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Intelligence Failure: The Postwar Pipedream

The Senate intelligence committee released its two-part report this month exploring pre-war intelligence on Iraq and its use by the Bush administration. We asked James Martin, a Paul Mellon fellow at Cambridge University who writes on international security issues, to wade through the 172-page report for us. He'll be guest-posting his findings here over the next few days.

Perhaps the most damning conclusion of the committee's report on prewar intelligence is that the Bush administration failed to take into account CIA and DIA suggestions that post-invasion Iraq would require a significant long-term U.S. troop presence to quell violent Baathist attempts to return to power, al-Qaida-related terrorist activity, and inter-ethnic/tribal violence. Though this is not the first time such ineptitude has been reported, the committee provides a particularly searing indictment of the administration's post-invasion planning.

On this score, the committee's findings are largely a reiteration of the conclusions of its 2007 report dedicated exclusively to exploring the discrepancies between the administration's postwar pipe dreams and the realistic assessments of the country's intelligence agencies. According to both reports, "Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products."

Exhibit A: While Cheney in 2002 explicitly agreed with "Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami" that "after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are 'sure to erupt in joy,'" contemporaneous DIA intelligence estimates held that most Iraqis would treat the "liberators" with "ambivalence," and that "significant force protection threats will emerge from the Baathists, the Jihadists and Arab nationalists who oppose any US occupation of Iraq."

Exhibit B: While Bush preached that Iraq's people would soon be able to "share in the progress and prosperity of our time," a 2002 CIA study suggested that "Iraq currently appears to lack both the socio-economic and politico-cultural prerequisites that political scientists generally regard as necessary to nurture democracy." Furthermore, as the report details, the possibility of establishing a stable Iraqi democracy in the aftermath of invasion was predicted by the intelligence community "to be a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge."

Unfortunately, the report does not take into account the "many other sources of information available to policymakers that would inform their views about post-war Iraq"--i.e., the Ajamis and Chalabis whose utopian post-invasion visions had captured the ear of the administration. The report does seem to imply, however, that it was the concerns of these "other sources," and not those of sober and nuanced intelligence estimates, that ultimately dictated how the administration envisioned the future of Iraq.

--James Martin

Earlier Posts:
Intelligence Failure: Inside This Month's Senate Report
Intelligence Failure: Bush's ‘Selective Interpretations'