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Morning Report 7/5/05The ‘Unusual Mission in Iraq’


All the non-news that’s fit to print.

Go out for a lob: Gen. Richard “Quaq” Myers, who is concerned that we’re spread too thin to fight more wars, still had plenty of footballs to toss to troops in Iraq during a USO tour he led last December.

The world must be at peace, and everybody must be fat and happy. There’s no other explanation for this morning’s top story in the New York Times: “Pentagon Weighs Strategy Change to Deter Terror.”

No, I take that back. The most logical reason for this non-story nonsense from Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt about the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review is that July 5 is the day after a three-day holiday weekend. Tuesday mornings usually have the weakest stories anyway, and this piece must have been in the can so that the senior staff could go to the Hamptons.

In any case, it’s pure drivel, old news packaged as something dramatic and new, like in this passage:

The concern that the concentration of troops and weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan was limiting the Pentagon’s ability to deal with other potential armed conflicts was underscored by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a classified risk assessment to Congress this spring. But the current review is the first by the Pentagon in decades to seriously question the wisdom of the two-war strategy.

Bullshit. The previous Quadrennial Defense Review, released in September 2001, shortly after 9/11, broadly hinted at sweeping changes in military thinking:

At the direction of the President, U.S. forces will be capable of decisively defeating an adversary in one of the two theaters in which U.S. forces are conducting major combat operations by imposing America’s will and removing any future threat it could pose. This capability will include the ability to occupy territory or set the conditions for a regime change if so directed.

The new planning approach requires the United States to maintain and prepare its forces for smaller-scale contingency operations in peacetime, preferably in concert with allies and friends. This approach recognizes that such contingencies could vary in duration, frequency, intensity, and the number of personnel required. DoD will explicitly plan to provide a rotational base—a larger base of forces from which to provide forward deployed forces—to support long-standing contingency commitments in the critical areas of interest. These long-standing commitments will, in effect, become part of the U.S. forward deterrent posture.

If Shanker and Schmitt (launchers of the Pentagon’s trial balloon last month on Ricardo Sanchez‘s proposed promotion) had put in the context of the Pentagon’s obsession—even before 9/11—with “transforming” the military and with “regime change,” this could have been interesting. But they didn’t.

This is funny if you think about it: The New York Times has, for the most part, severely underplayed the Downing Street Memo and related documents seeping out of the Foreign Office in London. That’s old news, nothing new, right? But the Quadrennial Defense Review, without context, is page-one material?

The Quadrennial Defense Review is an ongoing, continual bureaucratic exercise—a kind of Olympics for defense contractors, because every four years the Pentagon publishes a general outline of what kind of weaponry and troop deployment will be needed.

The fact is that Rumsfeld, from the start of the Bush regime, was obsessed with “transformation” of the military—meaning windfalls for defense contractors. But that was lost on the Times. This is how its story this morning started:

The Pentagon’s most senior planners are challenging the longstanding strategy that requires the armed forces to be prepared to fight two major wars at a time. Instead, they are weighing whether to shape the military to mount one conventional campaign while devoting more resources to defending American territory and antiterrorism efforts.

The consideration of these profound changes are at the center of the current top-to-bottom review of Pentagon strategy, as ordered by Congress every four years, and will determine the future size of the military as well as the fate of hundreds of billions of dollars in new weapons.

The intense debate reflects a growing recognition that the current burden of maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the other demands of the global campaign against terrorism, may force a change in the assumptions that have been the foundation of all military planning.

Oooh! Congress “ordered” it. Please. It’s a regular thing. But apparently Iraq—or the disaster the unjustified invasion of Iraq has turned out to be—isn’t. Shanker and Schmitt add:

In effect, the unusual mission in Iraq, which could last for years, has not just taken the slot for one of the two wars; it has upended the central concept of the two-war model. It is neither a major conventional combat nor a mere peacekeeping operation. It does not require the full array of forces, especially from the Navy and the Air Force, of a conventional war, and it takes far more troops than peacekeeping ordinarily would.

The Pentagon is considering shifting its focus to antiterrorism efforts. How about that? And some of that is because of the “unusual mission in Iraq.” Hmmm. I’ll say it’s unusual. Our invasion was supposedly part of the “global war on terrorism,” right? But that’s a war that the Bush regime pointedly ignored, even compared with efforts by the Clinton regime, in favor of focusing on such bureaucratic crap as the Quadrennial Defense Review.

As the 9/11 Commission staff noted, in a passage that didn’t make into the final report, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Doug Feith ignored terrorism and Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and they all should have been fired shortly after the attack. Even the commission’s semi-whitewashed final report said:

At the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General [Henry] Shelton did not recall much interest by the new administration in military options against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.He could not recall any specific guidance on the topic from the secretary. Brian Sheridan—the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in the Pentagon—never briefed Rumsfeld. He departed on January 20; he had not been replaced by 9/11.

Rumsfeld noted to us his own interest in terrorism, which came up often in his regular meetings with [CIA Director George] Tenet. He thought that the Defense Department, before 9/11,was not organized adequately or prepared to deal with new threats like terrorism. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place and working on the foundation documents of a new defense policy, the quadrennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and the existing contingency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system.

