Monday, August 14, 2006

Fiasco: A serial review, part II (all about intelligence "failures") 

I know it must seem that I'm taking an awfully long time to read Thomas Ricks' Fiasco. Such are the perils of putting up a "what I'm reading" Amazon link. It is currently #5 on Amazon; if you are considering adding to that number, perhaps you will buy it through the link on our sidebar.

This is the second installment of a serialized review of the book. The first part emphasized the book's central theme, that America's national security apparatus -- diplomatic, intelligence and military -- is terribly organized to fight a counterinsurgency in a foreign country, and that the Bush administration was unable and unwilling to overcome that fundamental deficiency. This part will focus on several of Ricks' claims about pre-war intelligence failures, at least a couple of which will not receive a lot of airtime in the mainstream media. They are interesting substantively, but as is typical of Fiasco they beg almost as many questions as they answer.

The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and George Tenet

Unlike more partisan commentators, Ricks does not spare the Central Intelligence Agency. In his conception and according to his sources within the military, the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate critically influence both President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld into the hawk camp:

In September 2002 the U.S. intelligence community prepared a comprehensive summary, called a National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, of what it knew about "Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction" -- the title of the ninety-two page classified version of the report. It was prepared at the request of members of Congress who expected to vote on going to war with Iraq and wanted something on which to base their vote. Written by a group of senior intelligence officers and then approved by the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, the estimate pulled together in one place the core data of the Bush administration's argument for going to war. It reported that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was making advances in developing ways to weaponize and deliver biological weapons, and was "reconstituting its nuclear program." The report appeared more certain on all fronts than previous intelligence assessments, but hte finding on the nuclear program was especially surprising, because it was a shift from a series of previous conclusions by the intelligence community. In fact, the estimate amounted to a serious misrepresentation of views in the intelligence community, maximizing alarming findings while minimizing internal doubts about them. It effectively presented opinion as fact.

The effect of this NIE can't be underestimated, said one general who talked frequently to Rumsfeld during this time. During the summer of 2002, he said, both Bush and Rumsfeld had been on the fence. "Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Armitage were the hawks," he remembered. Each argued that "we had to get rid of this guy, that time isn't on our side, and that there will be no better time to get rid of him." On the other side of the argument were Colin Powell and some lesser figures in the administration. They "thought it was time to leverage the international community, especially since we'd scared the hell out of everybody."

But then came the NIE, whjich had been pushed out unusually quickly, in just a few weeks. Bush's view became that CIA director George Tenet says they have WMD, and Cheney says don't get caught napping again like we did on 9/11, this general recalled. "The president became convinced" by that document and by Tenet's interpretation of it," that [going to war] was the right thing to do."

Over a year later, when the Senate Intelligence Committee reviewed the NIE in light of evidence that became available after the war, it came to the conclusion that the collective wisdom of the U.S. intelligence community, as represented in the estimate, had been stunningly wrong. "Most of the major key judgments [in the NIE] either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting," it would find. "A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence." Moreover, the efforts and exaggerations weren't random, but all pushed in the same direction, toward making the argument that Iraq presented a growing threat. As a political document that made the case for war the NIE of October 2002 succeeded brilliantly. As a professional intelligence product it was shameful. But it did its job, which wasn't really to assess Iraqi weapons programs but to sell a war. There was only one way to disprove its assertions: invade Iraq, which is what the Bush administration wanted to do. Responsibility for this low point in the history of U.S. intelligence must rest on the shoulders of George Tenet.

This is an interesting and peculiar passage. It is interesting because it puts responsibility for the blown NIE squarely on the shoulders of George Tenet. In fingering Tenet, Ricks makes no argument that the NIE was manipulated from the White House. Indeed, he suggests that Bush and Rumsfeld were far more on the fence in the fall of 2002 than is usually claimed by anti-Bush types. But it is also peculiar in that it leaves us hanging without answers to obvious questions. How does Ricks sustain his claim that the NIE "did its job, which wasn't really to assess Iraqi weapons programs but to sell a war" if Bush and Rumsfeld were on the fence? Is the implication that [Clinton administration veteran] George Tenet was an unreconstructed hawk, and that he conspired with Vice President Cheney and Richard Armitage to spin up Bush, Rumsfeld and ultimatly Colin Powell?

