I'm at a talk by Michael R. Gordon, co-author of Cobra II
. It's put on by the Institute of Int'l Studies here in Berkeley. So, here's the liveblog. I will clean it up later.
-- By summer 2002 it was obvious to MRG that there would be a war with Iraq. But now embedding process was available to him. Embedded with land invasion planners, who dubbed the invasion plan Cobra II, after Gen. Patton's plan for breaking out of Normandy. Gained access to a classified doc that he uses in the book. The doc is about interrogation of Saddam and the info he held.
-- Sidenote: The guy on a wheelchair who points to stuff with a pointer on his head is right next to me. You may have seen him naked on the Berkeley public access channel. He reeks.
-- The two sides utterly misread the other sides political and military strategies. How did Saddam misread the US? Well he was mostly concerned with internal Iraqi threats. He had attempted to keep the Shi'ia down on several occasions. He had attempted to use chem weapons against them (not just the Kurds). He was also worried about a coup to the extent that the Republican Guard were not allowed inside the capital. One of the worst fears that Centcom had was turning Baghdad into a Stalingrad, but Saddam was more afraid of that scenario than the US. His strategy on wmd was to comply with the letter of the inspections, but on the other hand he didn't want the world to know that his cover was bare. He was concerned about the Iranians. Also he didn't think the US would launch a full on invasion. He didn't plan on the insurgency because he didn't think we'd get that far.
-- US miscalculations: There were Five.
1. When we were fighting the last war, the RG were the main enemy, so we felt obliged to defeat the RG around Baghdad, and then go to Baghdad and cut the head of the snake. But there were also paramilitary forces out there such as the Fedayin and now they are part of the insurgency.
2. Also Baghdad was not the center of gravity, maybe the Sunni Triangle or the Iraqi population were the center of gravity. So Sec of Def and Gen. Franks misread the enemy.
3. We did not adapt. There was ample evidence within a few weeks that the enemy we were fighting was not the same enemy we had planned. Commander of 5th Corps (Gen. Wallace?) predicted that we would be fighiting these guys after the fall of Baghdad. Washington ignored these recommendations thinking the Army was just reluctant to put the pedal to the metal. They did not plan on fighting a counter-insurgency and did not send in continued reinforcements. The Fedayin were not part of the script of the munchkins killing the Wicked Witch. There is an expression in the military, "the enemy has a vote." When they thought about the post-war Iraq, they wanted to transfer maximum responsibility to the Iraqis. They wanted to rely on the Iraqis to do the policing. We would govern through their ministries. These were the assumptions. In fact Sec. D gave a speech called "Beyond Nationbuilding" and advocated that we would not do Iraq like we did the Balkans, but instead we'd do it like Afghanistan. Then it became clear that we could not run it like Afghanistan, e.g. restoring services.
4. Dysfunctional Bureaucracy. Joint Chiefs, Sec. State, and others were cut off. Pres, VP, and Sec. D were the main planners.
5. Bremmer and Sec. D dissolved the Iraqi military.
-- So all of these combined along with our inability to meet the needs of the Iraqis, the aura of American invincibility vanished. Almost all US commanders in summer 03 believed there was an opportunity where if we had done the right, we would not have had this level of resistance.
-- Opens up for Questions
-- You told us what you know, now I want to know when you knew it. Did you know a few months into this what a disaster it was? If so on the basis of the factual stuff?
This took a long time to piece together, but quickly into the war MRG knew that the war was not heading in the right direction. E.g., on April 16, 2003, Gen. Franks flew to Baghdad and gave instructions about troops leaving Iraq. This was overly optimistic. Very early on it was evident that there is a mismatch between US admin planning and actual reality.
-- How much weight given to Powell given that he went through this once before?
There's a story about Powell sending Schwartskopff a division that was not requested. He told NS to use the force or if not send it back. He believes in not having any sort of a contest in a military match. He wants quick victory and an exit strategy. This even applied to Bosnia, where Powell was opposed to no fly zone. Sec. D wanted to reform the Powell doctrine and do something different. Gen. Franks got behind it. Powell had reservations about this. He expressed concerns about force levels, but as Sec. State he had no really say in this. Franks even mentions in his book that Powell called him and was a gentleman that Powell would raise the issue of troop levels with the Pres but he wanted to tell Franks first.
