As the Pentagon scours Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, it’s increasingly obvious that the Bush Administration either distorted or deliberately exaggerated the intelligence used to justify the war against Iraq. But an even bigger intelligence scandal is waiting in the wings: the fact that members of the Administration failed to produce an intelligence evaluation of what Iraq might look like after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Instead, they ignored fears expressed by analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department who predicted that postwar Iraq would be chaotic, violent and ungovernable, and that Iraqis would greet the occupying armies with firearms, not flowers.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it turns out that the same people are responsible for both. According to current and former US intelligence analysts and government officials, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans funneled information, unchallenged, from Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who in turn passed it on to the White House, suggesting that Iraqis would welcome the American invaders. The Office of Special Plans is led by Abram Shulsky, a hawkish neoconservative ideologue who got his start in politics working alongside Elliott Abrams in Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s office in the 1970s. It was set up in fall 2001 as a two-man shop, but it burgeoned into an eighteen-member nerve center of the Pentagon’s effort to distort intelligence about Iraq’s WMDs and terrorist connections. A great deal of the bad information produced by Shulsky’s office, which found its way into speeches by Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, came from Chalabi’s INC. Since the INC itself was sustained by its neocon allies in Washington, including the shadow “Central Command” at the American Enterprise Institute, it stands as perhaps the ultimate example of circular reasoning.
“The same unit [the Office of Special Plans] that fed Chalabi’s intelligence on WMD to Rumsfeld was also feeding him Chalabi’s stuff on the prospects for postwar Iraq,” said a leading US government expert on the Middle East. Says a former US ambassador with strong links to the CIA: “There was certainly information coming from the Iraqi exile community, including Chalabi–who was detested by the CIA and by the State Department–saying, ‘They will welcome you with open arms.'” Rumsfeld’s willingness to accept that view led him to contradict the Chief of Staff of the US Army, who predicted that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to control Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, a view that seems prescient today.
According to the former official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled Shulsky’s–and which has not previously been reported–prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad–which prides itself on extreme professionalism–had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.
The catastrophic result of the belief that it would be easy to pacify postwar Iraq and to create a quisling government in Baghdad, a view that was codified as dogma by the White House, is unfolding daily in Iraq. The country is engulfed in economic and political chaos, armed resistance is growing among the Sunni Muslims in central Iraq, and the powerful and largely hostile Shiite clergy in the south has barely begun to flex its muscles. Not only that, but Iraq watchers report that former Baath Party members are coalescing into nascent political formations, leading armed resistance to the occupation, and that they could emerge as either a strong political party or an underground terrorist group.
Astonishingly, the Bush Administration did not even bother to prepare and internally publish an intelligence estimate about postwar Iraq. (An “estimate,” in intelligence jargon, is a formal evaluation produced after sifting, sorting and analyzing various bits and pieces of raw intelligence. So-called National Intelligence Estimates are produced by a unit that reports immediately to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.) “Back in the old days, there would have been an estimate,” says Raymond McGovern, the twenty-seven-year CIA warrior who formed Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity this past January. “In their arrogance, they didn’t worry about it.”
Other sources concur. “There was no intelligence estimate done, and there weren’t a lot of questions being asked,” says Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst with the Center for International Policy. “And I know for a fact that at CIA and NESA [the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs], none of them thought that postwar Iraq would be governable.” Goodman says that CIA and DIA experts on Iraq were not called in by the Pentagon, and no intelligence roundtables were held to evaluate the situation. Most of the intelligence about how easily the INC and its allies could assume power in Iraq was coming from the INC itself, says a former State Department official. “And I know for a fact that when the subject came up, intelligence officers were extraordinarily skeptical of the exiles’ information.”
On the eve of the invasion, there was something akin to panic at the Norfolk,Virginia-based US Joint Forces Command, which was responsible for supporting the Pentagon’s Iraq task force, then headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner. “They were scared shitless,” says a former US official who was in close contact with the command. “They were making it up as they went along.” He adds, “There was a great deal of ignorance. They didn’t know the names of the [Iraqi] tribes, much less how they relate to each other. They didn’t have the expertise, and they didn’t have enough time to assemble the expertise.”
Such expertise would have allowed the Army to foresee that once Saddam was eliminated, Iranian-backed Shiite forces in southern Iraq, with great influence over the 60 percent of Iraqis who are Shiite, would instantly emerge as a powerful claimant to power. Instead of leading to the democracy envisioned by Bush, the war in Iraq could result in a Shiite-dominated fundamentalist regime, a prospect that is starting to seem the most likely. Not the kind of victory Bush wants to take to the US electorate in 2004.
At a June forum on Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute, Kenneth Katzman, the Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service, made a chilling prediction of how the crisis in Iraq will continue to unfold, to the discomfort of his AEI hosts. The Shiite forces in southern Iraq, he said, are content for now to let the Sunni-led guerrillas harass and weaken US troops. “The Shiites hope that Sunni violence in central Iraq will force the United States out, and then the Shiites will move in and pick up the pieces,” he said. Despite discord and infighting among the Shiites, Katzman said, most of the Shiite leadership is tied closely to the Iranian government and its ultraconservative clergy. For the rest of this year, he predicted, the US forces in Iraq will be unable to pacify the country or halt the violence, and by next year, as the election nears, there will be enormous political pressure for the United States to withdraw–or, in Washington-speak, to develop an “exit strategy.” The question for Bush, according to Katzman, is, Does the United States have the political staying power to continue to sustain one or two casualties a day in October 2004?
That’s a question that ought to disturb Karl Rove’s sleep. And it might be a question that Democratic would-be opponents of the President ought to ponder. A massive failure of US intelligence has led to an emerging disaster in postwar Iraq. It’s a true crisis, and one that could determine the fate of Bush’s presidency. In Watergate, the refrain was: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Let me suggest a question for Bush, the know-nothing GOP standard-bearer in 2004: “What didn’t the President know, and when didn’t he know it?”