Saturday, June 18, 2005

Another disgruntled administration insider, I guess

Michiko Kakutani in the Times reviewing Larry Diamond's new book:

The failures of the Bush administration to prepare adequately for the postwar period in Iraq are by now well known, underscored by the revelation this week that a briefing paper, prepared for Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain eight months before the invasion, warned that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise" and that "little thought" had been given by the United States to "the aftermath and how to shape it."It is a subject explicated in chilling - and often scathing - detail by "Squandered Victory," a new book by Larry Diamond, a former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and a leading American scholar on democracy and democratic movements. In this book, Mr. Diamond contends that the postwar troubles in Iraq - a bloody and unrelenting insurgency, the creation of a new breeding ground for terrorists and metastasizing ethnic and religious tensions - are the result of "gross negligence" on the part of a Bush administration that rushed to war. He asserts that "mistakes were made at virtually every turn" of the occupation, and that "every mistake the United States made in Iraq narrowed the scope and lengthened the odds for progress...."

What makes Mr. Diamond's account particularly valuable is its insider's look at the day-to-day realities on the ground in Iraq in 2004 (which often stood in stark contrast to the spin emanating from Washington) and his ability to provide a historical context for the efforts to implant democracy in Iraq.

Mr. Diamond had not been a supporter of the war, but in the fall of 2003, he says, he received a call from his longtime friend and former Stanford University colleague Condoleezza Rice asking him to spend several months in Iraq as an adviser to American occupation authorities. Because he believed that if the United States failed there "Iraq would become what it had not been before the war: a haven for international terrorism and possibly a direct threat to America's national security", he agreed to go. He was also excited, he says, by the challenge of helping "to build a decent, lawful, and democratic political order" in Iraq.

As he began his work, however, Mr. Diamond became convinced that America's "plan for political transition in Iraq was critically flawed," that there was a fundamental contradiction between "our aspiration for democracy" and "our impulse for unilateral control." He writes that the Americans "never listened carefully to the Iraqi people, or to the figures in the country that they respected" - like the Shiite leader the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - and that "we never won their trust and confidence."

As Mr. Diamond sees it, "blame for the early blunders" in Iraq "lies with the high officials of the Bush administration - including the president himself - who decided to go to war when we did, in the way we did, with the lack of preparation that has become brutally apparent." He reminds us that "the startling mismanagement of planning for the postwar did not result from a sudden emergency and a lack of time to plan": civilians at the Pentagon had begun pushing the case for war against Iraq almost immediately after 9/11, and a wide-ranging report known at the Future of Iraq Project had been started at the State Department in the spring of 2002. This report, says Mr. Diamond, was initially ignored by the Pentagon, which in its early certitude about "the inevitability and speed of America's triumph," swept "aside experts in the State Department and elsewhere who had described what the postwar realities in Iraq would require."

Like many other analysts, Mr. Diamond believes that one of the "most ill-fated decisions of the postwar engagement" was President Bush's acceptance of the plan designed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld - "to go into Iraq with a relatively light force of about 150,000 coalition troops, despite the warnings of the United States Army and outside experts on post-conflict reconstruction that - whatever the needs of the war itself - securing the peace would require a force two to three times that size." Committing more troops than the United States initially did, Mr. Diamond argues, "would have necessitated an immediate mobilization of the military reserves and National Guard (which would come later, in creeping fashion), and might have alarmed the public into questioning he costs and feasibility of the entire operation" - a development that might have slowed the gallop to war.

The lack of sufficient troops, Mr. Diamond goes on, would create a further set of problems: an inability to prevent looting and restore law and order, which would further undermine Iraqis' trust in the United States; and inability to seal the country's borders, which would allow foreign terrorists to enter and help foment further violence. "The first lesson," Mr. Diamond writes, "is that we cannot get to Jefferson and Madison without going through Thomas Hobbes. You can't build a democratic state unless you first have a state, and the essential condition for a state is that it must have an effective monopoly over the means of violence."

In Mr. Diamond's opinion, L. Paul Bremer III, America's civilian administrator of postwar Iraq, exacerbated an already precarious situation by making several crucial mistakes. His 2003 decision to dissolve the Iraqi army and ban all senior members of the Baath party from government employment created a vacuum in terms of both security forces and institutional expertise, and it alienated two important sectors of Iraqi society. In addition, Mr. Diamond writes, "Bremer spurned the appeals of a wide range of Iraqis - including many who were cooperating with us - and of the United Nations mission to transfer authority quickly to an Iraqi interim government, and he proceeded to reshape Iraq through an occupation that he led, and over which he exerted tight, indeed almost total, control."

This decision to turn the American presence into a formal occupation, Mr. Diamond suggests, fueled Iraqi suspicions that the United States did not want a truly sovereign Iraq but wanted to dictate terms that would serve America's own economic (i.e. oil) and military interests.

When Mr. Diamond returned to the United States in April 2004, he says, he wrote his old friend Ms. Rice a long, confidential memo, recommending that America "disavow any long-term military aspirations in Iraq," establish a target date for the withdrawal of our forces, respond to concerns about Iraqi detainees, proceed vigorously with a plan to disarm and reintegrate Iraqi militias and send "significantly more troops and equipment."

The memo concluded: "If we do not develop soon a coherent counter-insurgency plan combining political and military, Iraqi and international initiatives, we will creep closer and closer to that tipping point, beyond which so many Iraqis sympathize with or join the insurgency that we cannot prevail at any bearable price."

He says he never heard back from Ms. Rice or her principal assistant for Iraq, Robert Blackwill.

Emphasis added. Hat tip: WAB

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