Key senator has a history of quietly airing the regime’s dirty laundry from Iraq
Whether or not John Bolton is confirmed as U.N. ambassador, we may never know the true story of all the cloakroom maneuverings surrounding this neocon nabob’s nomination until Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Dick Lugar writes his memoirs.
Go back to the committee’s underreported February 1 hearing on Iraq. The very first discussion of the Iraq debacle in this Congressional session, it took place right after the lockdown election in Iraq, amid all the hyperbolic hoorays.
Too bad the hearing got little notice in the press, because it was a devastating critique of the Bush regime, specifically designed by Lugar to revolve around a rousing analysis by veteran Iraq scholar and on-the-ground military/arms expert Anthony Cordesman (left). Typically blunt, especially in print, Cordesman blasted the regime for putting “ideologues” in place in Iraq. Without naming Medal of Freedom winner L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer, Cordesman acerbically referred to our “proconsul” in Iraq. As always, he offered suggestions.
Unfortunately for the neocons and their religious zealot pals who defend Israel’s right-wing government, Cordesman’s suggestions for stabilizing the Middle East start with placating the Arabs by wading into the Israeli-Palestinian death dance.
It’s one of the finest summations I’ve read about the Iraq debacle.
Lugar’s February hearing came before the Bush regime decided to install one of its most abrasive ideologues in the U.N. Bolton didn’t get the kowtowing that Senate Judiciary chair Arlen Specter gave to Alberto Gonzales in January, and now the Bolton nomination has been held up in Lugar’s committee until next month.
Yes, it was GOP senator George Voinovich who appeared to throw a monkey wrench into the works by asking Lugar for more time, prompting the chairman to postpone the vote on Bolton until May 12—a vote that won’t happen if Bolton withdraws his name under the building pressure of critics.
Lugar is under increasing pressure from the White House and other Bolton supporters to cooperate by whisking along the vote as soon as May 12 rolls around. Among those devilish voices whispering in his ear is David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, who wrote yesterday:
Bolton supporters are wondering how the chairman could be so clueless. He may or may not be Bolton’s biggest fan, but Lugar’s performance makes one wonder whether he’s conniving with Democrats to sink Bolton or simply in over his head. In any event, if he wants to redeem his professional reputation he can do so only by regaining control of his committee and solidifying Bolton’s support from his GOP colleagues before the panel reconvenes three weeks from now.
Of course Lugar wants to sink Bolton. He can’t come out and say so—he’s no Elliot Richardson. (Although it does seem remarkable that Lugar, a quiet and conservative Republican from Indiana, is part of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s celebrity-imbued Hands That Shape Humanity. Lugar conscientiously got his hands dirty in this peace project/artwork.)
We used to think of Republicans like Lugar as hidebound. That was until the neocons and religious nuts took over the GOP. Lugar may not be a rebel, but he has ways of making known his displeasure with the neocon wing of his party.
Building a hearing around the work of Cordesman, an outspoken foe of the neocons and a familiar face on Capitol Hill, was the somewhat reserved Lugar’s way of sticking it to the neocons. Unfortunately, the hearing got very little play in the press.
You may have heard of Cordesman. As I noted last September, Paul Krugman of the New York Times quoted an earlier Cordesman analysis as saying that U.S. officials are “guilty of a gross military, administrative, and moral failure” in Iraq. Read `Inexcusable Failure yourself.
I called it “an antidote to the neocon job that’s been foisted upon the American people.”
That was last fall. Subsequently, the prolific Cordesman produced another epic from his D.C. aerie, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). It’s called Playing the Course:A Strategy for Reshaping United States Policy in Iraq and the Middle East
When Lugar reconvened his committee after the holiday break and scheduled the first session for a discussion of Iraq, he didn’t put on a dog-and-pony show for his fellow Republicans who control the White House and Congress. No, he invited a panel of three, all of them with strong establishment, even pro-war, credentials, but all of them also critics of the Bush regime’s disastrous handling of Iraq. Besides Cordesman, there were retired General Gregory Newbold, former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Peter Khalil, an Australian who served as director of national security policy for the Coalition Provisional Authority from August 2003 to May 2004.
