All Writings
February 22, 2004

Chronology Of Mishaps And Costly Miscalculations

The list of miscalculations by the Bush administration related to the Iraq war is long and growing, seriously undermining our global credibility and threatening our national security. By continuing with its haphazard and reactive policy, which the administration deceptively portrays as a series of tactical moves necessitated by changing conditions, our already precarious situation in Iraq is worsening to the point of possibly dooming our global war on terrorism. The administration has been wrong both before and after the war on just about every count.

It has is now abundantly clear that top administration officials, including the president, were wrong about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As former U.S. Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay summarized bluntly in his recent Senate testimony, "Our inspectors had not found any large stocks of biological or chemical agents . . . we were almost all wrong."

We were also wrong about the presumed collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. In fact, according to reliable media accounts, Al Qaeda rebuffed a request for assistance by the Iraqi terrorist organization Ansar-al-Islam. But the president used the so-called connection last year as justification for the war.

The administration was especially wrong about the imminent danger posed by Iraq's development of unmanned air-born vehicles (UAVs) allegedly capable of delivering chemical or biological weapons. In his presentation to the Security Council last February, Secretary of State Powell warned: "Iraq could use these small UAVs to deliver biological agents to its neighbors or, if transported, to other countries, including the United States." And, the White House asserted that "Iraq could launch a biological or chemical attack 45 minutes after the order is given." The UAVs, it was later established, were designed for reconnaissance flights.

Sadly, we were also wrong in assuming that the Iraqi people would welcome our troops with roses, as the administration proclaimed before the war. Instead of roses, our troops were greeted with bullets. More than four times as many U.S. troops have been killed since last April when the United States declared major combat to be over. Our death toll, which rises almost daily, is currently approaching 600 dead and thousands injured.

We were wrong, too, about the UN weapons inspectors; on January 28 Mr. Bush stated that we went to war because Iraq did not let them in. Yet, it was the United States that called for inspections to end. Furthermore, CIA Director Tenet recently admitted his agency did not provide the UN inspectors with information about 21 of the 105 cites in Iraq, which the CIA targeted as most likely to house WMD. It has become increasingly apparent that the UN inspectors were not given time to finish their work. As Senator Carl Levine concluded: "The administration has withheld information because it wanted to persuade the public that the inspection had run its full course."

In addition, the administration completely underestimated the determination of the Iraqi resistence. We were naive, at best, to assume that the Sunni minority, in power throughout Iraq's 83 years of existence, would relinquish control magnanimously for the sake of all Iraqis. And we were equally naive in believing that Mr. Hussein's capture would dramatically slow the insurgency, especially in the Sunni triangle, where it has actually increased. Former Ba'athist and military officers are fighting there to regain power, knowing that this may be their last chance before a likely Shiite-dominated government is elected. The administration also inaccurately assessed the depth of the sectarian, tribal, and religious schisms among the Iraqi people while overestimating their willingness to work together for a unified Iraq. How is it possible that the administration did not realize, for example, that the Kurds would never relinquish their autonomy which they have enjoyed since 1990 under our protection? And shouldn't it have guessed that the Shiites, who never enjoyed power, would insist on direct elections now that power is in their grasp by virtue of their majority?

And the administration was wrong again in believing that a liberated Iraq would provide an example of democracy to the region's other Arab and Muslim states. If the situation weren't so potentially tragic, this would be an almost laughable assumption, considering the regional political uncertainty and the dread most Arab governments feel at such prospect. In the two parliamentary elections held in the Middle East since the war, in Jordan and Kuwait, Islamist factions made significant gains at the expense of the liberals. These are the two Arab states that should have been in the forefront of instituting democratic reforms.

And this administration has been wrong about the effect of the war and the ouster of Saddam Hussein on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Vice President Cheney himself recently admitted, "The war in Iraq has not spurred peace in the Middle East." In fact, the Israelis and Palestinians are further apart today than before the war. Prime Minster Sharon is building a fence separating Israeli from the Palestinians in the West Bank, and no agreement or even serious negotiation is in sight.

The administration was also wrong in defying the United Nations by waging war in Iraq without Security Council approval and then preventing the U.N. from playing an active role in the post-Saddam era. Following months of negotiation, the administration's plan for local caucuses to select representatives to an interim assembly has been rejected by the Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Sistani, forcing the administration to abandon it. Now we finds ourselves pleading with the U.N. to become directly involved in finding a political framework acceptable to all parties in order to transfer power by June 30th, including the writing of a constitution.

In dealing with our allies, the administration's go-it-alone policy was wrong, alienating nations traditionally close to us, while increasing to an alarming degree anti-American sentiment throughout Europe. Since the war's end nearly ten months ago, the administration has been trying to induce these allies to play an active role, but without much success. The Germans, French, and Russians seem to bask in our plight, feeling vindicated and unwilling to get involved in a quagmire not of their making.

Finally, the administration was wrong to assert that the war in Iraq is a continuation of our war on terrorism. In the wake of Mr. Hussein's ouster, resentment and hatred for America has escalated throughout the Arab and Islamic world. As long as we continue to ignore the sources and causes of terrorism, we can be certain that for every terrorist we kill or capture, ten new recruits will join the ranks. Indeed, a recent Army War College report challenges the notion that the Iraqi war was part of the overall war on terrorism.

The messy situation in Iraq raises serious concerns, not only about our international credibility, but our ability as the world's leader to foresee, plan for, and effectively manage events as they evolve. Naturally, not everything can be foreseen, but especially in times of war, and in a brutalized and factional country such as Iraq, we are only helped by enlisting international support, telling the truth, and admitting to mistakes. It is sad that this administration makes a virtue out of public deception and never admits to even a single mistake, especially in an election year. Still, Iraq, which Mr. Bush wanted to hail as his greatest achievement, may well become his greatest albatross.