Friday, November 24, 2006

Cheney in Arabia

The New York Review of Books has a must read article by Mark Danner, "Iraq: The War of the Imagination". It's long but it covers a lot of ground about the early days of the Iraq War, and the incredible blunders Feckless Leader and company made. This passage stands out for me:

Consider, for example, this striking but typical discussion in the White House in April 2003 just as the Iraq occupation, the vital first step in President Bush's plan "to transform the Middle East," was getting underway. 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.

What might Kennan, the consummate diplomatic professional, have thought of such a discussion between president, secretary of state, and national security adviser, had he lived to read of it? He would have grasped its implications instantly, as the President and his national security adviser apparently did not. Which leads to 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 what is the most painful and intractable question about the Iraq war—how could US 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 in the Oval Office, and in the fact that at least two thirds of the cast seem wholly incapable of comprehending the script. In Woodward's account, Rice, who was then the official responsible for coordinating the national security bureaucracies of the US government, found what was being said "a rather theoretical discussion," somehow managing to miss the fact that she and the National Security Council she headed had been cut out of decision-making on the Iraq war—and cut out, further, in favor of an official, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who, if we are to believe Woodward, did not bother even to return her telephone calls.

Going back to 9/11, there has always been a fog in the White House that hides the question, what is the chain of command? Cheney was in the drivers seat on 9/11, Bush has delegated to Cheney the power to classify and declassify documents, and Cheney through Rumsfeld and the Pentagon ran the Iraq war and the occupation. Cheney's man Bolton sabotaged the N. Korea talks, and now Cheney is off to Riyadh, to do what?

Let's hypothesize that Gates was brought into the DoD to put the Bushites back in control. Novak says, referring to Rumsfeld's firing:
His friend and comrade, Vice President Dick Cheney, is reported to be profoundly disturbed.
If Cheney were plotting a counter move, followed by more foreign policy fireworks, Abdullah would have to be either cajoled or more probably threatened into coming on board. The personal visit makes me think the latter.

I have no idea why Bush is going to meet with Maliki in Amman, or how that relates to the above discussion. If the above hypothesis is correct, I think that we are at the tipping point, and Feckless Leader needs to be very careful if he wants to finish his term of office.


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