The hunt for WMD and the unguarded arms caches

There is other evidence in the book that Rumsfeld, at least, believed that the NIE was good analysis, rather than thinking that it was cooked up to "sell a war." During the invasion phase, the entire military acted as though Iraqi WMD were a genuine threat. This passage reveals the extent to which the pre-war intelligence failure (and, if it is not clear, I belong to the school that believes that there was a massive pre-war intelligence failure) got the occupation off to a bad start:
The poor intelligence on WMD would continue to haunt troops in the field -- and, arguably, helped arm and protect the insurgency that would emerge in the following months [after May 2003]. In bunkers across Iraq there were tens of thousands of tons of conventional weaponry -- morter shells, RPGs, rifle ammunition, explosives, and so on. One estimate, cited by Christopher Hileman, a U.S. intelligence analyst for Mideast matters, was "more than a million metric tons." Yet U.S. commanders rolling into Iraq refrained from detonating those bunkers for fear that they also contained stockpiles of poison gas or other weaponry that might be blown into the air and kill U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians. The COBRA II invasion plan [the one so famously fly-specked by Donald Rumsfeld - ed.] unambiguously stated, "The Iraqi Ministry of Defense will use WMD early but not often. The probability for their use of WMD increases exponentially as Saddam Hussein senses the imminent collapse of his regime."

Such certitude made American commanders wary of destroying weapons bunkers. "You never knew which one was WMD, okay?" said one regretful Marine battalion commander. So the bunkers often were bypassed and left undistrubed by an invasion force that already was stretched thin -- and the insurgents were able to arm themselves at leisure.

The U.S. focus on WMD also provided a kind of smokescreen that unintentionally protected the insurgents during the spring of 2004. One senior military intelligence officer recalled arguing that a good roadmap of the nascent opposition in Fallujah could be developed simply by translating the roster of residents of that city -- that the U.S. military possessed -- who had volunteered for suicide missions against Israel. Then, he recommended, map their houses and visit each one -- as soon as possible. But he couldn't "get it translated -- all the assets were focused on WMD." Thousands of weapons experts, translators, and other specialists, along with all their support personnel, were working to find unconventional weapons that didn't exist, and soon were being attacked with conventional weapons that did but that had been ignored by U.S. officials.

Once again, Ricks has written an interesting passage that begs a question he does not answer, at least not directly. The last part rings very true -- by May 2003, the Bush administration was obviously already nervous over the political consequences of not having found WMD, which nervousness revealed itself further in the reaction, such as it was, to Joseph Wilson's semi-private and then public complaints about the Bush administration's response to his "report" from his trip to Niger. It does not surprise me that we were diverting resources that might have been used for counterinsurgency into the hunt for WMD. The first part, though, is weird: We weren't blowing up weapons caches because we were worried about WMD, but we were leaving them "unguarded" because we were "stretched too thin"? Assuming, arguendo, that our officers were actually faced with the choice between blowing up arms caches that might have contained WMD and leaving them unguarded (a choice that I believe was false, by the way), why did our military choose to leave them unguarded? If I have to choose between the risk that detonating WMD would lead to a local contamination disaster and the risk that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who would deploy them at specific targets, what is the argument in favor of deciding to leave them unguarded? For some reason that I cannot fathom, Ricks does not tell us whether he thinks the choice (between risking contamination via detonation or leaving them unguarded) was a genuine one, or (if it was) that the officers he quotes made the best decision. He makes them sound like helpless candles in the wind, which they were not.

