It is a painful and disturbing process, but
America and everyone involved in the decision-making and oversight process (the
Executive Branch and Congress) must learn from the errors and failures related
to waging a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the aftermath of that war.
The toll in American military casualties and those of civilians, physical damages
caused, financial resources spent, and the damage to the support and image of
America abroad, all demand such an assessment and accounting.
Certainly, all the facts and impacts are not yet apparent, and the violence
and financial and diplomatic costs of the Iraqi aftermath continue to accumulate.
However, I must give this account before I leave Congress on Aug. 31, 2004.
Apparent Intelligence Failures
The first, and most basic, conclusion is that
it appears there was a massive failure or misinterpretation of intelligence
concerning the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and supply stocks
of Saddam, both by the American agencies and leading decision-makers, but also
on the part of allies and other leading countries.
The fact that Saddam had used chemical weapons against Iran and Iraqi Kurds,
that chemical weapons and biological and nuclear development programs were discovered
after the first Gulf War, and that Saddam so strenuously resisted unfettered
international inspection efforts in recent years, all contributed to the general
conclusion that he had reconstructed his chemical weapons stock and was weaponizing
biological agents. There was also the suspicion that his efforts to surreptitiously
import certain dual-use technology were part of an effort to reconstitute his
nuclear development program. The conclusion generally reached was that he had
at least some of these types of WMD and that he would use them again against
countries of the neighborhood. Even more directly troubling to America was the
concern that he would share them with terrorist groups. It was a combination
of these conclusions and fears that were the primary justification for the preemptive
military action against Iraq. Most importantly, however, it was the fear that
his WMD would be shared with terrorists when it served his purposes. These concerns
caused this member of Congress to vote to authorize the use of military force
by the president, even preemptive military force, if the conditions specified
in House Joint Resolution 114 of October 2002 were judged by the president to
have been met. That resolution that authorized the use of military force was
passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress, and I believe that for
most members the element of a WMD-terrorist link was a key factor.
that substantial Iraqi chemical and biological WMD stocks existed at the time
the war began or that they covertly had been destroyed just before the conflict
began still may be discovered. Certainly, there were such chaotic conditions
after the "military war" ended, with huge weapons dumps and laboratories
left unguarded or undiscovered for months, that evidence and supplies could
have been hidden or destroyed.
However, revelations in the unredacted portions of reports recently released
by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence point to a massive intelligence
failure by the American and foreign intelligence agencies, and even more disturbingly,
leave unresolved whether inadequate or questionable elements of intelligence
and sources of intelligence were used to justify military action. (Many members
of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which I serve, have
also reached some of the same conclusions as the Senate Committee – and that
Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently
corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial
WMD arsenal, I believe that launching the preemptive military action was
not justified. However, the inability of the administration to clearly establish
a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam, despite the intimations of various administration
leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney, is no surprise to me. In my floor statement
of Oct. 8, 2002, during the debate on the "military use of force"
resolution, I said, "The administration cannot yet present incontrovertible
evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam."
Skewing of Intelligence to Justify the War?
Of course, one of the major controversies
yet remaining is whether key individuals in the administration skewed the intelligence
made available to them to justify military action against Saddam's Iraq or,
whether coerced, intimidated, or sympathetic American intelligence analysts
and managers gave them the findings they seemed to want in order to justify
military action. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee reports finding no
evidence of such pressure and I do not believe that individual members of the
House Committee have such evidence. Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence
was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action. That would be difficult
to determine definitively without "a smoking gun."
Preparations for War and the Aftermath
Here, I first refer you to an excerpt
from my floor statement during the Oct. 8, 2002, debate on House Joint Resolution
114. You will note that I raised four questions of the administration illustrative
of additional questions that could be asked, in an attempt to determine whether
"the Executive Branch had given adequate consideration and provided contingency
planning and resources" for a military action against Iraq and its aftermath,
and if not, to stimulate such consideration before any military action was taken
against Iraq. I can only conclude now that it failed on questions #1, #3, and
I was very interested to read Paul
Krugman's column in the New York Times of April 23, 2004, because
his words, which follow, succinctly mirrored my own thoughts:
"Just as experts on peacekeeping predicted before the war, the invading
force was grossly inadequate to maintain postwar security. And this problem
was compounded by a chain of blunders: doing nothing to stop the postwar looting,
disbanding the Iraqi Army, canceling local elections, appointing an interim
council dominated by exiles with no political base and excluding important domestic
"The lessons of the last few weeks are that the occupation has never
recovered from those early errors. The insurgency, which began during those
early months of chaos, has spread."
Of course, the insurgency has grown dramatically since Krugman wrote those
words in April. While the American
military deaths have declined from the highest levels of April and May during
the U.S. offensive against the terrorists, there is still an average of fifty
tragic U.S. military deaths per month at the time this is being written.
It should be noted, too, that the administration received many warnings
not to make those very errors. Perhaps the warning most frequently given by
reputable sources was to avoid disbanding the Iraqi army, but to instead immediately
reconstitute it. Many of those Iraqi army personnel became insurgents or, at
best, disenchanted. Now that an army and police forces are being trained and
deployed, they are targets for the organized and increasingly motivated insurgency.
The same is the case for the Iraqis who have assumed leadership roles at the
national or local level; that violence has intensified since the "handover"
in late June.
In my view, another fundamental and predictable failure was placing the
responsibility for reconstruction and interim governance in the hands of the
Department of Defense. The State Department, and particularly its Agency for
International Development, would no doubt have handled these responsibilities
more expeditiously and economically, and with less questionable procurement
and contractual practices. These are responsibilities normally assigned to State,
and it has a better experience base for such programs.
Finally, I would reiterate the frequent criticism that the American and
coalition forces were inadequate in number to take effective control of Iraq
when the initial military action was completed. This was a misjudgment from
the top levels of the Defense Department and contrary to the estimates of the
former U.S. Army Chief of Staff who was sharply criticized by the DOD civilian
leadership. Of course, that inadequacy was accentuated by both the unexpected
rejection by Turkey for the movement of one U.S. Army division across that country
to enter northern Iraq and by the unwillingness of a number of European countries
to supply troops for the coalition because of their opposition to the war.
The Middle East neighborhood and the rest of the world is no doubt safer
from attack and subversion now that Saddam has been removed from power. The
oppressed Kurdish and Shi'ite Iraqis no longer have to fear for their lives
from his government, and the same is true of other Iraqis whom he punished as
enemies of the state.
Was the preemptive military strike to remove Saddam in America's best interest?
That is a question that receives a sharply divided response in our country with
the trend being against the preemptive military action we launched. I've reached
the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty
conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was
a mistake to launch that military action, especially without a broad and
engaged international coalition. The cost in casualties is already large and
growing, and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible. Our
country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances
are weakened. From the beginning of the conflict it was doubtful that we for
long would be seen as liberators, but instead increasingly as an occupying force.
Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess and there is no easy and quick
way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems
in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world.