In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, James Dobbins looks at who is to blame for the way the war was, and still is, being conducted. The author, who served both the Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations, points out there has been no shortage of targets of criticism for what has gone wrong in the conflict since it began in 2003.
The Democrats tend to blame the Republicans and, in turn, the Republicans blame the Iraqis. But as Dobbins points out, now that the Democrats have the majority in Congress and are tying progress by the Iraqi government to the continuing funding of the war -- benchmarks the Baghdad government will most likely fail to meet -- the Republicans will shift the blame back to the Democrats, who will then relay that blame on the Iraqis.
Indeed, while the political bickering by rival Iraqi factions -- and interference by some of its neighbors -- has certainly contributed to the ongoing mayhem in the country, there is a growing tendency among both Democrats and Republicans now seeking an exit strategy from Iraq to place all the blame on Baghdad’s government. As Dobbins writes, “The temptation to make the Iraqis the scapegoat for the U.S.’s failure may ultimately prove irresistible.”
If Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney carry much of the blame for U.S. policies in Iraq, however, much of it may also be directed at others who were also involved in the planning stages of the war and its execution. Among the cast of characters Dobbins mentions are former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Gen. Tommy Franks, the former commander of U.S. Central Command; Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy; L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority; and George Tenet, the former CIA director.
But as Dobbins, who directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corp. and also served as the Bush administration’s first envoy to Afghanistan, writes in the September/October edition of the publication, the majority of those involved are no longer serving the administration.
“All except two of these individuals have been out of office for some time,” writes Dobbins, who also raises an interesting observation in the high turnaround rate among top-ranking officials brought about partially, if not entirely, by the war in Iraq.
“The Bush administration is already on its second defense secretary, third CIA director, third commanding general in Iraq, and fourth top diplomat there -- and thus far, none of these changes have reversed the worsening situation,” he said.
With the constant change of key personnel not seemingly affecting the bottom line in Iraq, the underlying thread would appear to be that the problem in Iraq is not one of individuals, but rather one of policy, or as Dobbins puts it, “This suggests that the source of at least some of the United States’ difficulties in Iraq transcends particular personalities."
This has not prevented the White House, Congress, the departments of State and Defense and the intelligence community from pointing the finger at one another, giving new meaning to the quote attributed to John F. Kennedy, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan."
While Bush succeeded in uniting most of the political establishment, the intelligence community and much of the media in the initial phase of the war, that unity quickly dissipated as the conflict dragged on and the public came to realize the degree to which the White House had manipulated intelligence reports and sidelined dissenting voices to suit its needs.
With memories of the crumbling towers in New York and the smoldering wing of the Pentagon still fresh in the memories of many Americans, claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States facilitated the Bush administration’s task in convincing the nation that armed intervention was the only way to safeguard the homeland.
As we now know from published memoirs and interviews given by several former administration officials and members of the intelligence community who allege that “the Defense Department and the White House manipulated, exaggerated and manufactured intelligence appraisals to support a decision to go to war," Dobbins offers interesting ideas for ways to avoid a similar “misguided enterprise” in the future.
One lesson to be learned from the Iraqi experience, says the author of the report titled “Who Lost Iraq?” is that nation-building cannot be done on the cheap. Fearing it may be too late to correct erroneous policies applied to the Iraq endeavor, he hopes it will nevertheless “serve as a cautionary guide to such endeavors in the future.”
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)