Man’s character is his fate.
Before America bombed and burst asunder the bodies of tens of thousands of breathing Iraqis, it quietly interred the corpse of its own moral integrity. By nurturing the most brazen lies to press its case for war, America buried its moral commitment to the principles of truth and reason, enabling the incineration of innocents abroad. The deadly result of abandoning these principles will neither be forgotten by history nor forgiven by a future which embittered histories produce unless we move to change the present.
The government has recently attempted to reverse this abandonment of principles, like a sorcerer trying to infuse the dead with a renewed spirit of life. Specifically, a presidential commission released a report documenting and decrying the “failures” of intelligence to produce an honest picture of Iraq’s weapons capabilities, and the Rand Corporation issued a blunt assessment to the Pentagon criticizing it for weak post-war “planning.” The content and context of these reports, however, only illustrate to the rational observer that on the policymaking level there has been no magical resurrection or redemption of our moral senses: the moral corpse is still ensconced in its imperial coffin.
First, consider the report produced by the presidential intelligence commission, which was authored by a nine member panel comprising the “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.” This body examined the ways in which the government, including all leading intelligence agencies, evaluated Iraq’s weapons program. Its exhaustive efforts culminated in a hefty 692 page-long indictment declaring the government’s data “either worthless or misleading,” its analysis “riddled with errors,” and its overall effort “one of the most damaging intelligence failures in recent American history.” (1)
On a crucial level, this view of faulty intelligence as a “failure” has to be considered erroneous. The report’s authors presuppose a political framework which never existed namely, one in which the war planners actually wanted or wished for an accurate assessment of the threat posed by Iraq in the first place. Operating in a reactionary ideological climate induced by the champions of war, it is perhaps understandable that our esteemed panelists ascribed to government officials a quality of honesty that is neither warranted by reality nor confirmed by the historical record.
Thankfully, in times such as these we can still turn to one relatively safe repository of knowledge: the dictionary. According to the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, the primary definition of “failure” is: “The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or end.” By this quite sound standard, no serious or thinking person can conclude that the Bush administration and its satrapies failed with their intelligence estimates. On the contrary, they achieved precisely what they set out to achieve: painting an intelligence picture that best advanced their aims and interests in waging war.
In their hearts, the panelists must already know all this. The specific examples of self-deception and rationalizations within the intelligence community which they have themselves documented can point in no other direction. One outstanding instance is the way in which CIA director George Tenet behaved prior to Colin Powell’s infamous UN Security Council presentation in February 2003. The night before Powell’s presentation, “CIA officers sent urgent e-mails and cables describing grave doubts about a key charge he was going to make,” and Tenet had been informed by a “senior intelligence officer” that he “lacked confidence in the principal source of the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s scientists were developing deadly agents in mobile laboratories.” Tenet’s response? “Mr. Tenet replied with words to the effect of ‘yeah, yeah’, and that he was ‘exhausted’.” (2)
There is also the instructive example of the CIA rabidly seizing on reports that Iraq was trying to purchase “black-market aluminum tubes” in 2001 as evidence of Iraq’s “reconstituting” its nuclear weapons program. Professionals in other agencies who asserted the tubes “were the wrong size, shape, and material for plausible use in centrifuges” and scientists who claimed the CIA’s case was “technically garbled, improbable, or unambiguously false” were brushed aside. In its zeal to produce the required results the CIA even sidestepped “the nation’s only major center of expertise on nuclear centrifuge technology.” The agency barred inter-intelligence meetings, and one of its members simply “commissioned a contractor to conduct tests of his own design, then rejected the contractor’s results when they did not meet his expectations.” The commission’s report notes, “The intercepted tubes were not only well-suited, but were in fact a precise fit, for Iraq’s conventional rockets.” (3)
The most outstanding instance of deliberate self-deception, however, revolves around the case of a stereotypically pathetic Iraqi defector codenamed “Curveball.” This figure, who it turns out in retrospect was kindly supplied and coached by one-time neoconservative favorite Ahmed Chalabi, claimed to the Defense Intelligence Agency “that Iraq had built a secret new nuclear facility.” US intelligence could not verify the report nor could it find any facility which turned out not to exist. Nonetheless in the interim, his testimony was used as a main pillar of US WMD claims – even though “[n]o CIA officer even met Curveball before the war.” Worse, “the more Curveball’s credibility came into question, the more his allegations were used to bolster the case for war, according to the commission.” So, when was “Curveball” finally confronted about his fantastic prewar fabrications in person? March, 2004. (4)
But despite all this, the fundamental problem of the commission’s adherence to an extremely narrow political framework shows us both the limits of their understanding and our need to move beyond them. For after detailing these and countless other cases of transparent dishonesty, after bluntly declaring the intelligence agencies “dead wrong,” after harshly condemning the president’s daily briefings as being “dangerously one-sided”, the commission made its most alarming and sweeping indictment (unbeknownst to itself) when it concluded by making no indictment at all. Exonerating the administration from any culpability and announcing it was “not authorized” to assign blame, it also declaimed that political pressure played no role in anything: “The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.” (5)
There are two sets of possibilities, both instructive in their implications: one, the commission is simply lying or was lied to by all involved about deliberate distortion of intelligence directed from the top; or two, the vast bulk of the elite government apparatus is so thoroughly infected by a voluntary, willful paranoia and militarist bias, that no sinister “political” pressure is required to force its deadly illogic into motion.
