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October 16, 2005 - Iraq War Notes (True Believers)

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This week a key item that got play was a brief article in USA Today by John Diamond - CIA Review Faults Prewar Plans.  That was Tuesday the 11th and is a backgrounder - a review of a new CIA report which finds it "ironic" that policymakers were "receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right."

Yeah, so what else in new?

Key passages:


A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.

... The intelligence "also provided perceptive analysis on Iraq's links to al-Qaeda; calculated the impact of the war on oil markets; and accurately forecast the reactions of ethnic and tribal factions in Iraq."

... "In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.


The most clear-headed response to this comes from Eric Alterman here:


How many times am I going to have to read about this kind of "irony" before they come to take me away? In the first place it's a misuse of the word. But really, that's not the point. The point is the fact that hello, this is what they did! They used (and demanded) the intelligence that allowed them to justify the war as a "cakewalk" and purposely ignored everything that implied that it might not be as easy as say, insider trading on your phony blind trust. In other words, all of the effort that went into the State Department's post-invasion project was thrown away. The Council on Foreign Relations - which was so eager to play that they offered to partner with the Heritage Foundation -or AEI - when instructed to do so -was turned away when Rove told AEI to foggettaboutit. They literally sold their fans on the Chalabist notion that it would be the easiest thing in the world to transform a 1000-year-old autocracy into a democracy overnight. The "Liberal Hawks," including the whole crew at Slate and TNR, bought this bill of goods and peddled their own versions of it, and here, years later, the same crap is being shoveled out of the CIA. Enough already. These people are dishonest, OK? Ignore what they say. Watch what they do.


Always good advice, but all of this hardly matters now. So we were snookered, and all the planning for what happened after we took over another country was not just ignored, it was sneered at. Some folks knew what was going to happen, and explained it all in, one supposes, nicely bound volumes with PowerPoint presentations ready to roll, but such stuff from the CIA and the State Department and the thinks tanks was too negative. The administration went in with the right "positive" attitude. Cultural and political issues? Piffle.

Why is USA Today covering this report now, other than it was just released? It seems to be two years old.

And what's the point?

This is just piling on with the administration and the Republican Party under fire - the hurricane response generated a brief blip in the poll numbers but now this - the president's approval rating drops to thirty-nine percent and all of twenty-eight percent of us believe "the country is headed in the right direction" - and all of two percent of African-Americans give him a positive rating. That two percent item makes the front page of the Washington Post. Eight visits to the Gulf and having to hug black kids gets him this? House leader Tom DeLay is "off duty" because of those indictments for money laundering and criminal conspiracy, and has had his phone records subpoenaed, while senate leader Frist has his issues as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued subpoenas for his records regarding possible insider trading of stock in his "blind" trust. The Republican Party is a war with itself over the Harriet Miers nomination and the CIA leak investigate is coming to a head, and everyone is wondering which key players in the White House will be indicted. Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove? The Vice President's chief of staff - the Scooter? The Vice President himself? No one knows.

This USA Today item is just another nail in the coffin, or a small tack.

But the voting on the new constitution in Iraq is underway. This is a big victory for the administration.

And that has its own drama as, as the week began, Shiite and Kurd leaders pretty much got a group of influential Sunnis to drop their opposition to it, by essentially saying it was not really a constitution like they thought, but really just a kind of rough draft. A newly created panel in the next parliament can propose amendments to the constitution and change it almost entirely. As the New York Times reports - "In effect, it could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document after elections in December." But the daily attacks continue.

Well, it was a try.

Comment varied.

On the right, Robert Mayer sees a trend - "the constant dropping of opposition to the constitution is actually becoming a trend. Shia groups like Muqtada al-Sadr's militia and? the largest Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, have dropped their campaign to defeat the constitution and will instead be focusing completely on the December elections. As will everybody else. The Iraqis have come up with a good constitution that, despite some disagreements, can certainly be fixed up once all groups are fully represented in parliament."

It seems to some of us the motto of the whole war effort, from the first days after the World Trade Center has fallen, was "Do It Now." The whole idea of "do it right" could come later. One wonders whether the Democrats, as they try to take back the house and senate, and maybe even the White House one day, would be wise to adopt the line, "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right." That would apply to almost everything in the world of public policy and diplomacy and all the rest. It would be something you could hammer home, again and again.