Rumsfeld was “consumed with,” among other things, the Quadrennial Defense Review. Now, go back to the commission’s Staff Statement No. 6, which has significant detail on this topic that was not included in the subsequent final report.

This is a key part of the 9/11 investigation, and I wrote about some of this nearly a year ago—I pointed out that Rumsfeld claimed “systemic” problems in dealing with terrorism but blamed Abu Ghraib on “rogue” soldiers and denied a systemic problem there, when in fact the opposite was true in each case. But bear with me while I quote the corresponding passage from the more detailed—and much more revealing—staff statement:

The confirmation of the Pentagon’s new leadership was a lengthy process. Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz was not confirmed until March 2001, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith did not take office until July 2001. Secretary [William] Cohen said he briefed Secretary-designate Rumsfeld on about 50 items during the transition, including Bin Ladin and programs related to domestic preparedness against terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction. Rumsfeld told us he did not recall what was said about Bin Ladin at that briefing. On February 8, General Shelton briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on the Operation Infinite Resolve plan, including the range of options and CENTCOM’s new phased campaign plan. These plans were periodically updated during the ensuing months.

Brian Sheridan—the outgoing Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in DOD—never briefed Rumsfeld. Lower-level SOLIC officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense told us that they thought the new team was focused on other issues and was not especially interested in their counterterrorism agenda. Undersecretary Feith told the Commission that when he arrived at the Pentagon in July 2001, Rumsfeld asked him to focus his attention on working with the Russians on agreements to dissolve the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and preparing a new nuclear arms control pact. Traditionally, the primary DOD official responsible for counterterrorism policy had been the assistant secretary of defense for SOLIC. The outgoing assistant secretary left on January 20, 2001, and had not been replaced when the Pentagon was hit on September 11.

Secretary Rumsfeld said that transformation was a focus of the administration. He said he was interested in terrorism, arranging to meet regularly with DCI Tenet. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place, preparing the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Defense Planning Guidance, and reviewing existing contingency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system for possible use against Bin Ladin. He said that DOD, before 9/11, was not organized or trained adequately to deal with asymmetric threats.

As recounted in the previous staff statement, the Bush administration’s NSC staff was drafting a new counterterrorism strategy in the spring and summer of 2001. National Security Adviser Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen] Hadley told us that they wanted more muscular options. In June 2001 Hadley circulated a draft presidential directive on policy toward al Qaeda. The draft came to include a section that called for development of a new set of contingency military plans against both al Qaeda and the Taliban regime. Hadley told us that he contacted Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz to advise him that the Pentagon would soon need to start preparing fresh plans in response to this forthcoming presidential direction.

The directive was approved at the Deputies level in July and apparently approved by top officials on September 4 for submission to the President. With this directive still awaiting the president’s signature, Secretary Rumsfeld did not order the preparation of any new military plans against either al Qaeda or the Taliban before 9/11.

And then, immediately after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House started yapping about Iraq—not about Al Qaeda and bin Laden but about Iraq. And as the Downing Street Memos and other documents confirm, planning for a cooked-up invasion of Iraq was feverish by early 2002.

Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith were the rogues, not even filling the key counterterrorism office in the Pentagon.

And not even listening to what Sheridan said before he left the Pentagon. As Paul Thompson‘s 9-11 Timeline notes in its entry for early January 2001, based on Richard Clarke‘s later writing:

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke briefs Secretary of State [Colin] Powell about the al-Qaeda threat. He urges decisive and quick action against al-Qaeda. Powell meets with the CSG (Counterterrorism and Security Group) containing senior counterterrorism officials from many agencies. He sees that all members of the group agree al-Qaeda is an important threat. For instance, Deputy Defense Secretary Brian Sheridan says to Powell, “Make al-Qaeda your number one priority.”

Sheridan later said he was “astonished” that he wasn’t even invited to a single meeting. And as Daniel Benjamin wrote in the Los Angeles Times more than three years later:

Even if one dismisses Sheridan’s remarks as those of a political appointee, the same cannot be done for Don Kerrick. A three-star general, Kerrick had served at the end of the Clinton administration as deputy national security adviser, and he spent the final four months of his military career in the Bush White House. He sent a memo to the NSC’s new leadership on “things you need to pay attention to.” He wrote about Al Qaeda: “We are going to be struck again.”

But he never heard back. “I don’t think it was above the waterline. They were gambling nothing would happen,” he said.

One more trip in the Wayback Machine: to June 2001, when new Secretary of the Army Thomas White explained his mission. Here’s an excerpt from the Pentagon’s own story back then about White’s introductory speech:

Secretary White plans to add business practices to the Army Vision’s current pillars of people, readiness and Transformation. He made that announcement during his first meeting with Pentagon correspondents June 12.

“I spent 11 years in corporate America with Enron Corporation, an energy company,” White said. “…It is very, very clear to me that there is enormous potential to improve the basic business practices of this department.”

The Army must determine what its core responsibilities are, then outsource non-core activities to contractors who can give the Army better value and service. “We’re not just going to study it, we’re going to do it,” he said.

Oh, they did it. Enron created an energy-trading market and cooked up an electricity crisis in California, making a bundle in the process. Enron’s chief beneficiary among pols, George W. Bush, and his handlers cooked up a war, and their defense contractor pals have made a bundle in the process.

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