More dissent in Pentagon over Iraq

Jim Lobe:

For the second time in as many months, a report by a key Pentagon advisory group has implicitly taken the administration of President Bush to task for major failures in pre-war planning, particularly with respect to Iraq.

A 220-page report, released last month by the Defense Science Board (DSB), concludes that the administration clearly underestimated the number of troops and cost required to achieve its political objectives in Iraq. The report, entitled “Transition to and From Hostilities”, contradicts another key assumption of top Pentagon officials before the war that Washington could quickly reduce its troop presence after ousting the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

The DSB task force, which interviewed scores of current and former US officials with experience in war-fighting, counter-insurgency, peacekeeping and reconstruction, found that stabilisation of “disordered societies, with ambitious goals involving lasting cultural change, may require 20 troops per 1000 indigenous people.” Washington currently has 150,000 troops in Iraq. The report also concludes that the State Department is much better equipped to organise and oversee reconstruction operations than the Bush administration, which had given the job in Iraq initially to the Pentagon, had recognised. The DSB consists of volunteer experts chosen by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to advise him on key issues on which they have special expertise. Indeed, following the submission of its originally classified report last fall, Rumsfeld issued a directive instructing the military’s regional commanders to “develop and maintain” new war plans specifically designed to address stabilisation and reconstruction issues, another major recommendation highlighted in the report.

The latest report follows another on “strategic communication” by the DSB made public in November. That study also challenged a number of core assumptions about the administration’s “war on terrorism”, especially its insistence that radical Islamists “hate” the US because of its “freedom” and democratic practices, rather than concrete US policies in the region, such as its staunch support for Israel against the Palestinians, the invasion of Iraq, and its backing for Arab autocrats.

Warning that Washington was losing the propaganda war to the Islamists, because of its perceived “arrogance, opportunism and double standards”, the report argued that the administration’s insistence that it wants to bring democracy to Islamic societies was “seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy” based on a faulty assumption that Arabs, in particular, are “like the enslaved people of the old Communist world”. Before the war, the Pentagon civilians, who were backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to exclude the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from post-war planning and operations largely because of their belief that the two agencies would promote Sunni Arab nationalists in the place of Saddam. They supported exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who, they believed, was committed to a de-Baathification of Iraq and staunch US supporter.

Instead of focusing on Iraq, the DSB task force examined US combat operations since the end of the Cold War and their aftermath and found that more troops not only were required for stabilisation than for combat, but that stabilisation operations have typically lasted for five to eight years. The Pentagon, according to the report, “has not yet embraced stabilisation and reconstruction as a mission with the same seriousness as combat operations. This mind-set must be changed”. — IPS