WMD would have given such a resolution a chance of successful passage. Links between Iraq and terrorism were weak or unprovable, and Iraq's dismal human rights record would not constitute sufficient grounds for war in the eyes of the UN and its many member dictatorships.

The resolution, UN resolution 1441, was passed on November 8 after seven weeks of diplomatic negotiation, particularly with France, which had close commercial ties with Iraq. It required Saddam to readmit weapons inspectors and to provide a declaration giving a full accounting of all WMD programs within 30 days. If he failed in both of these tasks, he would be in "material breach" of the resolution, which would result in "serious consequences," i.e. war. Saddam, not being completely stupid, submitted the declaration and readmitted inspectors. This was much to the consternation of the Bush Administration, who had hoped that he would fail to comply so that he could be removed through military action, in accordance with their policy of regime change. In short, they were looking for Saddam to give them an excuse to remove him from power, and were disappointed when it seemed that he would give them no such easy opportunity.

So the Administration began to gather intelligence on Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors, as well as to continue to improve intelligence about Iraq itself. Blix had openly stated that he wanted to be conciliatory, low-key, and non-confrontational. Our spying certainly confirmed that; it revealed that Blix was not, in fact, doing all the things he said he was doing, and that moreover he was not reporting everything that he was doing.

On the Iraq front, George Tenet and John McLaughlin gathered the best of our intelligence and presented it to Bush, Cheney, and Rice on December 21, 2002. The presentation was to be The Case for Iraqi WMD. The presentation mentioned exactly one clear weapons violation -- an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a range of 500 kilometers. The UN had limited Iraqi UAVs to a range of 150 km, and the Iraqi weapons declaration had stated that its UAV had a range of only 80 km. The UAV was the only violation that we were able to confirm by intelligence; the remainder of the presentation was concerned with implications and inferences. After the presentation, Bush turned to Tenet and said, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?" Tenet threw his arms in the air and said, "It's a slam dunk!" This convinced his skeptical listeners that pressure and ultimately war against Iraq was justified based on the threat.

The saga continues in Part 4.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Plan of Attack, Part 2

More things from Plan of Attack that are worth mentioning:

The idea of covert action to effect the removal of Saddam Hussein was never considered. This was for two reasons. The first was that, due to a history of largely bungled Iraq operations, the CIA had very little credibility with Iraqis. This resulted in the CIA having no sources inside Iraq and few prospects of an alliance with any sort of opposition group. The second was that Saddam had himself taken power in a coup, and had successfully put down coups. He had organized his regime around the principle of preventing coups, and therefore CIA action in support of a coup would be futile.

With regard to the "axis of evil" language that was drafted for the State of the Union speech on 29 January 2002, Iraq was originally singled out as the epitome of a state with weapons of mass destruction that would be willing to share them with terrorists. Condoleeza Rice suggested adding other nations (Iran and North Korea) in order to reduce the impression of a near-declaration of war against Iraq. But the language was only there in order to begin a national discussion on war in Iraq. Iran and North Korea were in the speech solely to provide political cover. (Interestingly, Rumsfeld thought the Axis of Evil speech was "not particularly in my area.")

By August 2002, the war plan for Iraq was nearly in its final form. The problem was that the military planning had been given much more attention than any other aspect of Iraq policy -- much more than diplomacy or even postwar planning. The implementing of the plan's prerequisites was complete, and additional steps towards war followed in their wake, almost of their own volition. The war planning had taken on a life of its own, and no one in the Administration (with the possible exception of Colin Powell's State Department) put any thought into putting on the brakes before we were put in a position from which there was no exit save war. The CIA was building a network of informants, using what little credibility it had remaining; in order to gain cooperation, they had to tell people that we were definitely going to war. The military was moving troops into the region, using the cover provided by Operation Enduring Freedom to make it appear that action against Iraq was not imminent. And we were already starting to work with other nations in the region, including but not limited to Saudi Arabia, to make sure that we would have the necessary support in order to launch an invasion.

