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Profile: Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) coordinates its effort with the Bush administration to sell America’s airlines and hotel chains to consumers after the 9/11 attacks (see September 27, 2001). According to the TIA, “Travel was also linked to patriotic duty with expressions, such as ‘A return to travel is normal. Restoring travel is restoring our country’s economy.’” President Bush, apparently unaware that sitting presidents do not normally appear in industry ad campaigns, appears in “public service” ads created by TIA. The ads are part of a $20 million advertising campaign steered by, among others, J. W. “Bill” Marriott of Marriott International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains. Marriott personally solicited Bush’s participation in the television advertisements, which run throughout the US and in a number of foreign countries for four weeks. According to TIA polls, the Bush ad campaign reaches 70 percent of Americans, and most understand it as an appeal to travel and spend money. In 2008, author and public policy professor Alasdair Reynolds will write, “Many Americans appreciated that there was something strangely out of kilter about the president’s prominent role in boosting consumption in a moment of crisis.” [Association of Travel Marketing Executives, 2002; Roberts, 2008, pp. 90]

Entity Tags: Marriott International, Alasdair Roberts, Bush administration (43), Travel Industry Association of America, George W. Bush, J. W. (“Bill”) Marriott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Global Economic Crises

Military planners in the US’s Central Command (CENTCOM) finalize their plans for invading Iraq. “[T]he end state for this operation is regime change [with] an acceptable provisional/permanent government in place,” the plans read. However, the plans do not tell how the goal of an acceptable, permanent government will be achieved. They do not even address what US troops should do once they reach Baghdad. Public policy professor Alasdair Roberts will later write that there are what he will call two main reasons for “CENTCOM’s neglect.” One, “occupation and reconstruction [are] not a core function for the military” (see May 14, 2004). The military has no real component for performing such tasks, and most military commanders have little interest in the subject, Roberts will write. Two, other government agencies, most notably the State Department, have responsibility for this subject. CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks tells subordinates that once Saddam Hussein is overthrown, the State Department will take the lead in directing the occupation and reconstruction. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 125]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Alasdair Roberts, US Central Command, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dismayed at the lack of post-invasion planning in the Defense Department (see August 2002), the Joint Chiefs of Staff advance their own proposal for a military command to govern Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists on a split between military and civilian functions; he places Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith in charge of planning for the civilian administration. Feith, whom CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks calls “the dumbest f_cking guy on the planet,” is an academic with no experience at administration on such a level, and will be roundly excoriated for his incompetence in handling the assignment. Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write that beyond Feith’s lack of competence is a bureaucratic failure: the Pentagon “was simply reaching beyond its abilities.” A RAND report will later find the Defense Department “lacked experience, expertise, funding authority, local knowledge, and established contacts with other potential civilian organizations” to do the task it had set for itself. Roberts will write that the Pentagon will substitute improvisation for meticulous planning (see January 2003). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Alasdair Roberts, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas Franks, RAND Corporation

