Friday, May 1, 2009

Piling on Condi?

Condi Rice has been getting a fair amount of attention lately, including an embarrassing incident on her old home court--Stanford. She is currently trying to defend some indefensible behavior--particularly torture.

Before going on, I must admit a couple of things:
  • on 9/11, I was in the Pentagon before and after the attack, but not during (for my 9/11 story, click here), so I do have a somewhat visceral action to that event, and wanted to see the people who were responsible put on a plane that would crash into a convenient ocean.
  • during my fellowship on the Joint Staff, I did take part in a process through which terrorists were sent from Bosnia to Gitmo--the first non-Afghan combatants to be sent there.
So, I do understand only too well some of the pressures and difficult decisions that faced the Administration after 9/11. The problem is that President Bush, as advised by Rice, made pretty much every bad decision possible. Indeed, after my year in the Pentagon, I knew that Rumsfeld and his shop would screw up the Occupation (largely because of his fearsome, groupthink management style), but I didn't realize then that they would consider the list of things not to do as a checklist of things to do: fire the Army, get rid of the entire senior and middle level strata of the civil service, use only the fewest possible troops, keep all experts away from the process, etc.

[See Ricks, Fiasco; Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II; Packer, Assassin's Gate; Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in an Emerald City; among others. I read but do not recommend (except for those doing research or seeking to lose brain cells) Bremer, who seems to be lying to himself, and Franks, who was well-suited for interacting with Doug Feith, as both were the dumbest @#$#@$ers and makes me both curious and sad that the Army could allow him to rise so far. I do plan to read LtGen Sanchez's book this summer as he ran the military side of things while Bremer was running the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA was said to stand for Can't Produce Anything); and Rick's new book, The Gamble, on Gen. Petraeus and the surge.]

The best evidence, in my mind, for Rice's epic failure to serve as an adequate National Security Advisor is that Jerry Bremer fired the Iraqi Army despite the decisions taken by the President and others to choose a more reasonable course of action. The damning evidence is really the fact that we do not really know today whether Bremer or Rumsfeld really made this decision. Since Rice's job as NSA was to coordinate foreign policy, she should have put in place a process so that Bremer's big decisions would have to be vetted by the relevant agencies--State, NSC, the Office of the SecDef, and the Joint Staff. In my time in DC, nearly all decisions of any consequence in the Balkans went through each agency at the appropriate level (at a lower level after 9/11 when the Balkans moved to the back burner of US foreign policy) with lawyers for each agency "chopping", that is assessing their legality. That Bremer, Rumsfeld and others can point fingers at each other (see No End in Sight, a great and depressing documentary) for perhaps the single dumbest decision in US foreign policy since ..... supporting the French in 1945 when they wanted to get back into Vietnam.

One can debate whether invading Iraq was a good or bad idea, but firing several hundred thousand young men with guns and training and knowledge of the locations of arms/explosive caches, at a time where folks in the interagency (Joint Staff, State, etc) were trying to find ways to reduce the Bosnian militaries by a few thousand without creating a pool of resentful young men, was incredibly dumb. This single decision lead to many unnecessary deaths--Iraqi, American, British and others. And the blood is on the hands of Bremer, of Rumsfeld, of Bush, and of Rice. While the focus today is on torture, and deservedly so (see my friend Steve's blog for an on-going discussion of the torture discussion), if we calculate the numbers of people directly harmed (as opposed to the damage to American influence or values), the number of torture victims must pale in comparison to the casualties after June 2003 on all sides.

Of course, the best is yet to come as Rummy is apparently writing a book where he says he was against the war in Iraq.

1 comment:

KatG said...

Apparently, when Rice visited a class of 4th graders, a student also grilled her about waterboarding: