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Context of 'April 9, 2006: Retired General: Iraq War Caused by ‘Ignorant’ Civilian ‘Zealots’ in White House, Pentagon'

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After the attack on the USS Cole, the military not only draws up plans to directly target bin Laden (see November 7, 2000), but also comes up with a larger plan looking at alternatives to assassination. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prepared a plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic, and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel bin Laden. A “Phased Campaign Concept” calls for wider-ranging military strikes against the Taliban and other targets, but doesn’t include contingency plans for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept is briefed to Deputy National Security Adviser Donald Kerrick and other officials in December 2000, but it is never acted on. The military makes no similar plans after Bush’s inauguration, and the CIA’s invasion plans are mostly relied upon when the US invades Afghanistan in October 2001. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 4/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Donald Kerrick, Central Intelligence Agency, Gregory Newbold, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bernard Trainor.Bernard Trainor. [Source: PBS]The New York Times examines the influence of retired military officers in influencing public opinion on the invasion of Iraq. Reporter John Cushman, Jr writes that “a whole constellation of retired one-, two-, three- and four-star generals—including many who led the recent wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf—can be seen night and day across the television firmament, navigation aids for viewers lost in a narrative that can be foggier than war itself.” All of the news broadcasters, including cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and the commercial networks’ news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC rely on retired military officers to explain to their viewers what is happening in Iraq. Cushman acknowledges the “deep perspective” that the retired officers bring to the war coverage, particularly those who led the same units now on the ground, or at least “commanded, trained, or shared barracks and beers with the current commanders.” Retired Marine General Gregory Newbold recently told an ABC News audience, “If things haven’t gone exactly according to script, they’ve gone according to plan.” Newbold helped draw up the plans for the invasion as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Questions Raised - How much do the military analysts actually know? Cushman asks, and are they giving out more information than they should? Many of the analysts receive what Cushman calls “occasional briefings from the Pentagon” (he is apparently unaware of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation involving these selfsame analysts—see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and garner much of their information from public sources and from their friends and former colleagues in the military. Cushman goes on to observe that almost all of the analysts have “evident sympathies with the current commanders”; between those sympathies and their “immersion in [military] doctrines,” their objectivity is in doubt—or as Cushman delicately phrases it, their experience and bias “sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.” After conducting “a detailed review of their recent remarks,” Cushman says that it is a rarity when an analyst criticizes the conduct of the war. “Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.” One sharp exception is from retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, who recently questioned whether the military had committed enough troops on the ground. More typical is recent remarks by retired Army General Wayne Downing, a commander in the 1991 Gulf War. Downing lavished praise on the invasion’s supreme commander, General Tommy Franks. Cushman notes that Downing “rattl[ed] off the story of his old comrade’s career as if by rote.”
Technical Details Vs. Analysis - The retired officers do “reasonably well” in explaining what Cushman calls “the nuts and bolts of an operation, the technical details of weapons, the decisions facing American and British commanders.” Their speculations about what the Iraqis might be doing and thinking are more problematic. One analyst, retired Marine General Bernard Trainor, almost seemed to invite chemical or biological retaliation from the Iraqis when he told an MSNBC audience: “If he moves, we kill him; if he stays put, we kill him. And regardless of what they’re told to do over the network, whatever is left of the command and control, unless it comes down to using chemical weapons, then the rest of it is just ancillary. If this is going to be the communication of red telephone, if you will, to tell people to launch chemical weapons—and we’re reaching that point in the operation—if they’re going to use their stuff, they’d better start thinking about it, because pretty soon we’re in downtown Baghdad.” Clark, considered the most polished and urbane of the analysts, takes a different tack, and notes repeatedly that the analysts are careful not to give away details of current operations and thus endanger American troops. All of the analysts, Cushman writes, “emphasize the gravity of what the military is up to in Iraq.” As Clark told an audience, “It’s not entertainment.” [New York Times, 3/25/2003]

Entity Tags: MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CBS News, Bernard Trainor, ABC News, Gregory Newbold, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas Franks, US Department of Defense, Wayne Downing, Wesley Clark, NBC, New York Times, John Cushman, Jr

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits that the US has committed “thousands” of “tactical errors in Iraq,” but made “the right strategic decision” to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. “This could have gone that way, or that could have gone this way,” she says of the war and the subsequent occupation. “I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration,” she says. “I know we’ve made tactical errors—thousands of them, I’m sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions. I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam [Hussein] had been a threat to the international community long enough.”
Retired General 'Outraged' - Retired General Greg Newbold calls Rice’s statement “an outrage,” and says, “It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting” (see April 9, 2006). [BBC, 3/31/2006; CNN, 4/1/2006]
Rice Backpedals - When asked to give specific examples of those “tactical mistakes,” Rice backpedals, saying: “First of all, I meant it figuratively, not literally. Let me be very clear about that. I wasn’t sitting around counting.… The point I was making… is that, of course, if you’ve ever made decisions, you’ve undoubtedly made mistakes. The important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right, and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy is the right decision.… The other point I was making to the questioner is that I’m enough of a historian to know that things that looked brilliant at the moment turn out in historical perspective to be mistakes, and the things that look like mistakes turn out to have been right decisions.” [CNN, 4/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Gregory Newbold, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, until October 2002 the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is another in a small but vocal group of current and retired generals voicing public dissent against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Newbold writes an op-ed for Time magazine, and leads off by saying that after Vietnam, he and other career military officers determined never again to “stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.” But, Newbold writes, it happened again. He takes responsibility for his own actions in planning for the invasion of Iraq, but notes that “[i]nside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots’ rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda.” Newbold retired from the military in late 2002, “in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I’ve been silent long enough.” The cost of the Bush administration’s “flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood,” he writes, and that blood debt drives him to speak out.
A Justifiable War - Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, Newbold says, to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And though invading Iraq was unnecessary and wrong, he says, the US cannot now just withdraw precipitously: “It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists’ message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.”
Outrage - Newbold writes of his deep anger at the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently said that “we” made the “right strategic decisions,” but made thousands of “tactical errors” (see March 31-April 1, 2006). Newbold calls that statement “an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.” Instead, he writes: “What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.… My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.” Many of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking generals bear their own blame, Newbold writes, in “act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military’s effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction.” Some few actually believed the rationale for war, others were intimidated, and many believed that their sense of duty and obedience precluded their speaking out. “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.” Many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, “defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight.” Many media reporters, editors, and pundits ignored the warnings and instead played up the rationale for war.
New Visions, New Strategies - The first thing to do, says Newbold, is to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with “many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” The US owes their troops, living and dead, a debt of gratitude and the responsibility to “construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it.” More generals and others in positions of leadership need to speak out, Newbold concludes, and make sure that we as a nation are not “fooled again.” [Time, 4/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Gregory Newbold, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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