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln.Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush, wearing a custom-made flight suit, is ferried in a Navy S-3B Viking jet to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln anchored off the coast of San Diego, where he declares the cessation of major combat operations in Iraq. A banner unfurled behind the president reads, “Mission Accomplished.” [CNN, 5/2/2003] Bush begins his speech by saying: “Officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] Bush praises a military victory “carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.” He celebrates “the images of fallen soldiers” and “the images of celebrating Iraqis” (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003), and continues, “[T]he battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the eleventh, 2001, and still goes on.” The invasion “removed an ally of al-Qaeda,” he asserts. Because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Bush says, “no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.” Bush gives his listeners a dose of belligerence: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 90]
Perfectly Staged - The presentation itself is a triumph of stage-managed spectacle. The Lincoln, only 39 miles offshore, is held out at sea for an additional 24 hours, forcing the crew to wait another day to see their families after their lengthy sea tour. The carrier shifts position several times to ensure that the television cameras only film expanses of ocean as backdrop for Bush, and not the Southern California skyline. Bush’s handlers decide not to have the president fly in by helicopter—standard procedure for such a visit—but instead opt for a far more dramatic flight in a fighter jet making a high-speed tailhook landing. The jet is renamed “Navy One” and Bush is designated co-pilot. [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] The Secret Service balks at allowing Bush to fly in “one of the sexier fighter jets,” but eventually relents enough to allow Bush to “pilot” a four-seat S-3B Viking (specially dubbed “Navy One” and with the legend “George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief” stenciled on the cockpit). [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] The crew wears uniforms color-coordinated with the banner and other props the White House public relations staff have deployed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] Bush makes a dramatic exit from the fighter jet wearing, not civilian clothes, but a flight suit. As he greets the crew, he shouts in response to a reporter’s question: “Yes, I flew it! Of course I liked it!” The idea that Bush, whose time in fighter planes was strictly limited and 30 years out of date, would have been allowed to fly a state-of-the-art fighter jet without training or certification is absurd on its face, but by and large the press swallows Bush’s claim without question. Three hours later, Bush emerges from below decks, this time wearing a business suit. His entrance is timed to coincide with the California sunset, called by Hollywood cinematographers the “magic hour” for the lovely, glowing low light it bathes upon its subject. The huge “Misson Accomplished” banner, produced by Bush public relations staffers and designed to match other event banners and graphics, stretches high above Bush’s head. (One of the chief producers of the event, former ABC producer Scott Sforza, had boarded the Lincoln days before to ensure that production values were met. Sforza made sure that the banner would be visible to the cameras during Bush’s speech—see Before May 1, 2003.) [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305]
Iraqi Captives No Longer POWs - US military officials will subsequently say that the event means captives being held in Iraq will no longer be treated as prisoners of war under the third article of the Geneva Conventions, but instead as civilians being held by an occupying power under the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions—which allows long-term detentions for prisoners deemed a threat to governing authorities. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] White House aides tell reporters that Bush will not officially declare the war “over” because, under the Geneva Conventions, that would require the US to release some 6,000 prisoners of war taken during and after the invasion. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90]
'Hubris, Arrogance, and Cowboy Swagger' - Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write: “President Bush attempted to clothe himself in the garb of the military with the hope of drawing on the esteem with which it was regarded. He did this figuratively—and also literally when… he landed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.… This was taken as hubris, arrogance, and cowboy swagger. But it is more accurately regarded as a sign of weakness. The heads of other developed democracies do not feel the need to meet the media in military garb. This was evidence of the president’s inability to command authority on his own account.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 21] Some have a different opinion (see May 1-4, 2003 and May 7, 2003). Immediately after the event, Fox pundit Morton Kondracke says, “This was fantastic theater.