Three months before 9/11, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan Taliban chief who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan, was willing to make a deal. His guest and now former close friend was stepping out of bounds.
Omar made that much clear to two visitors -- Ammar Turabi, a Pakistani-American who represented UPI in south Asia at that time, and this reporter.
U.S. intel specialists said, "We tried everything with Mullah Omar and nothing would budge him." But no U.S. intelligence operative actually sat down with Omar for a one-on-one talk.
This was at least an opportunity to disrupt 9/11 plans for the mass murder of some 3,000 civilians in New York.
U.S. Special Forces chased bin Laden and his band of terrorists out of Afghanistan into Pakistan Dec. 9, 2001. That should have been the end of it as we held Pakistan responsible for the terrorist monster it had created.
Instead, we have fought the longest war in our history against Taliban's ragtag guerrillas, with 48 allied nations by our side, and we are now planning to leave by the end of next year -- short of victory.
On the other front, the genesis of the 2003 invasion of Iraq should have told U.S. intelligence specialists that the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime would be helpful to Iran, not the United States.
Three months before the U.S. invasion, a prominent Iraqi-born international businessman, flew to Washington for dinner with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
The Iraqi advised: "After you invade, it is essential you keep both the Iraqi army and the ruling Baath party intact. Simply get rid of the top 50 to 100 officials in both institutions and you'll be out of there in six months with the gratitude and friendship of the Iraqi people."
The Iraqi's advice was politely dismissed because Wolfowitz's intelligence was quite different. "I believe." he rejoined, "that should we invade, it will be very much like Paris in 1944," when U.S. soldiers were greeted deliriously by a liberated populace, free after four years of Nazi occupation.
Instead, we listened to Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi banker who had been indicted in Jordan for a major international financial swindle and who metamorphosed into the darling of the American right and the neocons.
From there, Chalabi constantly misled U.S. intelligence and his conservative friends about what he could do to revive an Iraqi-US alliance in a liberated Iraq.
Chalabi's man for persuading U.S. intelligence that Saddam Hussein was hiding nuclear weapons was an Iraqi codenamed "Curveball" who defected to Germany but wouldn't go to Washington to be questioned by the CIA.
Curveball later recanted and said he had invented everything about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to get permission to live in Germany with his girlfriend.
There was only one problem with Chalabi's tall tale spun with threads of disinformation. He was never America's man, but covertly Iran's.
Chalabi was the spark plug in Iraq's Maliki government's shuffle off to Tehran's sphere of influence.
U.S. intelligence, America's conservative right and the neocons got taken -- big time.
The bad call cost the U.S. taxpayer a cool $1 trillion. Some 4,500 U.S. servicemen and women were KIA. And Iran was the principal beneficiary.
Now the latest cry is that across the board budget cuts will cripple the U.S. military. Gen. Ray Odierno, the army's chief of staff, says a $40 billion reduction in the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget could curtail training for 80 percent of ground forces.
The U.S. Navy has delayed the deployment of one aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, leaving just one carrier, instead of two, to face a possible war with Iran (should Israel trigger one).
The U.S. Air Force says it has to curtail flying hours, leaving two-thirds of its pilots below acceptable norms of readiness.
The need for 9.000 tanks in the U.S. arsenal doesn't pass the Rorschach test (the psychological exam in which one looks at a series of 10 inkblots -- in this case tanks -- and then asked what one sees).
But nary a word about drones and robots and the future of warfare. A crewless submarine has already been tested. Ditto drones as fighter aircraft or bombers.
Looking and planning for the future is bound to cost less than the current tab -- 46 percent of the entire world's defense spending.
Stealth ships will be small and crewless and more lethal but hardly the kind of command an admiral dreamed of when he graduated from the Naval Academy.
Hard to imagine today, but carriers will be retired when one hostile missile from a third-rate power can score a bull's eye on the flight deck -- or a swarm of small boats on suicide missions can encircle the carrier and inflict enough damage to send it back to Norfolk, Va., for months of repairs.
The multi-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has already cost $70 billion to develop. Its future is assured as it employs 35,000 workers in almost all congressional districts. The F-22 ran $79 billion.
In the just published "The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War," author Fred Kaplan describes how "creative doctrine can harden into dogma" and how the "best and brightest strategists" can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad."
"By adapting the U.S. military to fight the conflicts of the modern era," says the book's blurb, "they also created the tools -- and made it more tempting -- for political leaders to wade into wars they would be wise to avoid."
One has to be irredeemably myopic not to see that the new priorities are at home, rebuilding America's aging infrastructure; prioritizing shale oil production to end our dependency on precarious foreign supplies; dismantling the armed services voluntariat of 20 years service followed by a pension and a civilian job; restoring some form of compulsory national service for young men and women.
New thinking about the proper defense posture is also long overdue. One former and recent four-star agreed privately and added, "You have no idea how tough it is to turn the Pentagon around."
As the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel has the toughest job of all. Many of the Republican senators who opposed him have their counterparts in the Pentagon.