Lugar introduced the three and praised Cordesman’s Playing the Course as an “exceptional paper . . . to provide a framework for our discussion of policy issues in Iraq.”
You can bet no neocon would praise Cordesman’s views on Iraq as “exceptional,” because he said:
[T]he odds of success in Iraq are at best even —if one accepts the fact that in the real world the only definition of success we can actually hope to achieve means some form of pluralistic Iraqi government that can work its way through years of political and economic difficulty without direct American military support.
And that’s the good news. Known for his blunt talk, Cordesman ticked off—and I mean ticked off—”nine major mistakes” by the Bush regime:
• We went to war on the basis of the wrong intelligence and with a rationale we could not defend to the world or the Iraqis.
• We bypassed the interagency process. We ignored warning after warning by U.S. intelligence experts, State Department officials, military officers with experience in the region, and outside experts that we would not be greeted as liberators fighting a just war, but by a highly nationalistic and divided people who did not want outsiders and occupiers to determine their destiny.
• We planned and fought the war to remove Saddam from power without any meaningful plan for stability operations and nation building. We allowed political and economic chaos to take place as we advanced and in the immediate aftermath of Saddam’s fall.
• We did not prepare our military forces for civil-military missions, to deal with terrorism and insurgency, to play the role of occupier in a nation with an alien religion, language and culture, or have the mix of HUMINT and weapons they needed for the “war after the war.” As a result, we forced our military to slowly adapt under pressure and in the face of a growing enemy.
• For a year, we assumed that a proconsul in the form of the CPA could govern Iraq and plan its future, rather than Iraqis. We staffed much of the CPA with inexperienced political appointees and ideologues that spent virtually all of their time in a secure enclave and only served for brief three to six month tours.
• For a year, we developed idealized plans for political reform that did not survive engagement with reality. We focused far too much on national elections and drafting a constitution without having a similar focus on effective governance at the national, regional, and local levels.
• For a year, we had military leadership in Iraq that would not work closely with the leadership of the CPA, and which lived in a state of denial about the level of popular hostility we faced and a steadily growing insurgency.
• For a year, we made no serious attempt to create Iraqi military, security, and police forces that could stand on their own in dealing with a growing insurgency, terrorism, and lawlessness. Instead, we saw such Iraq forces largely as a potential threat to our idealized democracy and felt our forces could easily defeat an insurgency of 5,000-6,000 former regime loyalists.
• For a year, we tried to deal with an Iraqi economy that was a command kleptocracy as if it could be quickly and easily converted to a modern market-driven economy. We sent in CPA advisors with no real experience and no continuity. We created a ridiculous long-term aid plan without a meaningful understanding or survey of the economic problems Iraq faced, an understanding of Iraqi needs and expectations, and the talent in either the U.S. government or the contract community to implement such a plan or develop the kind of plans and programs focused on short- and medium-term requirements that Iraq actually needed.
Cordesman’s criticism is shrugged off by the Bush regime and gets little play, and unfortunately his suggestions don’t get publicized either. Like this passage:
In any case, even under the best conditions, we must leave in the next two to three years, and as soon as Iraqi forces can replace us. This is not a choice. Being an advisor and a friend is both possible and desirable. However, no policy in Iraq, this region, or the world can succeed where the U.S. seeks to keep bases or remains an “occupier.” We need to prepare for this contingency now, and the key to that preparation is two-fold:
First, it is to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in ways that can ease the anger against us in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and ultimately give Israel true security.
Second, it is to rebuild and strengthen our relations with the Southern Gulf states and our other allies in the Arab world.
And Cordesman, the kind of pragmatic thinker missing in the current regime, noted:
We may well have to leave Iraq without achieving the limited definition of success I gave at the beginning of this testimony. If an elected Iraqi government asks us to leave, we must do so as quickly and with as much integrity as possible. The same is true if we are asked to compromise our military effectiveness or the integrity of our aid process.
Failure is an option, and will scarcely be the only time the U.S. has faced defeat. Abandonment, however, is not an option. If we are forced to leave Iraq, we should not do so in bitterness or in anger. We should be prepared to offer aid and assistance. We should make it clear that we will do what we can regardless of the circumstances. As Vietnam and China have shown, history endures long beyond anger and frustration, and so do our
vital strategic interests.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2005