The decision between detonating the arms caches and leaving them unguarded strikes me as false, if not for the field officers then at the CENTCOM level. Once we learned that there were hundreds of vast arms caches distributed around Iraq, we could have slowed our advance on Baghdad sufficiently to give us time to make intelligent decisions about the captured weapons. We didn't, probably because of another criticism of Ricks' that does seem valid in retrospect: that Tommy Franks incorrectly perceived the fall of the enemy's capital city as the sine qua non of victory. In this way of thinking of it, the arms caches were abandoned to the enemy not because Donald Rumsfeld provided too few soldiers, but because (i) Tommy Franks misconceived the strategy behind the war, and (ii) field commanders were not properly instructed to resolve the subsequent dilemma between destroying arms caches and leaving them unguarded. In light of the fact that CENTCOM obviously believed that field commanders would stumble across WMD caches, it is bizarre that officers were not trained to manage the obvious decisions that would flow from their discovery. That is CENTCOM's failure, but Ricks doesn't make the point.

The unknown success of Operation Desert Fox and its implications

Ricks also has another interesting and confusing passage on the ultimate effects of Operation Desert Fox, the attacks launched in December 1998 to punish Iraq for having expelled the UN weapons inspectors:
Launched in reaction to a standoff with Saddam Hussein over weapons inspections, the attacks began on December 16, 2008, with a volley of over 200 cruise missiles from Navy ships and Air Force B-52 bombers. The next day another 100 cruise missiles were fired. On the third night of air strikes, B-1 swingwing supersonic bombers made their first ever appearance in combat. After a fourth night, the raids ended. A total of 415 cruise missiles had been used, more than the 317 employed during the entire 1991 Gulf War. They and 600 bombs hit a total of 97 sites, the major ones being facilities for the production and storage of chemical weapons and those associted with missiles that could deliver such munitions. In part because U.S. intelligence was able to locate only a limited number of sites associated with weaponry, the strikes also hit government command-and-control facilities such as intelligence and secret police headquarters.

At the time, Republicans were highly critical of Desert Fox. Not only did they suspect that Clinton was "wagging the dog" to distract attention from his political problems, but they thought that the mere "bombing of empty buildings" was more avoidance of the inevitable in Iraq. Some conservatives persisted rather unfortunately in this view even when the evidence was working against them:
"The Clinton administration was totally risk averse" on Iraq, Richard Perle, a leading Iraq hawk, would argue later. "They allowed Saddam over eight years to grow in strength. He was far stronger at the end of Clinton's tenure than at the beginning." Perle made those assertions in July 2003, just about the time they were becoming laughable to those who understood the situation on the ground in Iraq.

In retrospect, we now know there were two consequences of Desert Fox. First, Ricks argues (fairly persuasively) that the attacks were far more devestating to Iraq's weapons programs than were understood at the time. Second, the 1998 attacks prompted Saddam to clamp down very hard internally, the result of which "Iraqis inside the country in contact with U.S. intelligence grew far more wary." In both cases, Ricks begs obvious follow-up questions that he does not directly address.

With regard to the second point -- that the 1998 attacks had the perverse effect of degrading the quality of our own intelligence into Iraq -- does this not explain the poor quality of the CIA's subsequent performance? More to the point, given that the CIA no longer had a single HUNINT "source collecting against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs," does this not mean that the Bush administration was justified, especially in the wake of September 11, in assuming the worst that could be extrapolated from 1998, the last time we had solid intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs?

The first point -- that Desert Fox was far more damaging to Saddam's weapons programs than originally thought -- raises an entirely different question. Here's what Ricks says we now know about the impact of Desert Fox:
David Kay ... also was skeptical at the time about the effects of Desert Fox. It was only years later, after his Iraqi Survey Group, the U.S. government's postwar effort to find Iraq's supposed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, had interviewed and interrogated two hundred officials from Iraqi weapons programs, that he realized that the four-day campaign had indeed had a devestating effect, far more than had been appreciated back in Washington. His postinvasion survey found to his surprise that after 1998 the Iraqi weapons programs, with the exception of missile building, "withered away, and never got momentum again." In a series of in-depth postwar interrogations, a score of veterans of Iraqi weapons programs told Kay's group that the Desert Fox raids had left Iraqi weaponeers demoralized and despairing. "They realized that they'd never be able to reestablish the type of industrial facility they were aiming at," he said in an interview. "They'd spent years, lots of money, and lots of energy on it, year and years. And tehy realized that as long as Saddam was in power, they'd never be able to reestablish production." In short, they had given up.

