What the ISG means
Beating off the rescue party
Just as he ignored accurate intelligence on Iraq, Bush will dismiss the Baker Commission's tough-minded proposals for salvaging his botched war.
By Sidney Blumenthal
Dec. 07, 2006 | The Iraq Study Group's report, released Wednesday, calling the situation in that country "grave and deteriorating" is hardly the first caution that President Bush has received. Two years ago, in December 2004, two frank face-to-face briefings were delivered to him from the field. In the first, the CIA station chief in Baghdad, who had filed an urgent memo the month before titled "The Expanding Insurgency in Iraq," was invited to the White House. The CIA officer had written that the insurgency was becoming more "self-confident" and in Sunni provinces "largely unchallenged." His report concluded: "The ease with which the insurgents move and exist in Baghdad and the Sunni heartland is bolstering their self-confidence further." He predicted that the United States would suffer more than 2,000 dead. Bush's reaction was to remark about the station chief, "What is he, some kind of defeatist?" Less than a week after the briefing, the officer was informed he was being reassigned from his post in Baghdad.
A few days after that briefing, on Dec. 17, 2004, Col. Derek Harvey, the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior intelligence officer for Iraq, was ushered into the Oval Office. Harvey, who had "conversed repeatedly with insurgents, and had developed the belief that the U.S. intelligence effort there was deeply flawed," according to Thomas Ricks in "Fiasco," briefed the president about the insurgency: "It's robust, it's well led, it's diverse. Absent some sort of reconciliation it's going to go on, and that risks a civil war. They have the means to fight this for a long time, and they have a different sense of time than we do, and are willing to fight. They have better intelligence than we do." Harvey also explained that foreign fighters, jihadists and al-Qaida were marginal elements. Ricks reported that after the briefing, Bush in his speeches still "would refer to setbacks only in vague terms."
But there is more to the story. A former high-ranking intelligence officer and close associate of Harvey's told me that during Harvey's briefing the president interrupted, turning to his aides to inquire, "Is this guy a Democrat?" Harvey's warnings, of course, were as thoroughly ignored as those of the CIA station chief.
Ever since the commission was announced, Bush's energy has been devoted to beating off the rescue party. "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever," he said last week in anticipation of the commission's report, mocking the "realism" universally attributed to former Secretary of State James Baker.
Since the midterm elections loss, Bush has conducted a foreign policy intended to counter the Baker-Hamilton Commission. In a sense, his entire foreign policy is a case study in reaction formation. From the start, he was determined to do everything opposite from what President Clinton had done. Bush abandoned the Middle East peace process, cast aside the negotiations with North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons, withdrew from the secret diplomacy with reform-minded Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and brushed aside concerns about terrorism. Even before Sept. 11, Bush entertained scenarios about invading Iraq. In this he was operating in the shadow of his father, who refused to march to Baghdad in the Gulf War to topple Saddam Hussein. Bush envisioned himself succeeding where he believed his father had failed, thereby exceeding him.
The leaking of a memo by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on the weakness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the New York Times by an unnamed administration official on the eve of President Bush's meeting with Maliki in Amman, Jordan, dramatized the fragility of the Iraqi situation. .
On the most obvious level, Hadley revealed the dearth of progress within Iraq, the dominance of sectarian forces that the United States had installed, and the absence of solutions arising within its own system, requiring the national security advisor to engage in an exercise of sheer fantasy.
On an ironic level, Hadley apparently did not recognize that the leader he was describing -- sectarian, bluff but essentially weak, surrounded by fawning advisors who reinforced his skewed sense of reality, ignorant of the facts on the ground, and incapable of reaching out to forge a political center -- was a sharply drawn if unintentional portrait of his own president.
For James Baker, the consummate Republican political player of the Reagan-Bush era, the cool Texas patrician, summoned by his old friend George H.W. Bush whenever the family political fortunes are threatened, the rejection of his commission's report is the final act of ingratitude. He had managed the elder Bush's faltering campaign in 1988 and righted it; he had had to resign from the job he loved the most, secretary of state, to return as last-minute political handler to attempt to save the elder Bush from defeat in 1992; blamed by Barbara Bush for his efforts, because she claimed he had not come over as campaign manager early enough, the family still called him back to save George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida contest; then, his advice to the new president not to invade Iraq was ignored; but, once again, as Bush sank in the Iraqi quagmire, the family demanded his services; and now, his intervention has failed, and his diligence has been dismissed.
In preparation for his rejection of the Baker Commission report, Bush created two other study groups within his administration, one led by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The effect was to diminish the commission as merely one among several groups offering advice. For all intents and purposes Pace's group is a counter-commission. In opposition to the Baker Commission proposals for the strategic withdrawal of troops by 2008 and diplomatic openings to Syria and Iran, as well as a regional conference on Iraq and a renewal of the Middle East peace process, Pace will suggest a new military offensive -- 20,000 more U.S. troops to secure Baghdad (exactly the idea Rumsfeld cautioned against in his memo), 10,000 more U.S. advisors for the Iraq army, and hundreds of billions more in appropriations to sustain a commitment stretching indefinitely.
Pace's plan reflects the notion that with one more concerted offensive, one more application of overwhelming might, the United States can at last gain the upper hand and prevail. Even though commanders in Iraq, along with Pace, have stressed that only a political solution can pacify Iraq, some, along with Pace, are still in thrall to the chimera of military victory. So long as someone with stars on his shoulder promises victory to Bush, he will cling to it. So long as he dreams of victory, he will find someone with stars to tell him he can have it. The alternative to wishful thinking would be acknowledgment of his error and acceptance of his fate.
What people need to understand is that the ISG report is the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq war. It isn't nearly as dramatic, nearly as honest, but it lays out the truth, and now the establishment can oppose the war.
Sure, it doesn't call for the only realistic option, immediate withdrawal, but it now gives the Washington establishment the ability to oppose any hairbrained scheme from DOD. They are scared of Bush and his bubble. This is the adults looking at Bush and saying "holy shit, he doesn't have a clue, does he?" Which is why Poppy broke down when talking about Jeb, the man who's career he killed. Because he knows Junior fucked up, bad and no more Bushes in the WH, ever.
Bush may plan to ignore the ISG report, but Congress won't. It will be their guidepost for hammering Bush and asking hard questions. And hard questions are coming
posted by Steve @ 2:28:00 AM