Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CA-11 Blog | Policy Discussion Series | Iraq War

"Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction."
-Colin Powell February, 24 2001

"Iraq continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
-George W. Bush March, 17 2003
There is a wide array of evidence that during the lead-up to the War, the Bush administration was:
  • cherry picking intelligence which fit its Iraq policy
  • falsely implying that Iraq had a connection with Al Qaeda and 9/11
  • vigorously stating the certainty of what was uncertain intelligence
  • continuing to cite known false intelligence
The examples of this activity are well documented but here's a fresh one from the April 11 2006 Washington Post:
"On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction." The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true."
Question: In the spirit of "you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been": Do you believe we were lied into this War?
Steve Filson: I don’t think we know the answer to that question just yet, but we need to win back the House of Representatives to find out. Because Democrats have been in the minority, we have not had the power of subpoena or even the ability to call hearings to investigate this very question.

But here is what we do know. The Republican Congress has completely ignored its duty to oversee federal agencies and the President to ensure they carry out laws in an effective, efficient, and honest fashion. From what some organizations and media outlets have been able to discover, at best, the Bush Administration cherry picked intelligence and presented it to Congress and the American people as the only existing fact.
Question: What specific actions should Congress take to investigate the lead-up to the Iraq War and what is the value of Congress addressing this matter?
Steve Filson: First, Congress should finish the investigations begun in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. In the Senate, Chairman Pat Roberts has continued to stall the completion of phase 2 of his committee’s investigation. This phase was to look at how the Administration used the intelligence they had collected. From that point I believe other committees can move forward to examine particular elements of the lead-up to the Iraq War.

The value of Congressional investigations should always be the same. To find out what went wrong and how, if any laws were broken, and to put in place rules, laws, and people to ensure the same mistakes are not made again.
Six former Generals have recently criticized the Bush Administration for their conduct and incompetence in the execution and planning of the Iraq War. Many of these Generals express how the Bush administration willfully ignored advice and existing Iraq war plans from the Military during all phases of the war.

In my view, the following factors underscore the importance and unprecedented nature of these Generals speaking out in such strong terms:
  • the Military has a long and established history of withholding any criticism whatsoever for current civilian commanders
  • we currently have military personnel in harms way
  • most of these Generals have personally worked with the highest levels of civilian leadership or they served as ground commanders in Iraq
To this day, the Bush Administration refuses to admit any strategic mistakes in the Iraq War. However, Condoleeza Rice recently admitted the Bush administration made "thousands of tactical mistakes".

Question: Has the Bush administration damaged the relationship between civilian and military leaders by fundamentally altering the historic roles each play?
Steve Filson: Yes. The Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made, under this administration, decision that should have been left to the professionals in the military. This has and continues to cost lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
Question: Do you think Condoleeza Rice's statement was intended to place blame on the military?
Steve Filson: Probably not, but it was a very poor choice of words. I served as a Navy tactical pilot in the Navy for 8 years on active duty and 14 in the reserves. I know the men and women in uniform serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have performed with the utmost of skill and courage.

We know military men and women are not to blame for the complete lack of planning by the Bush Administration and the total lack of support from Secretary Rumsfeld. The military asked for 400,000 troops, they got 150,000. The military asked for armored vehicles, they had to wait. The troops asked for better body armor, they had to wait. This was and is unacceptable.
Below is a quote from the 1998 book, "A World Transformed" by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft:
"Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome."
Question: Was this war a mistake? If so, how can a Member of Congress ensure we don't repeat such a mistake in the future?
Steve Filson: Yes, looking back I think the war was a mistake. We have failed on all the criteria the Bush Administration set out for success. North Korea and Iran continue to develop weapons of mass destruction while none were found in Iraq and the Bush White House is cutting side deals with India. Terrorist’s attacks have increased in frequency around the world, including the horrific bombings in Spain and England. Finally, the Bush Administration continues to support dictatorships and repressive regimes, ignoring their own call to foster Democracy around the world.

We went to war because we believed that Iraq was a threat, it wasn’t. If we want to avoid the same mistake in the future we have to address the limits of our intelligence community. During the Reagan Administration and even through the Clinton years, the intelligence agencies became obsessed with technology. We need more human resources, people who can speak the language and understand the culture. We also need members of Congress willing to use their oversight ability to check the President to ensure the flow of honest and reputable intelligence.
Question: What is the difference between you and the other Democratic candidates on how to move forward from this point?
Steve Filson: First, it should be noted, Iraq has yet to fall into civil war, as some have argued. However a civil war remains a very real possibility. A civil war in Iraq would inevitably spread to neighboring nations including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Such a widespread conflict would only create more terrorists, which would directly threaten the United States and our allies.

An immediate withdrawal of forces would guarantee Iraq’s slide into a ruthless and prolonged civil war.

A set public timeline, with a politically artificial date, would play into the hands of the insurgents. As a veteran I know there is no better way to lose a battle then to show your cards to the enemy. Additionally, how do we set this timetable? Do we pick a random date with no concern as to the level of security Iraqi’s can provide for the public?

But to stay the course is an even greater error. What I would advocate, as a member of Congress, is the immediate creation of an exit strategy from the Generals in the Pentagon, who have been largely ignored by this administration, combined with a clear message that the United States has no long-term desire to stay in Iraq. This exit strategy must consist of clear measurable standards to track progress in areas such as electrical production, training of security forces, political representation, etc. Then, and only then, will the Sunnis, Shites, and Kurds strike a deal and take responsibility for their future.

President Bush was careless and irresponsible to suggest to the American and Iraqi people that American troops might be in Iraq for several Presidencies. These types of statements, among others, gives the Iraqi’s no incentive to settle they’re political and/or tribal disputes. Americans feel strongly about keeping our promises to the world, but our patience is not infinite.


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