Ricks cites other officials as saying substantially the same thing.

This raises at least two obvious points. First, the obvious implication is that Saddam had, in fact, significant weapons programs under way in late 1998, when he expelled the U.N. inspectors, notwithstanding an allegedly effective containment regime. This is evidence that the post-1991 three-leg program of sanctions, no-fly zones and deterrance had failed to prevent Saddam from firing up WMD programs even after their lucky discovery in 1994. The only thing that succeeded, apparently, was, well, war. That Desert Fox was entirely an air war meant that we had no means of verifying its success, but that doesn't make it any less than a four-day war. Ricks argument about Desert Fox may well undermine the post-hoc arguments for invasion, but they also undermine those who say that containment was working. It obviously wasn't if it took massive air strikes to deal a decisive blow to Saddam's weapons programs.

Second, the surprising success of Desert Fox against Iraq's WMD program may suggest a strategy for dealing with Iran. If Desert Fox was so much more successful than previously understood, perhaps the pessimism of those who argue against striking Iran from the air (and so far I am one of those people) is misplaced. Perhaps conventional air strikes against Iran could sufficiently cripple Iran's WMD programs that they also could not be reconstituted easily. I don't blame Ricks for failing to make this point, in that his book isn't about Iran, but I wonder how many journalists who have interviewed Ricks or reviewed his book have bothered to ask this question themselves. I bet none of them have.

Responsible supporters of the war in Iraq should read Fiasco, because it reveals a great deal of what when wrong, at least as measured against the expectations set by the optimists in advance of the invasion. Whether one thinks that the Iraq "adventure" is to our long-term advantage or not -- and I still think that it is -- it is not a success against the expectations established by the Bush administration. Fiasco helps us understand why. However, Fiasco must also be read critically. Thomas Ricks does not always seem to appreciate where his arguments lead, and the journalists who are promoting his book absolutely never do.


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon Aug 14, 01:20:00 PM:

Excellent review, TH.

The NIE may well have been wrong, but as you point out it seems misleading to suggest it was not acted upon in good faith. Indeed, as you point out, there seems to be ample evidence that those in a position to control events on the ground acted as though they believed it.

In any case, I suspect people will believe what they want to believe. (And I suspect someone will make a snarky rejoinder to that statement.) I think the certitude about WMD was misplaced, inasmuch as the argument should have been that given the regime's secretiveness the world could be certain of nothing regarding Saddam's intentions or capabilities. And for that reason alone his regime was a danger and had to go. (There is the democracy-promoting and humanitarian arguments as well, but much as anti-war liberals like to say they would have supported either justification, I'm not sure I believe them. For one thing, there is nothing preventing them from doing so even now.)

The more interesting discussion going forward is what to do about Iran, and you anticipate my thoughts in the penultimate paragraph of your review. I think we need to give serious consideration to inflicting as much damage on Iranian nuclear facilities as possible, perhaps in conjunction with a decapitation strike against some part of the Iranian leadership. Unfortunately, we are not yet at a point where any such action would be deemed acceptable either by the American people or the world at large. Our President--whoever he or she is, or will be--has a whole lot of work yet to do on that score.  

By Blogger Jason_Pappas, at Mon Aug 14, 01:42:00 PM:

I’d still like to know about the nations-building project. In our history, we’ve removed many foreign leaders, attacked many nations, and change regimes in many countries. Does Ricks talk about the decision to back an ambitious democratic nations-building project instead of installing another strong-man? Why did the administration believe this was viable, indeed, easy to do?  

By Blogger Westhawk, at Mon Aug 14, 06:15:00 PM:

As we recall it, Operation Desert Fox was not so much a cause of degraded human intel on Iraq's WMD program, as Mr. Ricks seems to assert. Desert Fox was a consequence of that HUMINT reduction.

What do we mean? The U.S. launched Desert Fox to punish Iraq for ordering UN weapons inspectors out of the country. Those weapons inspectors were a source of information on Saddam's WMD program to the UN and to the US government.

Does Mr. Ricks mention this exceedingly critical fact about the Desert Fox episode?


By Blogger Nemesis, at Mon Aug 14, 06:32:00 PM:

As someone who has actually written NIE’s and who was quite familiar with the data on which the estimate in question was based, I dispute Ricks’ characterization. Further, the comment: "A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence." is considering the source, pretty laughable. If the was a serious intelligence failure, David Kay is the person who was responsible for it. I can state with authority that the 2002 NIE was much more right than wrong and the disputes referred to were less significant than has been claimed in retrospect. The question is not that the NIE failed to accurately reflect the facts as of the information cut-off date for the NIE, but what happened after the cut-off date. Hence the NIE warship not an intelligence failure, but it obviously could not account for Saddam’s actions after it was written. The intelligence failure canard has been the result of a great deal of post-invasion CYA that has thoroughly obscured the understanding of the pre-invasion situation.

Also, having been around in 1998, I think there is misunderstanding over the BDA of the Desert Fox strikes and how the strikes effected subsequent assessment. Yes, they did degrade our ability to collect some types of intelligence, but not others. In essence, here Ricks’ seems to be using the Desert Fox strikes to explain an intelligence failure that in fact did not occur. Although BDA is always a dicey business and I’m don’t mean to imply the strikes were completely ineffective, this kind of backwards analysis should not be used as a guide for future operations.

BTW: strictly speaking, Perle was correct. Recall where Saddam was when Clinton entered office and where he was in 2000 [or 2003],and it obvious that this is the case. The fact that we improved militarily between 1992 and 2003 should not obscure this fact. If some people who understood the situation on the ground in Iraq in 2003 indeed found Perle’s assertion laughable, then they clearly had poor understanding of the situation on the ground in Iraq in 1992. The part about Clinton being risk-adverse should not require further comment.

Finally, I tend to dispute that the high expectations were in fact established solely or even mostly by the Bush administration. I recall what the administration said at the time, and I recall how it was reported, and the high expectations came about through a number of factors that were outside of Bush’s, or pretty much anyone else’s, control. They have since been exploited, modified, and heightened by opponents of the war. So to say: “… it is not a success against the expectations established by the Bush administration. Fiasco helps us understand why.” is to fall into the rhetorical trap laid by Ricks’ and others.

To spell it out explicitly, the ploy is: I am against the war, period. To undermine support for the war, I must paint it as failure. To paint it as a failure, I must be able to move the goal posts to inflate the conditions for victory and exploit the inevitable uncertainties of war to “show” why they have not been met. Then I have to go back to history so I can find “problems” that “explain” the “failure” that I created by manipulating history the first place. Then I use the “problems” I found to attack the conduct of the war. And round and round it goes…

Responsible supporters of the war in Iraq should certainly read books, but unless their goal is to find out how to manipulate people into believing success is failure in the face of all the facts to the contrary, Fiasco is not one of them.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Aug 14, 08:03:00 PM:

"Why did the administration believe this was viable, indeed, easy to do?"

The administration never ever said one time ever that it would be easy. Rather, we were constantly told that it would be long and hard but ultimately worthwhile.  

By Blogger Jason_Pappas, at Mon Aug 14, 09:17:00 PM:

DF, I’m not sure “long and hard” was said in reference to nations-building but with reference to the “war on terror.” Perhaps part of the problem is that this is an ambiguous phrase that doesn't even name the nature of the enemy. I don’t believe those of us who supported the removal of Saddam (which I have no problem supporting) believed the President wanted to engage in a social engineering project to create a culture completely at odds with the history of the religion. Long and hard meant continued fighting the Saddams and Islamist governments that knowingly harbor terrorists.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Mon Aug 14, 09:59:00 PM:

J_P, Go back and read Bush's speeches leading up to the invasion, just after the invasion and since. I do recall him saying that about both the WOT and war in Iraq in very clear terms. I'm willingto be proved wrong if someone wants to dig out all the transcripts.

Further, there has never been any question that Bush intended to promote democracy in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, from the very beginning; nation building or social engineering, call it what you will, was always the intent. He has been roundly criticized on all fronts for exactly this, again since the beginning. I cannot concieve of anyone who has been keeping up with current events could have missed this.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Aug 14, 10:03:00 PM:

Nemesis -

I defer to you on matters of intelligence gathering and analysis. As a mere corporate tool with no actual experience, I can merely think about what I have read as critically as I can.

