13 May 2004

Failing To Recognize Failure

In the course of committing this strategic error, Rumsfeld made many tactical misjudgments. He willfully alienated allies whose assistance, many warned him, would be necessary for a successful occupation. He arrogantly excluded officials from other federal departments -- especially State and USAID -- who knew much more than he did about reconstruction in general and Iraqi society in particular. He ordered (or at least accepted the order -- we don't yet know who made the decision) the dismantling of the Iraqi army, a move that created a massive power vacuum and put tens of thousands of armed, angry, unemployed citizens on the streets. He believed that Ahmad Chalabi, an exile who had no political base in Iraq, would readily be accepted as the country's new leader -- and, on that basis, didn't think that much "postwar" planning would be necessary. Far more unforgivable (after all, everybody's wrong sometimes), Rumsfeld devised no backup plan in case his belief proved mistaken (as it did).

All these mistakes have been recited many times before. The odd thing about the long list, viewed in the context of Abu Ghraib, is that Bush gave Rummy a pass for the whole lot. One of the president's jobs is to relieve the nation of Cabinet officers who make consistently bad decisions, especially bad decisions that swell the ranks of our casualties and diminish our standing in the world. The responsibility, to use a much-tarnished word, lies not with Rumsfeld but with Bush.

I while ago I blogged that 'unthinkable' is not a policy. Rumsfeld stands at the head of a chain of command that bears responsibility for Abu Ghraib. That does not make him a 'superb' secretary of defence. Refusing to think about what that means in terms of the US' standing in the world is bad policy but about par for the course.

We now know that the ICRC, the State Department and the CPA itself all drew Rumsfeld's attention to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld then appeared before the Senate and announced he had forgotten to bring a copy of the chain of command for Abu Ghraib with him. More later.

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