There was a vast difference between what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and what they were saying publicly. But the discrepancy was not surprising. In memos, reports and internal debates, high-level officials of the Bush administration have voiced their concern about the United States' ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq since early in the occupation.
After Bush's reelection, Hadley replaced Rice as national security adviser. He made an assessment of the problems from the first term. "I give us a B-minus for policy development," he told a colleague on Feb. 5, 2005, "and a D-minus for policy execution."Henry Kissinger, probably the most powerful German-born American ever, seems to be still very influential:
Rice, for her part, hired Philip D. Zelikow, an old friend, and sent him immediately to Iraq. She needed ground truth, a full, detailed report from someone she trusted. Zelikow had a license to go anywhere and ask any question. On Feb. 10, 2005, two weeks after Rice became secretary of state, Zelikow presented her with a 15-page, single-spaced secret memo. "At this point Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change," Zelikow wrote.
"Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter [his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby] and I sit down with him." The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs. Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out. (...) He also said that the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of the key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.Woodward explains that Kissinger's advice is shaped by his Vietnam experience and perception and points out that Kissinger wrote a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," that "victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy." Westpoint graduate Andrew Krepinevich also draws lessons from Vietnam. In 1987 he published the critically acclaimed book The Army and Vietnam (Amazon.com, Amazon.de). A few weeks after Kissinger's column, Dr. Krepinevich argued in a popular and freely available Foreign Affairs article in favor of the "oil-spot strategy" for winning in Iraq, i.e. a different approach than Kissinger's:
Because they lack a coherent strategy, U.S. forces in Iraq have failed to defeat the insurgency or improve security. Winning will require a new approach to counterinsurgency, one that focuses on providing security to Iraqis rather than hunting down insurgents. And it will take at least a decade. (...)I think NATO is pursueing this strategy in Afghanistan with the regional reconstruction teams. That's why I believe it is important that the German troops in the north of Afghanistan do NOT redeploy to the south, as some have suggested. Rather than shifting forces within Afghanistan, many additional troops are needed.
U.S. and Iraqi forces should adopt an "oil-spot strategy" in Iraq, which is essentially the opposite approach. Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success. But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels than are engaged at present. If U.S. policymakers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly.
Read Woodwards article (HT: David) or buy his book to learn about more juicy quotes and alleged conversation within the Bush administration and the military, incl. Donald Rumsfeld, General Abizaid, Joshua B. Bolten, and Andrew Card. And Henry Kissinger's comments on President Bush's lack of "an inclination, to consider the downsides of impending decisions."
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More about Woodward's book:
• Crooks and Liars: Woodward’s 60 Minutes Interview on ‘State of Denial’ (Video)
• Edit Copy: State of denial: Iraq is "dire"
• Moderate Voice: State Of Denial: NYT Review
• Coming Anarchy: Kissinger advising Bush
• American Future: Quarantine Iraq (Repost)
Related posts in the Atlantic Review concerning Iraq:
• U.S. Poll: Iraq Is More Unpopular Than Vietnam After Three Years
• Are the revolting ret. generals feeling guilty?
• Ret. General Zinni on Iraq: "Ten years worth of planning were thrown away"
• Politicization of the Intelligence Process
• President Bush press conference (March 2006)
• Bush administration seems to give up original plans for democracy, freedom and security in Iraq
• Books About the Bush Administration Reviewed by NYT
It is difficult to find a positive perspective on Iraq, especially since even the Bush administration and the military see so many problems (assuming that Woodward's quotes are correct), but the Atlantic Review tried anyway from time to time:
• Looking at Success in the Middle East and Worrying about US Isolationism
• Iraq is not Vietnam
• Double standards in media coverage of Iraq and Kosovo
• One sided coverage of Iraq
• NYT: German Intelligence gave U.S. Iraqi defense plan
• German spy received US medal for support to combat operations in Iraq in 2003
• Republican leaders make remarkable comments on US foreign policy (June 2005)