intelligence failure
“The system is broken” — that’s how a company captain in Baghdad, interviewed recently by Seymour Hersh, explained the grossly inadequate, seriously underskilled and undertrained US military and freelance contractors, struggling with incompetent and ambiguous management from both the military chain of command and the dimwitted military intelligence forces. A retired military commander went further, calling it ‘a huge leadership failure’. About eight months ago I laid out two scenarios — fast exit and slow edit — for the US to extricate itself militarily from Iraq. Exactly what I said would happen in that article has happened. This wasn’t rocket science or brilliant analysis — anyone with a modicum of intelligence and basic familiarity with the lessons of history could see exactly what was coming, and that the only alternative to a fast, awkward and bloody exit was a slow, excruciating and more bloody exit. It doesn’t take military acumen or ageless wisdom to know that you can’t keep peacefully what you take by force, and that a country whose peoples hugely distrust each other and distrust even more the motivations of an outside invading army, isn’t going to magically evolve into a constitutionally liberal state and a functioning peaceful democracy overnight. Even in elementary school American children learn that constitutional liberalism is a delicate and continuous balancing act between rights and responsibilities, between personal freedoms and the need for a strong central authority for ‘law, order and good government’. They also learn that democracy is a slow and difficult process, that occurs when (and only when) the people of a country are ready for it, and that democracy’s health depends on the perpetual subordination of government and corporate power to the will of an informed and vigilent citizenry.

What are we to make, then, of a government, and its military intelligence advisors, whose every action demonstrates blind and irrational ideological fanaticism and a collosal misunderstanding of history, of culture, of human nature? The ‘intelligence failures’ are massive and obvious:

  • failure to understand the cause of widespread Arab sympathy for Bin Ladin despite, or perhaps even because of, his bold and despicable act on 9/11
  • failure to prevent or at least mitigate 9/11 when the opportunities to do so were legion
  • failure to capture Bin Ladin or Mullah Omar, despite the spending of billions of dollars
  • failure to capture or assassinate Saddam Hussein without spending billions of dollars, utterly destroying a country’s infrastructure and costing thousands of innocent lives in the process
  • failure to understand that an unprovoked and unilateral attack on Iraq would drastically worsen security for Americans
  • failure to understand that people and nations cannot be bullied into supporting an unconscionable war
  • failure to appreciate that, having attacked Iraq, the only program that would save any remnant of American reputation and hope for a post-Saddam Iraq would involve the immediate spending of hundreds of billions more dollars in humanitarian aid and funds given to Iraqis to rebuild their infrastructure, the selection of the best possible interim all-Iraqi government, and a quick and complete exit by the military
  • failure to understand that the only intelligent domestic response to 9/11 was to find out and inform American citizens why it happened, and why it wasn’t prevented, to take and inform Americans about modest, reasonable, unobtrusive steps to improve security intelligence, and explain that in a free and open country there is no reasonable way to prevent such incidents from occurring occasionally, and that we all need to work to create a better world in which there is no motivation for terrorism

And what, in the face of an America rendered massively less secure by every action of the Bush Regime, are we to make of an American electorate, nearly half of whom, despite these collosal failures (and even worse mismanagement of the domestic economy) continues to believe these incompetent extremists are the best ones for America for another four years?

In Wednesday’s Guardian, and in The Nation, Jon Schell, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and William Polk offer advice on how America can now extricate itself militarily, quickly, from Iraq. Jon Schell warns about John Kerry’s insistance that the US “must not retreat in disarray and leave behind a society deep in strife and dominated by radicals”. Schell says, as I did eight months ago, that this is exactly what the US must do, that despite the probability that inter-faction civil war in Iraq (that is only on hold until the “common enemy” is driven out) will likely continue for years, perhaps decades, and could well lead to the balkanization of the country into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish republics, the only sensible course is to pull out the military immediately and send in humanitarian agencies to deal with the country’s horrendous health crisis and work side-by-side with Iraqis to start rebuilding its devastated infrastructure. Will this humanitarian and infrastructure work be delayed by civil war? Probably, but until Iraqis have sorted out their own political future, this work cannot even reasonably begin.

Howard Zinn agrees, saying “The prospect, if the occupation continues, whether by the US or by an international force (as John Kerry seems to be proposing) is of continued suffering and death for both Iraqis and Americans…The truth is, no one knows what will happen if the US withdraws. We face a choice between the certainty of mayhem if we stay and the uncertainty of what will follow if we leave.” Zinn wants the UN involved quickly in negotiating the peace between the factions as well as keeping it. I think that’s a bit idealistic, but it’s worth trying. Meanwhile the latest poll of Iraqis shows 82% are opposed to continued US and UK military presence in Iraq, and that was before the prisoner atrocities scandal.