On the question of the setting of expectations though, I think you are not remembering everything that various Bush administration officials said. The original plan, for example, repeated to the public in the spring of 2003, was to have American troops in country down to 30,000 by September 2003. In terms of cost, various administration officials suggested that Iraqi oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. Both expectations proved to be profoundly wrong.

Now, I belong to the school that says the Iraq war has been cheap, both in terms of human costs and our economic capacity to handle the cost, compared to the standard of history, even if it was expensive compared to the expectations set in no small part by the White House and DoD civilian staff.  

By Blogger AMac, at Mon Aug 14, 11:14:00 PM:

It seems very hard to evaluate the work of an author such as Ricks--as if the reader needs an up-to-date encyclpedia in his head as he reads, to check which of each chapter's facts are well-known, which are novel but well-supported, and which are distortions or omissions that spring from the author's agenda.

Nemesis contests Ricks' description of the 2002 NIE. How does the Senate Intelligence Committee's summary compare with Ricks', and with whatever has been declassified? Can Nemesis add any specific points of disagreement with Ricks' characterization of the NIE's errors?

I agree, Tigerhawk, that it's peculiar to talk bitingly about a "sales job" while happily leaving the unnamed salesman in the shadows. C'mon Ricks, name your suspected Bad Guys. We can damn Bush for getting conned by others, or we can damn him as a lying con artist himself, but it's a bit disingenuous to shift between the one and the other on the basis of convenience. I don't need to buy "Fiasco" for that juvenile level of argument; I get my dose each week reading "Talk of the Town" in The New Yorker. Lord knows there's no shortage among the netroots either.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Tue Aug 15, 06:48:00 AM:


You’ve got me there: I don’t recall those statements by administration officials, and I must defer to you on that. In those days, I do recall hearing various administration officials making various statements, but I didn’t pay much attention to them because many of them seemed off-the-cuffs maybe this and maybe, that statements of policy. I recall the points the President made and what was said by Bremer and others when we actually got on the ground in Baghdad as found out how much of a mess things were.

But in a sense that reinforces my point. Comments like that about initial plans or guesstimates are typically wildly off; this is no surprise, and historically, they don’t set expectations. Past administrations were wildly wrong about the Civil War, the WWI and WWII, and Korea. Even in Vietnam, there wasn’t a problem for years. So in the past, expectations were more flexible; the President could say things weren’t going as first thought, so there is the new plan to deal with a new situation. Asnd people back when accepted it, more than less.

For whole raft of reasons, this is no longer possible, and most of those reasons have nothing to do with Bush. The way expectations are formed and treated nowadays, a leader can either deny the initial plan has gone awry, which in involves lying, so say nothing at all, which breeds distrust, or do what has been done: try to explain what can be explained, realize it’s going to be used against him, and try to make the best of it. That is why I don’t pin the expectation problem on Bush. I cannot see how under the prevailing circumstances how he could have avoided them.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Tue Aug 15, 06:48:00 AM:

Amac: “Can Nemesis add any specific points of disagreement with Ricks' characterization of the NIE's errors?”
I’m afraid at this late date that would be tough for me to do. I was aware of the broad conclusions of the NIE, the data that went into writing it, and the uncertainties surrounding that data. I did not have a hand in actually writing this particular NIE. The fact that my group wrote NIEs or large parts of them that were then organized by the issuing organization was exceptional, but we were quite familiar with the process and of course we did read NIEs as baseline documents.

My issue with Ricks’ characterization of the NIE is that it was cooked up to sell a war. That is not the case: the conclusions of the NIE reflected the date we had; data that I continue to assert was accurate as of that time. In focusing on the CIA, people forget or ignore that much of the data the CIA got and much of the work they did was in collaboration with numerous other national intelligence services, within this country and overseas. To concoct the global intelligence failure, critics have in much too facile manner simply contended that somehow all the independent corroborating evidence collected by us, the Brits, the Italians, and a dozen or more other services was all wrong. Unfortunately selling the idea the intelligence agencies are inherently incompetent is not hard.

