Thursday, October 05, 2006
Blogging Woodward (8)
Who messed up reconstruction in Iraq? It's a (half) trillion dollar question. Woodward is plainly tempted to blame former Defense policy chief Douglas Feith: After all, that's who most of Woodward's friends and sources blame. Sure enough, Woodward does relate many unpleasant remarks about Feith. (We'll get to them.) On the other hand, most of those remarks originate with people fairly obviously motivated by a desire to shift any possible blame away from themselves. (That's you we're talking about, General Franks!)
And then there is this problem: Even if every single thing said against Feith were true, the fact remains: He had a boss (Paul Wolfowitz), who had a boss (Donald Rumsfeld), who had a boss (the president of the United States). If Feith were screwing up so badly, should not one of them have intervened to redress the situation? That question flits intermittently and inconclusively through Woodward's mind.
Rather than address it, we get question-begging anecdotes like this one, on pp. 91-92, purportedly describing a meeting that occurred in September 2002:
Rumsfeld said that Defense was better set up to run postwar Iraq than the State Department, and he believed that Defense should and would be put in charge.
Feith agreed and said he wanted his policy operation to lead the postwar effort. ...
"Boss," did you just hear what I think I heard?" [Franks aide Maj. Gen. Victor] Renuart said to Franks as they left the meeting.
"What do you think you heard?" Franks inquired.
"Well," Renuart ... said, "It sounds to me like OSD Policy" - Feith's office - has responsibility for planning post-conflict and our responsibility is security. And we don't own the reconstruction stuff."
"That's the way I look at it too," the Central Command commander said.
"I think we just dodged a big bullet," Renuart said.
"Well you may be right,"Franks said. "I've got my marching orders. The secretary wants us to focus on security."
Feith and his deputies began drafting policy guidance, establishing working groups, and creating specific cells to examine issues such as energy, stability and sovereignty. Rumsfeld agreed to create a new office specifically for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.
"You're going to be responsible for this," Feith said to Rumsfeld. "Let's get the office created."
"Yes," Rumsfeld agreed, "let's get the office created." Then he said no, then yes, then no again. They discussed it repeatedly. Feith spoke to [Deputy National Security Adviser Steve] Hadley, who explained that a diplomatic settlement with Saddam was still an option, so they didn't want to create a postwar office."
Murky, right? But here's one thing that was crystal clear: General Franks was the man charged with ensuring the security of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war. Preventing looting and disorder was his job. He didn't do it. Whatever mistakes anybody else made, that fundamental one was his and his solo.
Two months later (December 2002 - p. 104), one of Rumsfeld's most trusted associates comes to him to complain that the planning for postwar Iraq was disintegrating into "shouting matches" between Feith's office and his counterparts at State.
Woodward's description of what happened next:
Rumsfeld ... called one of his surprise Saturday meetings with Feith and others involved.
"What's going on here?" he asked. "We've got to get this on track."
Likewise by early 2003 (p. 109), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was becoming aware that postwar planning was not progressing well.
Get it done any way, Rice ordered regularly. "Fix it."
Woodward characters are always saying things like "We've got to get this on track" and "Fix it." Bold, decisive - and Woodward loves reporting this boldness and decisiveness. But when things don't get back on track, when they don't get fixed, the question, "why not?" does not long or deeply interest our chronicler. It is a remarkable fact, but America's most famous living reporter on politics and government is not really very seriously interested in either politics or government.
10/05 11:52 PM