Ah well. That may be too simple-minded for the multifaceted Democrats. And of course you would have to spell out what "doing it right" entails, on each issue we face. But just "doing something" hasn't gotten us that far, has it?

And there is this from Tina Brown in the Washington Post, Thursday, October 13, 2005, writing about getting it right, and strong women –


It's easy to forget that Margaret Thatcher - whose "Don't go wobbly on me, George" famously stiffened the spine of Bush One before the Persian Gulf War in 1990 - was there first, even down to a husband who was not so much invisible as comical.

England's Iron Lady celebrates her 80th birthday tonight with a guest list dominated by the adoring circle of powerful male admirers whose loyalty she rewarded with seats in the House of Lords when she was prime minister.

The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof - and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."


What? The idol of the right said THAT?

Facts? Evidence? What about positive attitude and affirmative thinking? She too seems to be of the "do it right" not "do it now" school.

Maybe she didn't really say that. Maybe she's just getting old. Maybe she's a closet realist.

As for this "great compromise" in Iraq, well, the often-quoted-here Kevin Drum says this: "Somebody really needs to explain what the Sunnis think they're getting here. It sounds like nothing more than a vague brush off to me. Just vote for the constitution now and we promise to seriously consider your objections at a later day. I'm all in favor of anything that makes a peaceful transition in Iraq more likely, but I've read half a dozen stories about this agreement and every one of them makes it sound like at least some Sunnis are ecstatic over this deal. Conversely, none of them mention that it's essentially meaningless. What am I missing?"

What he's missing is in the lyrics to that old Doobie Brothers song What a Fool Believes - "What a fool believes he sees? No wise man has the power to reason away what seems to be." Folks want to believe this is progress, and what you believe you see.

"What you believe you see" should be over the front door the White House - better that than "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here." Google Dante, of course.

And the often-quoted-here Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East expert, has a bit on this "wishing makes it so" approach to the compromise here: "This whole episode strikes me as bizarre, since Iraqis are now voting on a constitution that may be subsequently changed at will! As with the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, in which they had no idea for whom they were voting for the most part, so in the referendum they will have no idea for what they are voting. ? If the constitution is not ready to be voted on, they should have taken the 6-month extension and worked on it some more."

What's this? He's saying it - "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right."

Cue up the old joke about the motto of the dysfunctional manager - "Ready, Fire, Aim - Ready, Fire, Aim? Repeat until you hit something." Yeah, and think of those companies who have in their mission statement, "We have a bias for action." So? Many others have a bias for thinking things through, for testing, for carefulness.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. The voting continues, on whatever it is they're voting on, that has cost us so much.

Something is always better than nothing, as the saying goes. Too bad that is not always true. We'll see in a month or two how things are on the ground there. There's always a chance things will work out. That's why some of us buy lottery tickets now and then. You never know.

On the other hand, think of it in business terms. On a cost-benefit basis, tossing in a dollar for lottery ticket makes some sense. You may have only a one in fifty-three million chance of winning, but what's a dollar these days? The cost is negligible - try getting a cup of coffee for a dollar.

Now the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine. The odd are against us. But why not try? Because others don't see these costs as appropriate for the actual chances of success?

It's a matter a values, isn't it?

Well, we were told in the president's address on October 6th - where he explained what the war on terror was all about, this time, really - that the bad guys wanted to take over the world and set up an Islamic theocracy to rule us all, so we'd better keep fighting. And this week we find out he knew this was so because of a letter we intercepted, dated 9 July, that said so. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, wrote it. Conveniently, it sets out a detailed list of four sequential goals - expel the Americans from Iraq, set up an Islamic emirate in Iraq, extend the jihad "to the secular countries neighboring Iraq," then start the real stuff - "the clash with Israel" and the west. (By the by, it also says blowing up other Iraqis may be becoming a bit counterproductive, and more money is needed.)

Well, that changes the cost-benefit equation, doesn't it?

From the BBC:


US intelligence published the letter in full, saying it was intended for the alleged head of the movement in Iraq.

... According to US intelligence officials, the letter offers a remarkable insight into al-Qaeda thinking.

After leaking a short extract, the new director of US intelligence has now published it in full on his website in English and Arabic.

The Americans will not say exactly when or how they intercepted it, except that it was during operations in Iraq.


