The Administration’s Parallel Universe




The administration’s war in Iraq, which it has billed as part of the global war on terrorism, has been based from the beginning on faulty information, poor planning, and, most importantly, overly optimistic assumptions. The president’s warnings about mushroom clouds, the idea that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, and the true aftermath of "mission accomplished" serve perfectly to illustrate this point.

Friday’s issue of the Department of Defense talking points, entitled, "Global War on Terror," shows that the administration has learned nothing from the Iraq debacle. If it weren’t for the DOD seal prominently displayed in the left-hand corner, the talking points might easily be mistaken for parody. As it is, the points come straight from the mouth of the president’s Pentagon, and the picture they paint about our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan stands in stark contrast to reality. Consider the sample below:

The President’s Pentagon…

In Reality…

"Neither action [Iraq or Afghanistan] was about stockpiles of weapons or imminent threats…."

"…It was about the clear lesson of 9/11: that the United States cannot wait for a threat to become imminent; the dots must be connected early to defeat the threat before it is too late."

President Bush: "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons…And according to the British government, the Iraqi regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes." September 2002.

President Bush: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." October 2002.

Secretary Rumsfeld: "No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq." September 2002.

By invading Iraq, the administration connected the wrong dots — and increased the threat of terrorism as a result. As Richard Clarke notes in his book, Against All Enemies, "We delivered to al-Qaeda the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable and made it difficult for friendly Islamic governments to be seen working closely with us."

"Iraq and Afghanistan were state sponsors of terrorism or harbored terrorists…."

"…In the case of Iraq, they also had the potential to transfer WMD to terrorists."

While Afghanistan certainly harbored al-Qaeda, the Administration’s assertion that there was an al-Qaeda-Iraq link is not supported by the facts. As the 9/11 Commission recently concluded, "There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."

"In the judgment of U.S. intelligence, a transfer of WMD by Saddam to terrorists was likely only if he were ‘sufficiently desperate’ in the face of an impending invasion. Even then, the NIE concluded, he would likely use his own operatives before terrorists." – Carnegie Endowment Report, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications," January 2004.

"The Coalition cannot turn away and allow these two countries to slide back to the havens for terrorism they once were."

The Administration has done just that in Afghanistan, where it has allocated a fraction of the money troops that it has in Iraq. Meanwhile, the drug problem is out of control, the Taliban have reconstituted to a point where they have public spokesmen, and private armed militias are wreaking instability. President Karzai recently gave his government’s progress in achieving its goals a D grade.

"The key to victory is Iraqi and Afghan self-government and self-defense. The most promising development in both countries is Iraqis and Afghans stepping forward to govern their own countries and to defend themselves."

In Afghanistan, parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June 2004 had to be postponed until September, then October due to security and logistical problems. Last week, parliamentary elections were pushed back to April 2005 due to security concerns.

President Karzai: "Afghanistan does not have at this point the institutions to look after its own security. Ten thousand of the National Army, twenty thousand of the national police are not enough for us to secure our lives and to work politically towards a better future." June 2004.

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Chief, Office of Security Transition in Iraq: "The challenge is, in a place like Baghdad, where the security threats remain very substantial and where the impact of these sensational attacks psychologically is very, very important, that we’re going to have to continue to focus a big effort here. And that’s going to take – clearly going to take some time before Iraqi security forces can be truly trained and equipped and enabled and operating successfully to try to deal with that." June 2004.

At a time when Americans face dangers both at home and abroad, rosy statements and pacifying remarks are unacceptable. Democratic decision making is based on informed discourse, and it is time for the administration to give the American people a chance to exercise that prerogative. The administration must step up to the plate and speak in a straight-forward way about the realities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism. Friday’s attempt at doing so, if it can be called that, earns a failing grade.

Mirna Galic is a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.




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