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 89]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, US Department of the Navy, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Morton Kondracke, Scott Sforza, Bush administration (43), Alasdair Roberts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA - see April 17, 2003 and After and January 2003) notes in an internal report that while it lacks an accurate personnel count, it “believe[s] it had a total of 1,196 workers” in Baghdad, about half the authorized number. The Pentagon made up the shortfall by turning to the White House Liaison Office to recruit workers. The Liaison Office normally vets political appointees, and is staffed by right-wing ideologues with little practical experience outside Washington. As a result, the Liaison Office has sent hundreds of recruits to Baghdad who, in the phrasing of the CPA Inspector General, have “inconsistent skill sets.” Author and public policy professor Alasdair Roberts later notes that what the recruits lack in experience, ability, and qualifications, they make up in dogmatic adherence to right-wing ideology. One telling example is the group of CPA workers who manage the multi-billion dollar budget for the Iraqi government. Few, if any, have ever been to the Middle East, nor do any of them speak any of the region’s languages. None have any experience handling budgets of any real size. They are a group of recent college graduates, all in their twenties, who had submitted resumes for unrelated, lower-level jobs through the conservative Heritage Foundation. Roberts later writes, “The inexperience and partisanship of many CPA workers encouraged them to seize the moment and pursue reforms that were unneeded or impractical,” implementing what Roberts calls a “radical reconstruction of Iraqi society” based on neoconservative and fundamentalist dogma, with no understanding of, or concern for, Iraqi society. Many of the proposed reforms are later shelved as unworkable and dangerously provocative; one plan, to privatize Iraq’s state-run enterprises, is set aside for fear that it would lead to “popular unrest.” Most of the staff spend little time in Iraq before returning home; one CPA adviser calls them “90-day wonders getting their tickets punched that said, ‘I’ve been in Baghdad.’” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 127-128]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Alasdair Roberts, White House Liaison Office, Heritage Foundation, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Alasdair Roberts.Alasdair Roberts. [Source: Sunshine Week (.org)]Alasdair Roberts, a public administration professor and author of The Collapse of Fortress Bush, writes of what he views as the abject failure of the US government to plan and coordinate both the “war on terror” and the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Roberts writes that since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has consistently failed to plan for, and to deal with, consequences and ramifications of their actions. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-133]
Military Response to 9/11 Questioned - Roberts contends that the Bush administration’s military response to the 9/11 attacks was not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, possible response. In August 2006, a Washington Post op-ed observed that “[i]t was only natural that the military would take the lead in fighting terrorism after September 11.” Roberts writes that “this simple sentence [is] fraught with assumptions about the dynamics of post-millenial American government. Why is it ‘only natural’ that terrorism is a problem that should be handled only by the military? Other countries have dealt with decades-long terrorist threats and framed the problem in different ways,” with some approaching it as a law-enforcement problem, others from an intelligence perspective, and others by addressing internal security concerns. Few threaten to “take battle to the enemy,” as the Bush administration has done, for the obvious reason that they lack the ability to do so. Roberts posits that had al-Qaeda attacked Sydney in 2001, Australia would not have invaded Afghanistan. The Bush administration seized on a military response to the attacks almost immediately (see September 15, 2001), with the support of most Americans. “Impatience permeated its official statements,” Roberts writes of the administration. This is in part because, he writes, the military is the easiest, most powerful, and least legally constrained of al the tools at the president’s disposal. The US military’s “power, autonomy, and legitimacy heighten its attractiveness as a policy instrument.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-107]
Lacking in Fundamental Rationality - Both the administration and the Pentagon executed the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, quite well, he acknowledges, but once that was done, careful, logical planning and systematic execution gave way to ineffective bureaucratic thrashing. “An awareness of capabilities and risks is one of the signposts of rationality in decision-making,” he writes. It is also largely absent in the history of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. “The administration followed the rituals of planning, Roberts notes: accounts of its behavior in Iraq are replete with strategy statements, operational plans, priority lists, and ‘megabriefs.‘… Unfortunately, much of this talk and paperwork was administrative flotsam. In reality, the Bush administration did not plan. It could articulate ambitious goals but could not marshal the administrative capacities of its agencies so that their work contributed directly to those goals. It could not induce agencies with overlapping responsibilities to collaborate. It could not anticipate curves in the road. The administration’s problem, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, was that it ‘did not have a system of national security policy decision-making that ensured careful examination of the downside of major decisions.’”
'Worn Bromides' as Major Lessons - Roberts quotes a 2005 RAND Corporation study that found, “Unity of command and broad participation are both important to the success of stabilizing and reconstriction operations… An active NSC [National Security Council] interagency process [is] necessary to ensure that the State and Defense Departments are acting off the same sheet of paper and to bring forward debate of alternate views and subsequent decision-making on important issues. Policy differences need to be explained and adjucated, if necessary by the president, as the planning process goes forward… Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced.” Roberts writes, “It is a damning comment on the quality of governance within the Bush administration that worn bromides such as these could be presented as major lessons from the invasion.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 132-133]

Entity Tags: Alasdair Roberts, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Henry A. Kissinger, RAND Corporation

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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