Of course the BBC item, Thursday, October 13, has this headline: Al-Qaeda disowns 'fake letter'.

They're saying, in essence, we've been punked - the administration needed a new case for the war. The WMD thing didn't work out. The Saddam-was-in-on-9/11 thing didn't work out. The "Saddam supported al-Qaeda" thing didn't work out (they hated the guy). The plans for a secular western-style democracy there that will change the world are more of joke with each passing day.

So what did they do? They pulled a rabbit out of the hat. "Look, look - these guys have plans to take over the world! We found a letter! It explains it all! Don't back down now!"

Okay, now whom do you believe?

Even if the letter is real, the bad guys saying it isn't real works just fine. The implicit questions are clear. Have these guys earned your trust? Isn't this a little too convenient?

Even if it is real, the damage is done.

The news here? Al-Qaeda sings an old Doobie Brothers song to the American public, and grins, slyly.



Who are you going to believe?

See Juan Cole here:


The Arabic text of the recently released letter alleged to be by Zawahiri (al-Qaeda's number two man) to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq raises questions for me as to its authenticity.

The very first element of the letter is the blessing on the Prophet. It says:

al-salah wa al-salam 'ala rasuli'llahi wa a-lihi wa suhubihi . . . (peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of God and his family and his companions …)

The phrase "salla Allahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam" (the blessings and peace of God be upon him and his family) is a Shiite form of the salutation, because of the emphasis of the Shiites on the House or descendants of the Prophet. Because of the cultural influence of Shiism in South Asia, one does find that form of the salutation in Pakistan and India among Sunni Muslims.

But before I went to Pakistan I had never, ever heard a Sunni Muslim add "wa alihi" (and his family) to the salutation. I associated it strongly with Iran and Shiism, and was taken aback to hear Sunnis say it on Pakistani television. Certainly, I never heard that form of it all the time I lived in Egypt.

... I do not believe that an Egyptian like al-Zawahiri would use this phraseology at all. But he certainly would not use it to open a letter to a Salafi. Sunni hardliners deeply object to what they see as Shiite idolatry of the imams or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, for whom they made shrines such as Ali's at Najaf and Husayn's at Karbala. In fact, hard line Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia attacked and sacked Karbala in 1803.

Adding to the salutation "the peace and blessings of God be upon him [Muhammad]" the phrase "and his family" would be an insult to Zarqawi and to the hardline Sunnis in Iraq.

Later he refers to Husain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, as al-Imam al-sibt, "the Imam, the grandson". I do not believe that a hard line Sunni such as Zawahiri would call Husain an Imam. That is Shiite terminology.

The letter then says how much Zawahiri misses meeting with Zarqawi. Zarqawi was not part of al-Qaeda when he was in Afghanistan. He had a rivalry with it. And when he went back to Jordan he did not allow the Jordanian and German chapters of his Tawhid wa Jihad group to send money to Bin Laden. If Zawahiri was going to bring up old times, he would have had to find a way to get past this troubled history, not just pretend that the two used to pal around.

My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.


Should one mess around with the details of language and history, or just trust the administration?


From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


This could make Juan Cole the left's functional equivalent of the famous "typewriter bloggers" that brought down Dan Rather, except for one crucial fact: Nobody the hell pays the least bit of attention to the left anyway. The fact is the only group who cares enough about the details to do something about it is the right wingnuts - and only then if the details support their own arguments.


Still, you might want to file this observation away, just in case in comes in handy as an "I told you so" somewhere down the road.


So filed.


And Reuters reports the Congressional Research Service's terrorism expert also isn't so sure about the letter:


Ken Katzman, a terrorism expert with the Congressional Research Service - the in-house think-tank of the U.S. Congress - said the letter contained elements that raised doubts about its authenticity. "The purported letter has Zawahri admitting to certain things that it's not realistic for him to admit, because he would know there's a potential this letter might be intercepted," Katzman said.


Oh well.





Really Minor Footnote:


Above Tina Brown quotes Margaret Thatcher saying she, Margaret Thatcher, was once a scientist.


Really?  See this:


Thatcher is the godmother of compassionate conservatism: as a young chemist, she helped develop the first soft frozen ice cream. At Oxford, she was a mediocre student under Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize for discovering the chemical structure of vitamin B-12 – a discovery that gave the Prime Minister a boost late in life.


Didn't know that.



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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