The march to war reached a turning point on August 27, when Dick Cheney gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. During the month of August, support for diplomacy had finally gotten some steam within the Administration, mostly because of the reality that our key allies such as Britain could not possibly support us in a war without first trying a diplomatic soluion. Cheney was concerned, though, that going to the UN would cause the issue of Iraq to get debated to death without any decisive action being taken. Bush agreed to let him speak before Bush's upcoming speech at the UN on September 12, but he did not review the details of what Cheney would say.

In his speech, Cheney made an astonishing claim. He said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Neither Bush nor the CIA had made any assertion like this at this point, externally or internally. There was no intelligence to support such a bold and uncompromising assessment of Iraq's WMD capability. But Cheney nonetheless stated, unequivocally, that Iraq had WMD, in order to continue the drive to war and to short-circuit the long, tedious, and sometimes ultimately ineffective process of diplomacy.

I hadn't intended to make writing about PoA my life's work, but I suppose it's inevitable that given a 450-page book about such a weighty topic that there'd be a lot of ground to cover. So, be sure to check out Part 3.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Plan of Attack, Part 1

I've just completed Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. According to the dust jacket, it's an "account of how and why President George W. Bush, his war council, and allies launched a preemptive attack to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq." I found reading it to be sort of a metaphor for the Iraq war itself -- a long slog through uncertain territory, often seemingly without direction, and yet ultimately worthwhile even if it's not really what you thought it was going to be.

Plan of Attack is not the sort of book I usually read (although I did, in high school, consume All the President's Men, which remains my primary source of information for all things Watergate). Although I'm deeply interested in political thought and philosophy, I generally haven't made time for blow-by-blow reporting of current events and gossip about government figures. PoA is very much a typical Bob Woodward book in that it has extraordinary detail but little in the way of narrative structure or analysis. The reader is largely left to judge for herself the signficance of each event recorded.

I'm assuming, incidentally, that PoA is for the most part truthful. This is a position that is not wholly without controversy. However, on the whole, given that Bush's and Kerry's campaigns both recommend it, and that furthermore Woodward would have so very much to lose if he fabricated information, I think the book is both accurate and ideologically neutral.

Here, in a nutshell, are the key things I learned (or had confirmed) by reading Plan of Attack:

The Bush Administration was, indeed, mildly fixated on Iraq from Bush's first day in office. This fixation had a legitimate basis in that Iraq was the only nation at that time that the US was engaging in any sort of military action against (enforcement of the no-fly zones). Nonetheless, although the basis was legitimate, the attention paid to Iraq was disproportionate, mostly because of the relentless advocacy of Paul Wolfowitz, the neoconservative deputy secretary of defense, and Dick Cheney's sense of unfinished business from the 1991 Gulf War, when he was serving as secretary of defense.

Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, upon taking office, found all the war plans to be in disarray. War planning is important; it allows the military to respond in the most effective way to any given situation because many of the contingencies are thought through up front, minimizing loss of life and maximizing the military's ability to fight and win the conflict. The necessity of current war plans is entirely independent of a need or desire to execute them.

What Rumsfeld discovered is that many of the war plans dated back to the mid-1990s, and that furthermore the war plans did not have their underlying assumptions identified in any way. For example, the war plan for the Korean peninsula (one of the more fully-formed plans, for what I hope are obvious reasons) did not make it clear whether it assumed that North Korea had nuclear weapons. The Iraq plan (also a fully-formed plan, as was right and proper) had similar difficulties. Rumsfeld, shortly after taking office, ordered rapid analysis and freshening of all the war plans, including Korea and Iraq, and in this act he did a very good thing that desperately needed doing.

The bona fide need to revise the Iraq war plan converged with the ideological desire in the Administration to do something about Saddam. As early as December 2001, with the war in Afghanistan going well but still very much underway, Bush requested briefings on the Iraq war plan for his war cabinet (which consists of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and the CIA director, at that time George Tenet). The plans had some prerequisites that were themselves prudent regardless of whether war would ultimately occur, such as moving the alternate air command and control center into Qatar from Saudi Arabia, and the decision was made to implement such prerequisites immediately. Note, though, that the only reason Iraq was at the very top of the agenda in the first place was due to the initial pre-9/11 desire within the Administration to depose Saddam.

More information in Part 2.

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