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A Real Intelligence Failure

'The failure to learn the need for accurate characterization of the nation and region where counter-insurgency may -- or does - exist seems to be a constant lesson of why nations go to and stay at war'.

Washington (UPI) Dec 13, 2005
Much has been made of the intelligence failures in assessing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. These failures pale to insignificance, however, in comparison with the failure of U.S. policy and military planners to accurately assess the overall situation in Iraq before engaging in war, and for the risk of insurgency if the U.S. did not carry out an effective mix of nation building and stability operations.

This failure cannot be made the responsibility of the intelligence community. It was the responsibility of the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the joint chiefs.

All had the responsibility to bring together policymakers, military planners, intelligence experts, and area experts to provide as accurate a picture of Iraq and the consequences of an invasion as possible. Each failed to exercise that responsibility. The nation's leading policymakers chose to act on a limited and highly ideological view of Iraq that planned for one extremely optimistic definition of success, but not for risk or failure.

There was no real planning for stability operations. Key policymakers did not want to engage in nation building and chose to believe that removing Saddam Hussein from power would leave the Iraqi government functioning and intact. Plans were made on the basis that significant elements of the Iraqi armed forces would turn to the Coalitions' side, remain passive, or put up only token resistance.

No real effort was made to ensure continuity of government or stability and security in Iraq's major cities and throughout the countryside. Decades of serious sectarian and ethnic tension were downplayed or ignored. Actions by Saddam Hussein's regime that had crippled Iraq's economic development since the early years of the Iran-Iraq War -- at time when Iraq had only 17-18 million people -- were ignored. Iraq was assumed to be an oil wealthy country whose economy could quickly recover if the oil fields were not burned, and transform itself into a modern capitalist structure in the process.

The nation's most senior military commanders compounded these problems by planning for the conventional defeat of the enemy and an early exit from Iraq, by making a deliberate effort to avoid "Phase IV" and stability operations. The fact that they did so to minimize the strain on the U.S. force posture, and the "waste" of U.S. troops on "low priority" missions played a major role in creating the conditions under which insurgency could develop and flourish.

The intelligence community and civilian and military area experts may not have predicted the exact nature of the insurgency that followed. Analysis is not prophecy. They did, however, provide ample warning that this was a risk that Iraqi exiles were often failing to provide a balanced or accurate picture of, and that nation building would be both necessary and extremely difficult.

The nation's top policymakers choose to both ignore and discourage such warnings as "negative" and "exaggerated," and to plan for success. They did so having seen the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the sectarian and ethnic problems of Afghanistan.

To succeed, the United States must plan for failure as well as success. It must see the development or escalation of insurgency as a serious risk in any contingency were it is possible, and take preventive and ongoing steps to prevent or limit it. This is an essential aspect of war planning and no chairman of the Joint Chiefs, service chief, or unified and specified commander can be excused for failing to plan and act in this area. Responsibility begins directly at the top, and failures at any other level pale to insignificance by comparison.

This is even truer because top-level policymakers failed to recognize or admit the scale of the problem as it developed. Their failures were as much failures of reaction as prediction or contingency planning, and failures to accurately assess and react to ongoing events are far less excusable. There were no mysteries involving the scale of the collapse of the Iraqi government and security forces within days of the fall of Saddam Hussein. The reaction was slow, inadequate, and shaped by denial of the seriousness of the problem.

This situation did not improve until more than a year after the fall Saddam's regime, and at least six months after it became apparent that a serious insurgency was developing. Major resources did not flow into the creation of effective Iraqi forces until the fall of 2004. The U.S. aid effort behaved for nearly a year and a half as if insurgency was truly a small group of diehards or "terrorists."

Even in late 2005, top U.S. civilian policymakers split hairs over semantics to try to avoid even the word "insurgency," failed to perceive that many Sunni Arab Iraqis see such an insurgency as having legitimate causes, and chose to largely publicly ignore the risks of civil conflict and the developing problems in Shi'ite forces and political structures.

The United States denied risks and realities of the Vietnam War. European powers initially denied the realities that forced them to end their colonial role. Israel denied the risks and realities of striking deep into Lebanon and seeking to create a Christian-dominated allied state. Russia denied the risks and realities of Chechnya in spite of all the brutal lessons of having denied the risk and realities of Afghanistan.

The failure to learn the need for accurate characterization of the nation and region where counter-insurgency may -- or does -- exist seems to be a constant lesson of why nations go to and stay at war. The failure to plan for risk as well as success is equally significant. Ruthless objectivity is the cheapest solution to preventing and limiting insurgency, and planning and deploying for the full range of stability operations and nation building is an essential precaution wherever the stakes are high and the risk is significant.

Anthony J. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair of Strategy at the center for strategic and International studies in Washington DC. This is taken from his latest CSIS paper "The Iraqi war and its strategic lessons for counter-insurgency."

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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