Whatever the case, it is painfully obvious that nothing meaningful can or will be done based on the report. When a doctor knows the details of a disease but cannot cure it because he is himself afflicted, or when the disease afflicts not only the patient and the doctor but the entire facility, it is necessary to make a radical re-evaluation of both the disease and the means to cure it.
As a starting point for this project, we can, once again, consult the dictionary. The final, eighth definition of failure, says The American Heritage, is “The act or fact of becoming bankrupt or insolvent.” This, it seems, is an accurate description of the national political framework America finds itself trapped in today. It is a framework in which those in positions of power invite and attract flawed intelligence as fuel for the wars of aggression they pine for. To demand an end to intelligence “failures,” one must demand an end to the morally bankrupt framework in which such “failures” are assiduously sought after and coveted precisely because success is measured in terms of killing, dominating, decimating, and controlling other people all in the name of imperialist ambitions.
This is a point which must be emphasized again and again, for two reasons. One: isolated and demoralized, many people tend to dismiss the WMD fiasco as a mere technical “intelligence failure” without comprehending the social context in which such failures occur. Two: the most principled, active, and resolute forces in the American anti-war movement, which are working hard on the ground to galvanize people against the war, are being subjected to a sustained infiltration campaign mounted by certain “liberal” frauds and Democratic Party front groups whose aim is to co-opt the movement. These forces do not oppose the war, but instead offer apologetics on its behalf, emote about how they used to oppose war, and peddle, both openly and subversively, a pro-occupation political line. Their politics leads straight back to the graveyard of isolation and demoralization we are trying to escape.
The basis of the liberal Democratic sentiment is a fundamental belief in the benevolence of American imperialism and White Man’s Burden. Any possible excuse for bowing before either deity has been absolutely eviscerated by the commission’s report. For the report, if nothing else, sets into sharp relief just how contemptuous the American government is of Iraqi life, given its distorted and dishonest handling of information that led to a massive war which has killed about 100,000 Iraqi civilians thus far. (6)
If the WMD report does not suffice to convince one of the low value America assigns to Iraqi life, let us then take a look at the other recently released document the Rand report titled “Iraq: Translating Lessons into Future DOD Policies.” Rand is “an independent research group that was created by the U.S. government and frequently does analysis for the Pentagon.” (7) It produced a brief 11-page document, addressed, in priceless wording, to “The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld,” and then, “Dear Don.” News of its existence appeared in the press early April, but it was authored on February 7, 2005.
Most of the report concerns itself with tactical and military lessons learned from the Iraq war, pointing out better ways to launch specific military assaults and increase coordination and communication of forces on the ground, including “air operations”, “land-air cooperation”, and “situational awareness on the battlefield.” The underlying assumption, of course, is that further “regime change” operations may well be on the horizon.
But what concerns us presently in this document is the straightforward way it reveals the embarrassingly shallow, almost non-existent level of planning, preparation, and thought that went into overseeing Iraq after the invasion. This is hardly an idle point considering that Iraqi children’s malnutrition rates, already horrific under the previous sanctions regime, have doubled under the occupation, and that the basic living conditions even in the major urban population centers are extremely lacking in all major indices. (8)
Under the subheading “Stability Operations and the Role of the Military,” the first paragraph begins frankly, “No planning was undertaken to provide for the security of the Iraqi people in the post conflict environment” The preceding section, titled “Planning and Resourcing Post Conflict Activities” states, “Post conflict stabilization and reconstruction were addressed only very generally, largely because of the prevailing view that the task would not be difficult. What emerged was a general set of tasks that were not prioritized or resourced.” (9)
This is a remarkable confession. Did the gentlemen at the Department of Defense seriously think no real plan was required to manage this “liberated” country after having overrun its major cities in ground assaults, after having overthrown the long-time ruling government, after having bombed its civilian infrastructure for years on end, and after having imposed crippling sanctions for more than a decade? Is such a breathtaking level of idiocy even possible? This seems extremely unlikely far more likely is that the war planners simply did not care what happened to the people of Iraq after the latter found themselves on the receiving end of an assault mounted by the world’s largest military power.
