The Corner

Re: Bush Freedom Follow-Up- Part I

Rich, let me weigh in quickly, because I’m off to Ft. Hood shortly. I apologize to Kathryn if this is Mario-length, and I apologize to Mario for saying “Mario-length.” I’m going to start on some of the Iraq issues and then, in a second post, address the democracy issues.

There were three major questions over which so-called neo-cons squared off against others in the U.S. government prior to the war:

1) Should there be wholesale regime change (and democratization) or decapitation—a coup d’état followed by the installation of a senior general? The CIA and many in CENTCOM vocally (and, through leaks into the open-source, publicly) supported the latter; the neo-cons supported the former.

2) Would we have more influence to establish a new order prior to liberation, or after we had boots on the ground? Another way this debate was cast was whether there would be a pre-established governing council (with a pre-determined number and majority of slots to be filled by “internals”) or a post-liberation conference. The neo-cons here argued for the former; ironically, two subsequent ambassadors to Iraq argued the latter in their previous capacities with the State Department and National Security Council. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there was no plan to install Chalabi as leader. Because of well-hashed interagency debates, installing Chalabi, Pachachi, or Allawi were non-starters. Prior to liberation, neo-cons staunchly opposed occupation and delayed restoration of sovereignty. The NSC decided against immediate sovereignty. Pundits have the luxury of remaining in 2003. Given the NSC decision and the new reality, many neo-cons then began thinking how to do the job right. It is ironic that neo-cons are being blamed for an occupation few wanted. That said, being where we are now, most neo-cons are realist about the consequence of creating a security vacuum, while most self-described realists are positively Utopian in their trust in the goodwill of Iraq’s neighbors.

3) Troop numbers: Some neo-cons argued for more troops, and some neo-cons argued for less. The way the number debate is argued now is unhelpful, because it is not troop numbers which are important, but for what the troops are to be used. Had we flooded Iraq with hundreds of thousands of troops immediately after liberation, we would have antagonized the population greatly and probably would have sparked the insurgency earlier. How did this play out before the war? Training. The question of whether or not to train Iraqi opposition forces prior to the war is one of the more important episodes not yet studied. Too many outside pundits incorrectly conflate the Free Iraqi Forces with the Iraqi National Congress. Even after the interagency decision to train Iraqi opposition forces in Taszar, Hungary, so that Iraqi army units could “defect” to Iraqi forces rather than “surrender” to U.S. forces, some government agencies and departments foot-dragged on the security vetting (something like nine agencies wanted to each vet individually; Condoleezza Rice was unable to coordinate a single vetting agency) in order to slow the process to a trickle, as it was when Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced.

I’m trained in history rather than political science and so strongly believe that, for academic study, there needs to be what my alma mater called a 30-year rule. Absent access to the full array of documents (usually accessible only after about 30 years), it is possible to do journalism, but not scholarship. So many British Ph.D. students, for example, call around town for help when they write dissertations on the present Iraq conflict. At least one Columbia University School of Journalism writer tried to pretend she was writing an academic paper when her goal was far more immediate (so much for ethics at CUJ). I have not met a single student that has tried to utilize (Arabic) documents seized from Saddam that are now accessible and, of course, most U.S. documents remain classified. Such continued classification is wrong. Those documents that do not protect sources and methods should be immediately declassified. And those Iraqi documents that do not name, for example, a rape victim should also be fully accessible to the public, even if only in Arabic. That some people will be embarrassed by their pre-war stands, or by the fact that their post-war posturing contradicts what they said in confidential meetings, is not a reason to keep documents classified.

Michael Rubin — Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East ...

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