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Essential Reading on the Bushies: Mark Danner in NYRB

More Essential Reading on the Bushies: Mark Danner in NYRB

Essesntial reading on the Bush administration. More from Mark Danner:

TomDispatch - Tomgram: Mark Danner, How a War of Unbound Fantasies Happened: Consider, for example, this... typical discussion in the White House in April 2003.... American forces are in Baghdad but the capital is engulfed by a wave of looting and disorder, with General Tommy Franks's troops standing by. The man in charge of the occupation, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jay Garner, has just arrived "in-country." Secretary of State Colin Powell has come to the Oval Office to discuss the occupation with the President, who is joined by Condoleezza Rice, then his national security adviser. Powell began, writes Woodward, by raising "the question of unity of command" in Iraq:

There are two chains of command, Powell told the president. Garner reports to Rumsfeld and Franks reports to Rumsfeld. The president looked surprised.

'That's not right,' Rice said. 'That's not right.'

Powell thought Rice could at times be pretty sure of herself, but he was pretty sure he was right.

'Yes, it is,' Powell insisted.

'Wait a minute,' Bush interrupted, taking Rice's side. 'That doesn't sound right.'

Rice got up and went to her office to check. When she came back, Powell thought she looked a little sheepish. 'That's right,' she said....

Powell's patient -- too patient -- explanation to the President:

You have to understand that when you have two chains of command and you don't have a common superior in the theater, it means that every little half-assed fight they have out there, if they can't work it out, comes out to one place to be resolved. And that's in the Pentagon. Not in the NSC or the State Department, but in the Pentagon.

The kernel of an answer to... how could U.S. officials repeatedly and consistently make such ill-advised and improbably stupid decisions, beginning with their lack of planning for "the postwar" -- can be found in this little chamber play... [with] at least two thirds of the cast... incapable of comprehending.... The Iraq occupation would have all the weaknesses of two chains of command, weaknesses that would become all too apparent in a matter of days, when Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the junior three-star in the entire Army, replaced General Franks and L. Paul Bremer replaced Garner, leaving the occupation in the hands of two officials who despised one another and hardly spoke.... We hear again the patient explanation of Powell... letting Woodward (but this time not the President) know of his certainty that "the Pentagon wouldn't resolve the conflicts because Wolfowitz and Feith were running their own little games and had their own agenda to promote Chalabi."...

Donald Rumsfeld's dream of a "demonstration model" war of quick, overwhelming victory did not foresee an extended occupation... envisioned rapid victory and rapid departure. Wolfowitz and the other Pentagon neoconservatives, on the other hand, imagined a "democratic transformation." a thoroughgoing social revolution.... How to resolve this contradiction?... Chalabi....

Alas, there was one problem: the confirmed idealist in the White House "was adamant that the United States not be seen as putting its thumb on the scales" of the nascent Iraqi democracy. Chalabi, for all his immense popularity in the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office, would not be installed as president of Iraq.... [Risen] goes on:

Once Bush quashed the Pentagon's plans, the administration failed to develop any acceptable alternative.... Instead, once the Pentagon realized the president wasn't going to let them install Chalabi, the Pentagon leadership did virtually nothing. After Chalabi, there was no Plan B.... "Part of the reason the planning for post-Saddam Iraq was so nonexistent was that the State Department had been saying if you invade, you have to plan for the postwar. And DOD said, no you don't. You can set up a provisional government in exile around Chalabi. DOD had a stupid plan, but they had a plan. But if you don't do that plan, and you don't make the Pentagon work with State to develop something else, then you go to war with no plan."...

In his account Woodward... [chooses] with typically impeccable political timing, to place Donald Rumsfeld in the role of mustache-twirling villain... truculent, arrogant, vain, has shown himself perfectly willing to play his part in this familiar Washington morality tale.... The Fall of Rumsfeld gives pace and drive to Woodward's narrative.... Irresistible as Rumsfeld is, however, the story of the Iraq war disaster springs less from his brow than from that of an inexperienced and rigidly self-assured president who managed to fashion, with the help of a powerful vice-president, a strikingly disfigured process of governing.

Woodward... interested in character and personal rivalry [not in] government bureaus and hierarchies, refers to this process broadly as "the interagency."... He means the governing apparatus set up by the National Security Act of 1947... the National Security Council, and gave to the president a special assistant for national security affairs (commonly known as the national security adviser) and a staff to manage, coordinate, and control it.... Ron Suskind, who has been closely studying the inner workings of the Bush administration since his revealing piece about Karl Rove and John Dilulio in 2003... observes that "the interagency" not only serves to convey information and decisions but also is intended to perform a more basic function:

Sober due diligence, with an eye for the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative.

