“We plan for success”

The hills are alive with the sound of gnashing teeth. The Bush Administration's policies have led directly to the quagmire its critics predicted. Many of those who believed, or who went along, are now embarrassed and are demanding explanations. Some of those with information about the rush to war are leaking bits of it, and commentators are piling on.

Much intelligent discussion has proceeded from the ideas presented in a recent New York Times article by David Rieff titled “Blueprint for a Mess”. Complaints that the motives for war were bogus are not really addressed. But the article is searing in its description of incompetence, its detailed explanation of the main events leading to the quagmire. For instance:

The Pentagon's plan for postwar Iraq seems to have hinged, until the war itself, on the idea that Chalabi could be dropped into Baghdad and, once there, effect a smooth transition to a new administration.

In the end, Chalabi sat out the war in the Iraqi desert and was taken to Baghdad only after the city had fallen and the Americans had moved in.

In other words, if Rumsfeld's ever indicted for war crimes, he can plead insanity. After all, dumping the results of the State Department's “Future of Iraq” project was bound to fail, both politically and procedurally. Would a sane person have done that?

Of course it turns out that Chalabi isn't all that popular, and certainly isn't likely to win a fair election. And it turns out that, despite the Administration's rhetoric, the Iraqis aren't all that grateful for the schools and hospitals being open, because they were open before the Americans arrived too. In this case, what's an American to do? Well, launch a PR campaign, naturally. What else?

Discussing the worries of civilians in Baghdad, where missiles are destroying hotels and suicide bombers are killing or wounding hundreds, the [New York] Times assured its readers that, "The United States is doing everything it can to fight their fears. All over the city, the occupying authorities have put up large billboards featuring bucolic scenes of date palms arched over a riverbank. Inspirational messages are splashed over the pretty pictures. 'Baghdad is getting better,' says one.'"

Would you be fooled? No, of course not. But your neighbors might; after all, how many Americans continue to believe that Iraq is implicated in 9/11 even after President Bush has denied it on national TV? Still, Iraqis, as Elijah Wald points out, are not so easy to fool.

…it makes perfect sense for an American government to think that Iraqis will be comforted by billboards saying that everything is swell, even as they hear bombs exploding and see armored troops in their streets. American leaders are not used to a population that knows from long experience that the people giving orders and making optimistic predictions are probably not acting in its best interests.

What first struck me was that the US government is treating Iraqis the same way it treats Americans: like children. Then it occurred to me that this may be giving credit where it isn't due. Newsweek's Mark Hosenball, Michael Isikoff, and Evan Thomas have today contributed an article called “Cheney's Long Path to War” in which they discuss the means by which Vice President Cheney, a man they appear to trust, somehow managed to lead his President and his country to believe ideas that had no factual basis.

In brief, they attribute Cheney's mistakes to the influence of the neocons.

After the Republicans regained the White House in 2001, many of the neocons took top national-security jobs. Perle, the man closest to Chalabi, chose to stay on the outside (where he kept a lucrative lobbying practice). But Wolfowitz and Feith became, respectively, the No. 2 and No. 3 man at the Defense Department, and a former Wolfowitz aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, became the vice president's chief of staff. Once the newcomers took over, the word went out that any disparaging observations about Chalabi or the INC were no longer appreciated. "The view was, 'If you weren't a total INC guy, then you're on the wrong side'," said a Pentagon official. "It was, 'We're not going to trash the INC anymore and Ahmad Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot who risked his life for his country'."

With hindsight, the first pattern emerges: facts don't matter. But the one that brought me up short was this:

Some neocons began agitating inside the Bush administration to support some kind of insurrection, led by Chalabi, that would overthrow Saddam. In the summer of 2001, the neocons circulated a plan to support an INC-backed invasion. A senior Pentagon analyst questioned whether Iraqis would rise up to back it. "You're thinking like the Clinton people," a Feith aide shot back. "They planned for failure. We plan for success."

One would like to think that senior Pentagon officials would not be ignoring the possibility that their plans might fail. One would like to think that this simply an off-the-cuff remark. But examining the circumstances in Iraq makes that very difficult to believe.

“We plan for success.” We don't even consider the possibility of being wrong, despite never having been right before. When the facts don't fit our predictions, we change the facts. When we're caught lying, we deny it. When we see the videotape, we claim it's a trick question. You'll never get us to admit anything.

This attitude is crazy. These people don't belong in government, they belong in therapy.

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