The Road to Disaster

The January 2007 issue of Vanity Fair will carry an article detailing how prominent neo-conservatives (Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, and others), all outspoken pre-war supporters of the American incursion into Iraq, now blame President Bush and his administration for what Adelman calls the “disaster of Iraq.” Over the weekend Vanity Fair published a summary and excerpts of the article on its website. (The full article will be available when the print edition is on sale in early December.) It is interesting and sobering reading. Their vehement criticism of Bush and his foreign policy and national security teams is remarkable, given their role in shaping that policy. Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, cites poor decision-making within the Bush administration: “At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.” Kenneth Adelman, who also served on the Defense Policy Board, wrote before the invasion in 2002, “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” The article quotes him now: “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the complete article and see the complete context for their quotes, but I found some of the interviewee’s positions self-serving–this quote from Richard Perle, for instance:

Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I’m getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, ‘Go design the campaign to do that.’ I had no responsibility for that.

This seems disingenuous. How could Perle’s counsel to “bring[] down Saddam” not account for the context of Saddam’s rule? A policy pronouncement is meaningless without a plan to implement it. Maybe it was Perle’s job to Think Big Thoughts and leave details of their implementation to others. I could do that, but one hopes the requirements for a seat on the Defense Policy Board involve more in the way of substance.

The other thing that strikes me is the myopia of the interviewee’s pre-war vision. It never seems to have occurred to them that they might be wrong, that their assumptions might be flawed, that they might have underestimated the difficulties. For all of their credentials and authority, these neo-conservative policy makers and the President who sought their counsel failed to do their homework.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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