No Experts Need Apply

The New York Times today publishes a video letter to the editor, I think their first, from “No End in Sight” filmmaker Charles Ferguson. It addresses former CPA head Paul Bremer’s recent op-ed.

Based on many interviews with former US military leaders in Iraq and high-level State Department officials, Ferguson makes a very convincing case that the decision to disband the Iraqi army came as a huge surprise and disappointment to military and diplomatic professionals. Only the in-crowd at the Pentagon, ideologues such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, knew the decision was coming. Some interviewees even feel that we could have “nipped the insurgency in the bud” if we hadn’t disbanded the army, on the grounds that it was a well-respected, unifying institution not tarnished in the Iraqi public’s mind with its association with Saddam.

At first blush, that seems to make the “incompetence dodge” seem more plausible. After all, if we hadn’t disbanded the army, Iraq would obviously be in better shape today.

The problem with that view is that only an incompetent administration would have made the decision to invade in the first place.

The Bush administration installed ideologically correct, but ignorant and incompetent, officials at every government agency. The ideologues were always given the upper hand in policy decisions. They were empowered to skew the intelligence and try to intimidate the CIA, and they made clear that in the end, facts be damned, we were going to invade. Informed experts never got to make decisions. Policy, and warfare, were the continuation of politics by other means.

As John DiIulio put it, “they have been, for whatever reasons, organized in ways that make it hard for policy-minded staff, including colleagues (even secretaries) of cabinet agencies, to get much West Wing traction, or even get a non-trivial hearing.”

Bremer was described by a former State Department official at the time of his appointment to Iraq as a “voracious opportunist with voracious ambitions. What he knows about Iraq could not quite fill a thimble. What he knows about any part of the world would not fill a thimble. But what he knows about Washington infighting could fill three or four bushel baskets.” And the style of Washington infighting preferred by the 1990s and 2000s GOP was take-no-prisoners partisanship.

It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that Bremer regarded the Iraqi army the way that Karl Rove regarded lawyers and unions— part of “the other side,” and therefore to be eviscerated using the machinery of the state, likely policy outcome be damned.

The invasion of Iraq, like every other policy decision the administration has ever made, was conceived, developed, and implemented by partisans who prized being a “team player” over knowing anything about anything.

I supported this invasion in part because I instinctively trusted Donald Rumsfeld when he said we had “bulletproof” intelligence linking Iraq and al Qaeda, and Dick Cheney when he said that “Mr. El Baradei frankly is wrong.” I was wrong at the time, and it’s my own fault. But that is why I have such bitterness and anger for the Tenets, Wilkersons, Whitmans, and now Greenspans fleeing the sinking ship— and for the media for failing to ask or even consider tough questions.

They were in a position to let the public know that the “Rebel in Chief” was a blind man in a roomful of deaf people, stacking the government with hacks, and they didn’t do it.

And now, thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars, and an immeasurable decline in our ideals and worldwide respect later, they’re ready to try to rehabilitate their reputations.

Well, tell-all memoirs aren’t going to get the job done. Consider seppuku.

[minor edits immediately after posting]

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