-- How did you get info declassified and how do you feel about Shock and Awe then and now.
I didn't get it declassified. I just published it. There are some things that he has exercised discretion. Shock and Awe really didn't work. Saddam knew what we were going to hit, and hung out with civilians. One of his palaces had no furnitures or art or housewares. And there were notes that said "Couch, room number 3 by the window." They never planned on torching their own oil fields. They were going to win. Same with this, they planned on moving back in after enduring the airstrikes. Best example is airstrikes before start of war where we tried to hit Saddam based on hot intel. Well we now know that he hadn't been there for years. There was not even a bunker at that location that we bombed. There was a moment after this when Saddam came on with thick glasses and we doubted that it was him. But it turns out he went to his Presidential Secretary's safehouse and wanted to give a speech to the nation. There was no teleprompter and no printer, so he wrote it out and read it with those glasses.
-- Bremmer says that there was no army to speak of.
He gives a partial self-serving account. It is true that the Iraqi army went AWOL. Well you can recall the Army. They were recalled in a sense. There was a decision made to pay them and they showed up to get their pay. The decision he made as the viceroy of Iraq was that he wanted to build Iraq in a way that was free from the taint of Saddam. But then Saddam didn't trust his own army so they couldn't all be Baathists. The argument he makes is the kind of Washington insiders make during spin control and not a genuine argument. Generals on the ground say it was a mistake to get rid of the Iraqi army.
-- Why was the intel on the resistance that would emerge so bad?
Well CIA was confident that the southern cities were ours. But precisely because the Shi'ia had risen up before and we didn't support them, the Shi'ia were weary. But the CIA in Afghanistan was pretty well wired in Afghanistan. They had a lot of old relationships there from the Soviet days and money can buy you a lot in Afghanistan. In Iraq we didn't have anything. We didn't have enough dots to connect them. On the analysts side, there were some people who emphasized sectarian strife.
-- Question inaudible
Abizaid wanted to put an Iraqi face to the whole thing. So he called Challabi's military attache, a US colonel attached to him, and 700 of Challabi's fighters were sent. The fighters did not contribute anything. Challabi gave a quick speech in Nasariya and that was it. The whole point is that we didn't succeed in putting an Iraqi face on this.
-- How do you feel about imbedding?
History of media within the military. Basically distrust of media since Vietnam. In this war there were all sorts reporters. The military's own history of the conflict uses a lot of the photos from imbedded reporters. In this war, a lot of the people who fought got the credit. In the first PG war, the Pentagon briefers got a lot of the credit. There are some questions about the media being coopted by the military, but overall it's a good thing. You are always dependent on your sources (e.g. white house beat), but a lot of the questions about the progress of the war have been raised by reporters on the ground.
-- Where do you think we are now? Is it a civil war? Where should we be going?
I don't have any special insight. Talking to his colleagues, it seems like Iraqis took a step back from the cliff following the Mosque bombing. This is not like Bosnia because the Iraqis have intermarried and they have coexisted. So now the Iraqi leadership is trying to avert a civil war, but Al Qaeda is trying to create the opposite because they feel this will create a situation that is completely ungovernable and force the US to leave. He hopes things work out because then the deaths would not be in vain. He has praise for Allil Zahad (? Or did he say Talabani? Unclear) whom Bremmer excluded from Baghdad.
-- Where'd Jay Garner go?
In Washington there was a sense that he and the retired generals he recruited were not in charge of the situation and they wanted a take-charge guy. As Bremmer became a force in his own right and made decisions on his own (though he reported to Rummie who was given charge of post-war Iraq by the President). Garner was not happy about how it all turned out. He was brought in under a different set of assumptions. We went from a guy who would do some refugee aid and set up a quick government to a guy who was a viceroy who rewrote the constitution. The Marines set up elections in Najaf for mayor, but then word came from Bremmer that the wrong guy was going to win so they had to cancel. The problem was that a hardline Shi'ia was going to win. Response to this is that well it's Najaf and that's like cancelling an eleciton in South Carolina because a conservative Republican is going to win. Marine Generals went on TV saying they are deferring the election and then went to argue with Bremmer. They blame this cancellation as the source of a lot of problems in the south because after this they saw us as occupiers.