Failure of US- Iraqi Invasion:

18 Sep

Imperial Arrogance and Administration Incompetence

Book Reviews of State of Denial by Bob Woodward &
The Occupation by Patrick Cockburn

State of DenialThe Occupation

A month before Bush’s inauguration, he was still undecided on the person for Secretary of Defence. Donald Rumsfeld became his candidate after a suggestion from Vice President, Dick Cheney. After all, the ex-navy pilot was Secretary of Defense under President Ford from 1975 to 1977, was elected to Congress for four terms, served as Ford’s White House Chief of Staff and had been the CEO of two Fortune 500 Companies.

Funnily enough, Bush Senior and Rumsfeld were adversaries. According to Bob Woodward’s book, State of Denial, “Bush Senior thought Rumsfeld was arrogant, self-important, too sure of himself and Machiavellian.” On the other hand, “Rumsfeld had also made nasty private remarks that Bush was a light-weight, a weak Cold War CIA Director who did not appreciate the Soviet threat and was manipulated by Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger”.

It is these insider accounts which makes Bob Woodward’s book almost alarming. With access to and interviews with prominent decision makers including Rumsfeld, prior to, during and after the Iraqi Invasion when researching for this book and writing for the Washington Post, State of Denial gives outsiders an understanding of why and how the Iraq is doomed for failure right at the start.

His book portrayed Rumsfeld as a difficult person to deal with and who was constantly on everyone’s toes. This was apparent even in his early days of settling into office. One of the first thing he did was to call Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Henry H. “Hugh” Shelton and told him that he wanted the man to reduce staff in his department – that they could instead use Rumsfeld civilian employees for matters related to public relations, legislative liasion and legal matters for the chairman.

Of course, Shelton had received an early warning from a retired Navy captain, George S. Brown who said, “you will not enjoy this relationship… He will be in control of everything.”.

Rumsfeld was also notorious for sending short notes around the building known as “snow flakes” which are questions he wanted answers for and which many in the Pentagon thought was a nuisance. His relationship, even with Condoleeza Rice, then National Security Adviser, was bordering on animosity. When Rice complained to the President that Rumsfeld would not return her calls, Bush teased Rumsfeld, “I know you won’t talk to Condi… but you got to talk to her.”

These episodes aside, some of them funny and unbelievable, the book documents how the Bush Administration is clueless about national secruity and Iraq.

Pre 9/11, George Tenet, CIA Director, had pressed Condoleeza Rice, to set a clear counterrorism policy- including giving CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden, which fell on deaf ears. Tenet felt that the bombing of the twin towers could have been averted if they had listened to him.

When Bush told Tenet in 2002 that a war with Iraq is inevitable, he once again advised Bush that the case of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was a “slam dunk”. When Army Major General James “Spider” Mark was told that his task in Iraq was to find the WMD, the intelligence experts who presented him with the list of 946 locations could not tell him anything more about the sites. He left the meetings disturbed.

Pre-invasion and when planning for postwar Iraq, Paul Hughes, an Army Colonel working for Jay Garner who was poised to head the postwar office, thought the problem was that : “There was not one single document spelling out, This is your objective. This is who’s in charge. These are the priority tasks. These are the coordinating steps we will take to bring all these together.”

When Garner told the Administration that the post war efforts should be “internationalised“, his ideas were quickly shot down. He also asked Rice about the start up funds needed in areas such as food, law enforcement and energy but did not receive any “solid assurances”. When he asked Rice about who would have Iraq after the war, Rice never answered. When he asked Rumsfeld about who will pick up the tab for the reconstruction that “will cost billions of dollars”, the Secretary of Defence replied, “We’re not doing that. they’re going to spend their money rebuilding their country.”

That the Administration is heading for disaster is evident in Patrick Cockburn’s compelling book, “The Occupation”. As a Middle East Correspondent for The Independent and having visited Iraq since 1978, his account on “ground zero” in Iraq is an eye-opener. In his book, he explains how the invasion has proved to be a costly error for both the Bush and Blair governments.

While the invasion was swift with little casualties, as most of Saddam’s army did not bother to fight, Iraqis knew American’s interest lies with themselves and not for the benefit of bringing democracy to Iraq. The invasion is pure “classic colonial occupation”.

It does not help that Iraq is divided amongst different communities and interests. On Iraq, he says,

“It has a complex web of loyalties superior to any allegiance owed to the state. First, there are the three great communities of Sunni and Shai Arabs and the Kurds. But Iraqis may also feel intense loyalty to tribe, clan, extended family, city, town and village.”

Such complex societal relations would become the basis for future increasing sectarian violence in Iraq. As he explains: while Iraqis did not like Saddam’s dictatorial rule, the Americans are similarly viewed as “conquerors” and to be resisted as well. As such, the various warring militias, where the Sunnis pit against the Shities and amongst themselves were simultaneously fighting against the Americans.

It does not help that Iraqis’ quality of life has deteriorated to a situation worse than prior to the invasion. Unemployment is high; electricity and food is inadequate; crime was rampant – suicide bombings occur almost on an everyday basis, Looting was rife and kidnapping for ransoms had become such a profitable business that middle class Iraqis were fleeing the country. Humanitarian aid agencies are afraid to enter high danger zones to send food supplies for fear of being killed.

Cockburn’s anecdotes and contacts with ordinary Iraqis in the war zone is most telling.

For example, his frequent visits to al-Mutanabi, the centre of the book trade in Baghdad, trickled to a stop when a bomb exploded and destroyed the shops.

The Iraqis officials and Americans are also out of touch with the ordinary people by being “cocooned in the Green Zone”.

He talks to a poor shopkeeper, Shamsedin Mansour who is just 15 minutes out of the Green Zone. Mansour says, “We live with as many as forty-two people in a house and do not have the money to buy even a small generator. Without light at night it is easy for gangs of thieves with guns to take over the streets, and shooting keeps us awake. If we try to protect ourselves with guns, the Americans arrest us.”

There is no doubt that the Iraqi invasion is a failure right from the start. The cost of this invasion has been compared to Vietnam by critics with an extremely high price to pay – a split Iraq plunged into civil war facing insurmountable basic amenities problems such as healthcare, food and electricty; thereby forcing many of its citizens to flee their home country and become refugees. The massive death tolls culminating from both the Iraqis and the US military personnel side has caused a world-wide opposition and movement to the Invasion . Inevitably, it also stirs up Anti-american sentiments, which allows terrorist groups to recruit more willing to fight against American imperialism.

State of Denial and The Occupation, draw a picture of how and why Iraq has become the way it is. It is easy to deduce from both books that much of it can be attributed to Bush Administration’s arrogance and incompetence.

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