"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Friday, October 08, 2004

Rumsfeld's Folly (A Continuing Series) 

You know the old saying, "No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan"? Sometimes I wonder about that. The evidence really leads one to wonder if the Junta could possibly have screwed up this badly without actively trying. AFP reports:
Interference by the Pentagon delivered a massive blow to efforts to provide humanitarian relief for Iraq after last year's war, according to two US aid experts who struggled with the conflict's chaotic aftermath.

In trenchant criticism, the pair say the Department of Defense alienated aid workers, misjudged the scale of looting that wrecked Iraq's health service and sent out bureaucrats who only served to complicate matters.

The traditional American response to humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters abroad is carried out by the State Department's US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

In the months leading up to the war, these agencies trained up an 80-person team specially for Iraq, many of them with long expertise in emergencies, says the commentary, published by Frederick Burkle and Eric Noji in Saturday's Lancet.

But that initiative was hamstrung by the Pentagon which, breaking with tradition, decided to set up its own humanitarian planning team, say the authors....

As confusion mounted between the rival State Department and Pentagon relief initiatives, the US government decided to give overall administrative control to the Department of Defense's team -- by now named the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA).

The big problem, though, was that Pentagon planners had not taken into account the risk of looting after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The pillaging wrecked clinics, hospitals, emptied pharmaceutical stores and destroyed laboratories, "causing the collapse of the already tottering health system," the commentary says.

That crisis was worsened by chronic insecurity, hours-long power cuts and lack of sanitation.

Meanwhile, the ORHA team that was rushed to Baghdad was mainly staffed by policy wonks, it says.

The amazing thing about this is that Rumsfeld was previously famous for wanting to outsource those activities that he perceived as being beyond the military's core functions of killing people and breaking things. As the Army Times reported a year ago, Rumsfeld once carped, “Why am I running stores? Why am I in education?” In spite of his misgivings about providing support to the families of America's fighting men and women, however, we now learn that Rumsfeld insisted upon performing reconstruction-related tasks traditionally assigned to other, more appropriate agencies - and then proceeded to do them badly.

This comes on the heels of Wednesday's jaw-dropping revelation from Newsweek (emphasis supplied):
At the heart of the controversy is a still-unresolved dispute over who was mainly responsible for one of the biggest mistakes of [Iraq proconsul Paul] Bremer's 15-month tenure in Iraq, one that is commonly ascribed to him. This was the decision in May 2003 to reverse the efforts of Bremer's predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, to put the ragged elements of the Iraqi Army to work. After Bremer formally disbanded the army, some disaffected soldiers were believed to have joined the insurgency, which still rages.

Administration officials said today that this decision was made on the ground in Iraq, rather than in Washington. Before the war, the plan was to get rid of Iraqi Army officers but use regular troops for security and reconstruction after Saddam's ouster. But Bremer “flipped that around,” said a White House official. He added that Bremer and his deputy, Walt Slocombe, made the decision by themselves.

But Bremer and Garner have previously indicated the decision was made in Washington. According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, "That's another 350,000 Iraqis you're pissing off, and they've got guns." According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: “Before you announce this thing let’s do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let’s line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.” Bremer replied: “I don’t have any choice. I have to do this.” Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. “The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people.”

So, it appears that when Rumsfeld wasn't throwing wrenches into the works, the Empty Flight Suit was himself stepping into the breech to assure that the bad decisions got made. Again, I ask you - failing to plan, or planning to fail? The mind reels.




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