Intel versus Strategy Failure

Friday, October 28, 2005 | 07:03 AM

Some people have been suggesting that the investigation into the Plamegate affair is the source of the market's woes.

I totally disagree.

However, given that this is all anyone can talk about, its time for a brief respite from Economics to take a short sojourn into the world of politics:

With indictments imminent in the Plamegate case, there's a lot of focus on those 16 words in the State of the Union speech, and the false basis for war. But we should be focusing not on the alleged excuses, but on the underlying policy error:  The Iraq War was a massive failure in strategic planning -- and not, as the media has suggested, an intelligence failure.

Whether WMDs were found or not, the entire strategic policy making process was apparently obsessed with Saddam. This pushed aside the more pressing issue of fighting Terrorism. Do not lose sight of how foolishly dangerous this was.

Yes, there were also staggering execution problems, including wrong troop levels, a lack of follow through, little coalition building, no post-war planning, etc., but lets put those aside for the moment.

At the heart of the Fitzgerald investigation was the WH retaliation against the Wilsons for pointing out ginned up INTEL. But we should be focusing less on today's news, and more on the terrible strategic thinking (or lack thereof) that led to the decision to invade Iraq.

This was not an intelligence failure (in either sense of the word) -- it was a failure of judgement, a reflection of the worst kind off decision making at the very highest levels.

And this criticism isn't a case of 20/20 hind sight: No less an authority than Brent Scowcraft, national security adviser under President Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, warned the administration and the public about this erroneous thinking. Seven months before the invasion, he penned a WSJ Op/Ed alerting us to these issues. Scowcraft correctly identifies that a War on Saddam would be a huge distraction form what should be our biggest priority: fighting terrorism.

Can you recall when else in our history that: 1) a more respected military leader; 2) so sternly warned an Adminsitration they were on the verge of;  3)  making a colossal strategic military error; 4) that would put the country's National Security so at risk; nation's 5) and was so roundly ignored? (I can't)

Here's an except from that 2002 WSJ Op-Ed:

"We need to think through this issue very carefully. We need to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities--notably the war on terrorism--as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad.

Saddam's strategic objective appears to be to dominate the Persian Gulf, to control oil from the region, or both. That clearly poses a real threat to key U.S. interests. But there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them.

He is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. Threatening to use these weapons for blackmail--much less their actual use--would open him and his entire regime to a devastating response by the U.S. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor . . .

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.

Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict--which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve--in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.
Even without Israeli involvement, the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. Conversely, the more progress we make in the war on terrorism, and the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue, the greater will be the international support for going after Saddam.

In sum, if we will act in full awareness of the intimate interrelationship of the key issues in the region, keeping counterterrorism as our foremost priority, there is much potential for success across the entire range of our security interests--including Iraq. If we reject a comprehensive perspective, however, we put at risk our campaign against terrorism as well as stability and security in a vital region of the world.

Just something to mull over while the Nation's focus is on the retaliation for outing what was bad INTEL. But the real problem, the bigger issue, the lasting mystery, was a policy failure so massive in scope and nature, that even today we have trouble comprehending how it happened. 

Its easier to wrap our little heads around the "bad intel" rationale, then to comprehend the enormity of the failings in so many ways and at the very highest levels. 

Had the White House made similar errors in 1939, you would likely be reading this website written in German . . .

Don't Attack Saddam
It would undermine our antiterror efforts.
WSJ, Thursday, August 15, 2002 12:01 a.m. EDT

Friday, October 28, 2005 | 07:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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I agree with your emphasis on a policy failure over an Intel failure. But I think you are glossing over one major point. The Administration misled the American people, including me. We trusted (and the Congress as well) the representations made by the President, the Vice President and other members of the Administration about mushroom clouds, uranium tubes and the Niger uranium purchase and supported the President's decision. No rational analytical reasonable person in the Administration's shoes would have accepted the shaky intelligence as a basis for war. The British effectively said so in the Downing Street Memo. Wilson's report was 1 of 3 stating that the Niger uranium sale claims were false. The CIA refused to let the President put the claim in a speech in October 2002 and only permitted its includion in the SOTU address based on verbal pyrotechnics. We were purposely mislead in a manner not seen since the Gulf of Tonkin. In my book, with tens of thousands dead and maimed, and our treasury depleated, crimes were committed.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 28, 2005 8:15:47 AM

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