Later in the report it is briefly mentioned that “responsibility for [post-conflict activities] was given to DoD, but separate from the military command. Overall, this approached worked poorly, because DoD lacked the experience, expertise, funding, authority, local knowledge, and established contacts with other potential civilian organizations needed” (10) It is not explained if there was anything the DoD did not lack. Why would responsibility for rebuilding an entire country fall into the hands of an organization operating “separate from the military command,” no less right after the US military assumed (attempted) control of the country? Why would responsibility be placed in the hands of a group which by its own admission was bereft of a single capability for actually doing anything that was required? And why was the fate of millions literally contracted out to a clique of isolated, totally separated individuals removed from the ground realities in Iraq for so long a period that it has been mentioned only now and only in passing as a formal presentation to the Pentagon leadership?
That we have arrived at a juncture where such questions need be asked tells us everything we need to know. There is absolutely no way to comprehend this breathtaking absence of planning within a framework that assumes American “good intentions.” The only explanation available is that the neoconservative ideologues who never tired of speechifying about the need to save the Iraqi people also never spent one iota of their energy planning to save anyone; their ideology and morality is nothing but a cynical shell game of sordid manipulation and sick opportunism.
Combined with the WMD intelligence report, the reality of an unplanned occupation should serve as a piercingly sharp illustration of the unshakable, immovable fact that the American effort in Iraq is neither guided by benevolence nor driven by compassion. Therefore the liberal sell-out position of “we broke it, so we should fix it” not only has no basis in reality, but ignores the simple fact that anyone who has a tendency to run around breaking and destroying things is intrinsically broken and destroyed himself. Just as no sane fireman allows an arsonist to “care” for the house he has tried to burn down, just as no court of law assigns a murderer to “protect” surviving relatives of the murdered, no principled American can accept the US occupation of Iraq when Iraq has been decimated by the US.
In fact, the principled American will go one step further and realize that all this liberal talk of “we broke it” and “we should fix it” contains another major deception namely, there is really no “we” involved. Those at the top of the power structure in America – the political, financial, and military elite – enlist and exploit the Americans below them to kill and die, to sacrifice their bodies and souls, in devastating and unnecessary confrontations which produce massive profit at top levels and massive suffering at our level. Why should we insist on complicity in this unjust and irrational endeavor? Why should we not instead restore truth and reason to their proper place as our guiding lights by ending our participation in the morally indefensible slaughter of another people and destruction of ourselves?
Quite apart from all the murderous damage being overseen by the government and its corporate allies in Iraq, our nation is today under attack from within by these same elites and the fanatically backward, anti-humanist forces they are financing: religious zealots, white supremacists, racists, homophobes, anti-abortionists and capitalists intent on slashing living standards and gutting safety nets for working people. The lesson to be drawn from this is clear and unmistakable: Americans committed to justice should not be insisting on American control over Iraq while Americans committed to injustice are insisting on conservative control over America. Let us worry about saving our own country – and let us allow the Iraqi people the freedom to save theirs.
M. JUNAID ALAM is co-editor of Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org), and attends Northeastern University in Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. “Data on Iraqi Arms Flawed, Panel Says”, Walter Pincus and Peter Baker, Washington Post, April 1, 2005.
2. “Doubts on Weapons Were Dismissed”, Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, April 1, 2005.
3. Same as note 2.
4. Same as note 2.
5. Same as note 1.
6. “Civilian Death Toll in Iraq Exceeds 100,000”, Patricia Reaney, Reuters, October 28, 2004.
7. “Children Pay Cost of Iraq’s Chaos: Malnutrition Nearly Double What It Was Before Invasion”, Karl Vick, Washington Post, November 21, 2004; and “Iraq war is blamed for starvation”, Rory Carroll, The Guardian (London), March 31, 2005..
8. “Pentagon Blamed For Lack of Postwar Planning in Iraq”, Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 1, 2005.
9. Full Rand Report in .PDF format: .
10. See note 9.