Friday, June 08, 2007

White House Was Warned That Post-Saddam Chaos Would Create An Opening For Al Queda In Iraq

Quick, who said this, and when: "If Baghdad were unable to exert control over the Iraqi countryside, al-Q'aida or other terrorist groups could operate from remote areas."

Give up? It was contained in the "Key Judgments" section of a National Intelligence Council report prepared for the White House BEFORE the War in Iraq, entitled "Principal Challenges In A Post-Saddam Iraq."

Now that Bush is using the fact that Al Queda is operating in the Iraqi countryside as an excuse to continue the war, it's worth analyzing further what the White House really knew beforehand.

In the wake of the Iraqi disaster, it's been all too common for commentators and policy-makers on both sides of the aisle to blame the intelligence community, at least in part, for the debacle.

In politics, however, the truth is often hard to find, especially when it's in classified documents.

It turns out the intelligence community accurately forecast the disaster--as did some prescient public figures, most notably former Vice President Al Gore.

In The Other Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Paul R. Pillar, who before the war served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, describes two recently declassified intelligence estimates prepared under his supervision BEFORE the war, which accurately forecast the chaos that would ensue following an invasion.

It's a terrific read, part of a longer article Pillar is preparing that no doubt should be mandatory reading for future historians of the war.

Pillar states that, in contrast to the much-pilloried intelligence estimate on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (which was ordered up by Congress, not the White House):

"the other two assessments spoke directly to the instability, conflict, and black hole for blood and treasure that over the past four years we have come to know as Iraq. The assessments described the main contours of the mess that was to be, including Iraq’s unpromising and undemocratic political culture, the sharp conflicts and prospect for violence among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups, the Marshall Plan-scale of effort needed for economic reconstruction, the major refugee problem, the hostility that would be directed at any occupying force that did not provide adequate security and public services, and the exploitation of the conflict by Al-Qaeda and other terrorists."

Pillar goes on to state that these assessments have relevance to the debate today over what to do now:

"The assessments support the proposition that the expedition in Iraq always was a fool’s errand rather than a good idea spoiled by poor execution, implying that the continued search for a winning strategy is likely to be fruitless. Some support for the poor execution hypothesis can be found in the assessments, such as the observation that Iraq’s regular army could make an important contribution in providing security (thus implicitly questioning in advance the wisdom of ever disbanding the army). But the analysts had no reason to assume poor execution, and their prognosis was dark nonetheless. Moreover, amid the stultifying policy environment that prevailed when the assessments were prepared—in which it was evident that the administration was going to war and that analysis supporting that decision was welcome and contrary analysis was not—it is all the more remarkable that the analysts would produce such a gloomy view."

You can find the two assessments--quietly released, albeit in heavily redacted form by the Senate Intelligence Committee right before the long Memorial Day weekend--as appendices to a Senate Report here.

History is not likely to be kind to George W. Bush.

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