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Now They Tell Us | The Nation

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Now They Tell Us

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So now they tell us. The Pentagon was not ready to go with an extensive WMD search-and-secure mission, and, after the war, there is no need to rush. And by the way, there might not be any WMD to show for all the effort.

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David Corn
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation. He has written...

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The Administration was also unprepared--and disingenuous--regarding another purported aim of the war: bringing democracy to Iraq. In many cities, postwar dancing in the street quickly turned to stomping in the street, as Muslim clerics moved to gather political strength. But the rise of Shiite Power was not part of Bush's Iraq plan. Again, the Washington Post: "As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country." But this was hardly an unforeseeable event. "Nobody who knows anything about Shiites and Iraq are surprised by this," says Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum. "There were people in the government who knew this. But they were on the desks, not in the room where decisions were made." Joseph Wilson, the last acting ambassador in Iraq, notes, "The Shiites always had aspirations. And the clerics have a constituency, an organization, a pulpit, an agenda, ambition and a trained militia. What else do you need?"

The Administration had a challenge for which it had not "war-gamed." Did no one in the decision loop remember Algeria in 1991? That year a fundamentalist party that wanted to establish an Islamic state won national elections, and the military then waged a coup to prevent the party from assuming power. US officials have been saying the Iraqi people are free to plot their own government, yet Rumsfeld has declared that an Iran-style government is not an option. What if a majority of voters want something more Iran-like than USA-like?

Such knotty matters were not covered by Bush and his aides in their prewar speeches, which raised the rosy prospect of a domino effect spreading democracy from postwar Iraq to other states in the region. Nor did they address the difficulties of providing security to postwar Iraq. In fact, when Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, testified in February that this could require 100,000 or more troops, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed him as being "wildly off the mark."

But the war showed that the Administration and the Pentagon were not committed to effective postwar security. The national museum trashed, the widespread looting--Rumsfeld wouldn't even voice regrets about such events. These developments also were not predicted, even by the Pentagon, which decided to ignore such messy contingencies. "Months before the invasion of Iraq," the Washington Post reported in mid-April, "Pentagon war planners anticipated the fall of Saddam Hussein would usher in a period of chaos and lawlessness, but for military reasons, they chose to field a light, fleet invasion force that could not hope to quell such unrest when it emerged, Pentagon officials said." Was the public ever informed that US troops would rush to guard the oil ministry in Baghdad but not the three dozen hospitals in the city--even though Bush had promised in a prewar speech that "we will deliver medicine to the sick"? (He just didn't say when.) And one more dropped ball: As of late April, the Administration had not released a plan for overseeing Iraq's oil industry.

Another now-they-tell-us jolt has been the cost of the war. Before the invasion, Administration officials were fiercely tight-lipped, refusing even to hazard a guess in public (as if they couldn't even begin to estimate). In past weeks, the cost projections have ranged as high as $20 billion a year for a to-be-determined number of years. Despite Bush's prewar pledge of "a sustained commitment" to Iraq, some US officials talk of a sooner-rather-than-later pullout. Of course, that may conflict with the Administration's desire to have a friendly government in Baghdad. Occupations can be confusing. But weren't we informed of that? Actually, no.

Loose chemical and biological weapons. Nuclear material up for grabs. When-we-have-time WMD inspections. Those restive Shiites. Twenty billion bucks a year. None of this made it into Bush's prewar disclosure statement. War backers can--and will--argue that the outcome was worth the costs and the chaos. Indeed, the murderous Hussein is out; the Iraqi people are fortunately no longer at his mercy. Yet this was liberation by deceit and misrepresentation, and the scent of fraud hangs in the air. It's a swindle that, for the time being, benefited Iraqis but that undermined debate and democracy at home. And with projecting American power still a priority for Bush and his crew, a question lingers: What else are they not telling us?

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