We have been told to expect to hear much more — and much worse — about atrocities committed against Iraqi (and Afghani) prisoners by the American military under the command of US Military Intelligence — prison rape of women and young boys, and desecration of dead Iraqi bodies, among other things. While US military and political attention is distracted by these activities, the next humanitarian crisis is brewing. In Sudan, the Arabic government has accelerated its genocide of non-Arabic tribes in the West of the country, even as peace negotiations in the civil war with Southern tribes continues. The lesson of ignoring such problems was made crystal clear in Rwanda, where a decade ago a genocidal bloodbath carried out mainly with machetes killed nearly a million people. Eugene at Demagogue has details on the latest developments in Sudan and links to the Human Rights Watch site  on this catastrophe. Why are we not hearing from the intelligence community, and the Bush Administration, about this? Or is the slaughter of thousands of people by insane dictators only an issue when the country is rich in oil?

And if all that wasn’t enough, Bush now wants another $53 billion dollars allotted for an anti-ballistic missile system against North Korea that expert American scientists says simply doesn’t work.  “All indications are that it would not work, and the administration’s statements that it will be highly effective are irresponsible nonsense,” said a spokesman for the scientists, discussing their 70 page technical analysis of the proposal. Much of the money for the fatally flawed program will go to Boeing, which developed the system.

In my recent readings, I’ve come across some alarming editorials from non-mainstream radical groups at both ends of the political spectrum — ultra-conservative libertarians, and anarchists and eco-radicals, urging their members to vote for George Bush in November precisely because he represents everything they loathe. Their argument is that four more years of his extremism and colossal bungling will cause such an overwhelming revulsion against government, and against corporatism, by 2008 that the winning candidate in that year, and in many elections that follow, will have to be strongly libertarian, pro-environment and anti-corporatist to have any chance of being elected. Pretzel logic. But in a world where political and military actions seem to defy all human reason and intelligence, that kind of logic seems to be in vogue.

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13 Responses to “THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN”

  1. Ken Hirsch says:

    I’m curious as to why you think that the war will continue indefinitely. Your reasoning is not clear from your writing. Lots of insurgencies have been put down by foreign occupiers over the years, although some have not been. Britain put down an insurgency in Iraq in 1920 that lasted about six months, and we have a much more overwhelming amount of force.In the earlier essay you link to, you say “There is no easy route to self-determination, rule of law, freedom and democracy and it cannot be imposed militarily by an outside force.” You make this as an absolute statement, but surely we did impose this in Germany and Japan; the British also left many of their former colonies with functioning, democratic governments. So surely you must qualify your statement. It seems to me theat the main problem is that the U.S. is leavig too quickly rather than too late. Wouldn’t a ten-year plan for transition to self-rule be more realistic?

  2. Jon Husband says:

    Bit overwhelming, isn’t it – the monumental scale of the blundering.Basic, fundamental assumptions were, and are, flawed, as you have pointed out.

  3. Jon Husband says:

    From http://www.juancole.com – a leading Middle East scholar and blogger“My own view is that Muqtada has now won politically and morally. He keeps throwing Abu Ghuraib in the faces of the Americans. He had his men take refuge in Najaf and Karbala because he knew only two outcomes were possible. Either the Americans would back off and cease trying to destroy him, out of fear of fighting in the holy cities and alienating the Shiites. Or they would come in after Muqtada and his militia, in which case the Americans would probably turn the Shiites in general against themselves. The latter is now happening. The Americans will be left with a handful of ambitious collaborators at the top, but the masses won’t be with them. And in Iraq, unlike the US, the masses matter. The US political elite is used to being able to discount American urban ghettos as politically a cipher. What they don’t realize is that in third world countries the urban poor are a key political actor and resource, and wise rulers go out of their way not to anger them.”

  4. Don Dwiggins says:

    I’d like to pick up on one point in the article: it’s being widely said, over and over, that if the US occupation leaves, Iraq will dissolve into a civil war.Lately, I’ve read a few articles that cast doubt on this assertion. I’ve just done some searching to try to retrieve sine good URLs, without success, so the following is from memory:One of the articles reported a meeting of 2000 clerics, university faculty, and other leaders across the spectrum, held to provide an alternative plan to the US-backed plan. They were able to reach agreement on a wide range of issues. (Naturally, neither the Bremer administration nor the US-appointed council is interested in this plan.)If I can find the articles later, I’ll post the URLs. In any case, I think it’s worth raising the possibility that the Iraqis are in fact capable of bridging their differences and creating a government that works at least as well as any current mid-Eastern government. If this is in fact true, it undercuts any rationale for maintaining the occupation any longer than the logistics of withdrawal demand.This may be a reason for the continual insistence in the media that the occupation is all that stands between the Iraqi people and complete chaos. It seems to me, at least, that the US administration still wants to make sure that any Iraqi government that emerges is compliant to US wishes.