This is precisely what the President didn't want.... Woodward tends to blame "the broken policy process" on the relative strength of personalities gathered around the cabinet table: the power and ruthlessness of Rumsfeld, the legendary "bureaucratic infighter"; the weakness of Rice, the very function and purpose of whose job, to let the President both benefit from and control the bureaucracy, was in effect eviscerated. Suskind, more convincingly, argues that Bush and Cheney constructed precisely the government they wanted: centralized, highly secretive, its clean, direct lines of decision unencumbered by information or consultation. "There was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else," Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, remarks to Suskind. "There was never one from the start. Bush didn't want one, for whatever reason."...

If the sober consideration of history and facts stood in the way of bold action then it would be the history and the facts that would be discarded.... Information, history, and all the other attributes of a deliberative policy may inhibit action but they do so by weighing and calculating risk.... Rumsfeld... knew only that he wanted a quick victory and a quick departure.... [Rumsfeld] sent... Larry DiRita, to the Kuwait City Hilton to brief the tiny, miserable, understaffed, and underfunded team led by the retired General Garner.... DiRita's "Hilton Speech" as quoted to Woodward by an army colonel, Paul Hughes:

"We went into the Balkans and Bosnia and Kosovo and we're still in them.... We're probably going to wind up in Afghanistan for a long time because the Department of State can't do its job right. Because they keep screwing things up, the Department of Defense winds up being stuck at these places. We're not going to let this happen in Iraq."

The reaction was generally, Whoa! Does this guy even realize that half the people in the room are from the State Department? DiRita went on, as Hughes recalled: "By the end of August we're going to have 25,000 to 30,000 troops left in Iraq."

DiRita spoke these words as, a few hundred miles away, Baghdad and the other major cities of Iraq were taken up in a thoroughgoing riot of looting and pillage... that would virtually destroy the country's infrastructure, and with it much of the respect Iraqis might have had for American competence. The uncontrolled violence engulfed Iraq's capital and major cities for weeks as American troops -- 140,000 or more -- mainly sat on their tanks, looking on. If attaining true political authority depends on securing a monopoly on legitimate violence, then the Americans would never achieve it in Iraq. There were precious few troops to impose order, and hardly any military police. No one gave the order to arrest or shoot looters or otherwise take control of the streets. Official Pentagon intentions at this time seem to have been precisely what the secretary of defense's special assistant said they were: to have all but 25,000 or so of those troops out of Iraq in five months or less....

Within weeks of that meeting in the Kuwait Hilton, L. Paul Bremer arrived in Baghdad, replacing Garner, who had been fired after less than a month in Iraq. On Bremer's first full day "in-country," in Woodward's telling.... "'We can't do this,' Garner said."... Garner headed immediately to Bremer's office, where the new occupation leader was just settling in.... Garner gets on the phone and appeals to the secretary of defense, who tells him -- and this will be a leitmotif in Woodward's book -- that the matter is out of his hands. "'This is not coming from this building,' [Rumsfeld] replied. 'That came from somewhere else.' Garner presumed that meant the White House, NSC or Cheney. According to other participants, however, the de-Baathification order was purely a Pentagon creation. Telling Garner it came from somewhere else, though, had the advantage for Rumsfeld of ending the argument."

Such tactics are presumably what mark Rumsfeld as a "skilled bureaucratic infighter."... In Bremer's telling, Feith gave him the draft order, emphasizing "the political importance of the decree": "We've got to show all the Iraqis that we're serious about building a New Iraq. And that means that Saddam's instruments of repression have no role in that new nation."... Again Bremer tells Garner that he has his orders. The discussion attains a certain unintended comedy when the proconsuls go on to discuss the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, which Bremer has also announced he will abolish:

'You can't get rid of the Ministry of the Interior,' Garner said.

'Why not?'

'You just made a speech yesterday and told everybody how important the police force is.'

'It is important.'

'All the police are in the Ministry of the Interior,' Garner said. ‘If you put this out, they'll all go home today.'

On hearing this bit of information, we are told, Bremer looked "surprised" -- an expression similar, no doubt, to Rice's when she and the President learned from the secretary of state that the civilian occupation authority would not be reporting to the White House but to the Pentagon....

[W]ithin the Pentagon there coexisted at least two visions of what the occupation of Iraq was to be: the quick victory, quick departure view of Rumsfeld, and the broader, ideologically driven democratic transformation of Iraqi society championed by the neoconservatives. The two views had uneasily intersected, for a time, in the alluring person of Ahmad Chalabi.... With a Chalabi coronation taken off the table by President Bush, however, determined officials with a direct line to Bremer were transforming the Iraq adventure into a long-term, highly ambitious occupation. Presumably as Garner woke up on May 17, reflecting that "the US now had at least 350,000 more enemies than it had the day before -- the 50,000 Baathists [and] the 300,000 officially unemployed soldiers," he could take satisfaction in having managed, by his last-minute efforts, to persuade Bremer to "excise the Ministry of Interior from the draft [order] so the police could stay"...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.