But this was years ago, I no longer have access to my sources, and my memory is not good enough to cite chapter and verse on exactly how we knew what, except in some memorable instances, such as finding children’s fingernails in the drain of a huge stainless steel tank the was suspected of being used to test chemical agents on people. [It was.] So I can’t really fisk Ricks in detail. If it helps, I can point you to two posts I wrote in 2004 when things were fresher in my mind, that deal with Kay’s quest for WMDs in Iraq and some aspects of the Senate's report on the CIA's intelligence failures. I doubt these with fully address your questions, but they might be of some help.
Be aware that they are pretty snarky in parts as I was not in a good mood when I wrote them.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Tue Aug 15, 07:05:00 AM:

Apologies for going on like this, but I should point out that I think the final vindication of our pre-invasion WMD estimates will be found in the huge collection of documents we recovered from Saddam’s installations and that are now be translated., Already I’ve seen things that Capt. Ed has reported on that sound rather familiar. I notice this is getting no play in the MSM or from people like Ricks. It is probably mainly of historical interest now since I doubt enough will be translated in time to affect current events. At best, I suspect all that will have is that years down the road, we’ll get to say, "I told you so."  

By Blogger AMac, at Tue Aug 15, 08:01:00 AM:

Thanks for the response, Nemesis.  

By Blogger Jason_Pappas, at Tue Aug 15, 09:05:00 AM:

Nemesis, you miss my point entirely and perhaps it is my fault. It’s not that democratization wasn’t on the agenda (but at what priority) but more importantly that there was no consideration of the cultural constraints – most importantly, the Islamic Revival – that makes a liberal democracy a long-shot. Both of the administration-friendly experts in Arab and Islamic culture advised against it or at least cautioned the administration on its overly ambitious goals. Daniel Pipes suggested installing a benign dictator for the foreseeable future (but note the comment at the end) and he reiterated his concern recently. Bernard Lewis (in The Atlantic) suggested the romantic notion of reviving the monarchy in Iraq. I’m not arguing against the removal of Saddam and the Taliban but as others noted above, most believed we’d have removed the bulk of our troops by now. The administration has failured to understand the Arab Mind and the Islamic religion. This dwarfs the intel failures.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 15, 01:00:00 PM:

Iraq is the size of about Texas with 25 million people. Under Saddam it was a police state with one of the largest standing armies in the world. The idea that the entire palce could have been disarmed by blowing up a few weapon depots is pure fantasy. But, I suppose when one has a narrative such things must not get in the way.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Wed Aug 16, 09:10:00 AM:


I see your point now and I did misunderstand what you were getting at initially.

I'm not sure there no consideration of the cultural constraints, although the administration certainly reached a different conclusion than the experts. I think the world of Bernard Lewis and have respect for Pipes, but I'm sure I agree with either in this case.

A key factor is that things were a much bigger mess than we knew until we got there, and there was less work with than expected. It also took some time to see how Saddam's strategy was playing out. This caused a whole bunch adjustments, both in approach and expectations.

As I see it, Bush was handed a choice between a radical and a traditional solution. Given the track record of tradition in the Mid-East, and I think his own strategic sense, he chose the radical solution. In my opinion, he made the right choice. No time to offer detailed support for my opinion right now; perhaps later.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Wed Aug 16, 09:11:00 AM:

as in "but I'm not sure I agree with either in this case". Forgive me, it's late.  

By Blogger Jason_Pappas, at Wed Aug 16, 07:02:00 PM:

Thanks for considering my point. I respected (and still respect) the intent of Bush’s “forward strategy for peace” by embarking on a third alternative to secular fascists and theocratic fascists. I question the prudence of such a policy. That too would take a long essay.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 29, 07:22:00 PM:

I was with the 1st MARDIV during the invasion and afterwards. Referencing arms caches, I recall never receiving guidance on what to do with the damn things and most units just marked them and bypassed. I'm not sure CENTCOM or anyone else was responsible for these decisions, but fear of WMD was certainly in everyone's mind.  

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