  5. Yenayer says:

    The big lie in all this is to think that the US went to Irak to bring democracy. It is only for OIL. Dave, I don’t think Bin Laden Has has big support in arabs countries. The arab people throw Ben Laden at the face of the west in despair when they see what is happening in Irak and Palestine because it’s the only thing they can do to make the americans angry. You wrote about Sudan. The Un estimated that what is spent in one day in Irak by the Usa will be enough to settle all the problems in Darfur, Sudan.Talking about the British in Irak in 1920, here is a quotation taken from an article in The Guardian ( England ) :”Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Your city and your lands have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunk in desolation, and your forefathers and yourselves have groaned in bondage. Your sons have been carried off to wars not of your seeking, your wealth has been stripped from by unjust men and squandered in distant places. It is our wish that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad was one of the wonders of the world.” –Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude, The Proclamation of Baghdad; March 19, 1917, three years before Britain began gassing Iraqi civillians.

  6. O RLY YA RLY says:

    Ken: it is possible to beat guerilla tactics and put down an insurgency. The way to do this is apparently to isolate the rebels from the general population. This is exactly where the US in Iraq is failing. A good article on this can be found here – it’s a bit outdated, but no less true. I believe there is some sort of guerilla handbook that says guerillas need the people like a fish needs water (or something like that), but I can’t remember where I heard that.

  7. O RLY YA RLY says:

    Don: actually, the first signs of civil war may already be visible. After all, not all of the attacks are against Coalition troops or the Iraqi security forces. There have, for example, also been attacks on Kurdish leaders (the one in Arbil being the most famous one).The CIA predicted civil war even a few months into the occupation (maybe earlier, but that’s the first I heard of it). I can’t find those particular scenarios, but apparantly they’re still saying it.

  8. kuros says:

    “Beyond the Euphrates began for us the land of mirage and danger, the sands where one helplessly sank, and the roads which ended in nothing. The slightest reversal would have resulted in a jolt to our prestige giving rise to all kinds of catastrophe; the problem was not only to conquer but to conquer again and again, perpetually; our forces would be drained off in the attempt.” Emperor Hadrian AD 117-138

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Jon: Great quote, and site — thanks.Don: That’s a good point. I just don’t want the right-wing to say “I told you so” if civil war erupts when the US does pull out. And if the current occupation isn’t the very definition of “complete chaos”, I don’t know what is.Yenayer: Amazing quote! I’m surprised this hasn’t surfaced before.Harald: To emotionally divide Al Qaeda from (especially young) radical Arabs, the US would need to offer them something better than what Al Qaeda offers — even a meaningful vision. But to do that, the US would need to have a fundamental understanding of Arab anger and Arab culture, and, not being students of history, or interested in any ideas that are not purely American, they utterly lack such understanding. Just another imaginative failure.Kuros: There has been much written about the psychology of people who have lived for centuries under occupation. If you get desperate enough, hopeless enough, convinced there is nothing left to lose, becoming a suicide bomber starts to look pretty good. But of course the occupiers always try to ‘treat’ the symptom, while making the disease worse.

  10. O RLY YA RLY says:

    I don’t think a deep understanding of Arab culture is even necessary. Simple respect will do. Things like transparency, accountability, honesty. Like not imprisoning innocent people. Like not abusing prisoners. Anyone can see that, it’s universal. But the Bush administration has created a frame of mind where people no longer see that. Boycotting the ICC, ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’, Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib was not a fluke, not an accident. It fits a pattern.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Apocalypse Watcher: Your optimism is refreshing, but what does it tell you when your last link is a military plea to average Americans to donate money for the very humanitarian and infrastructure building that the Bush regime, which gives billions to their corporate buddies and campaign funders, is unwilling to finance? The soldiers on the front line are just like the workers on the front line of corporatist businesses: overworked, exploited, under-resourced, and ultimately expendible to advance the insatiable greed for wealth and power of the elite. Watch Bush ‘outsource’ the torture and prison management to Iraqis, so they can continue the abuses but wash their hands of personal responsibility for it.

  12. AW says:

    Whatever…”corporate ” this and “corporate” that…”insatiable greed for wealth and power of the elite”…blah-blah… Typical Goebellsian BS.Incidentally, the president did ask for addtional $87 billion, y’know.Take a good look at the people in those photos. Just as the pseudo-peace meovement of yesteryear bear responsibilty for the sufferings of millions in postwar Indochina, so should the pseudo-peace movement of today be responsible for the fate of Iraqis should they succeed in convincing the coaltion to cut and run.

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