Iraq War: Some Bad Planning, But No Evil Conspiracy

Enough already. Just for the record, despite what the rabid conspiracy theorists may believe, Iraq didn’t happen because the current administration plotted in some secret evil lair to screw us all and go to war just because they wanted to and had some time on their hands.

Sorry if that’s what you believe. But it was a little more complicated and not as nefarious as all that.

The subject of the war in Iraq seems to have the ability to turn otherwise intelligent, seemingly well-balanced and thoughtful individuals into babbling morons who are convinced that our leaders of the present moment conspired to take down the murderous, despotic and brutal regime of Sadaam Hussein (terms used by Iraqis of all stripes to describe the Sadaam years) for no good reason other than a desire to lie to the American public, deceive our elected officials on both sides of the aisle and fly in the face of our allies (who for some unknown reason also bought into the idea that Hussein was a danger that had to be dealt with).

Okeedokee… let’s review.

Was the intelligence flawed, imperfect or otherwise deficient? Uhh, yes.

Is the world of intelligence, particularly when attempting to gather information on a hostile regime or a terrorist organization ever perfect, clear cut or simply black and white? Hmm. No.

Next question… were decisions made regarding the occupation and reconstruction that in hindsight are flawed, imperfect or otherwise deficient? That too would be a yes.

Are military operations, particularly on this scale, prone to following a set pre-op plan? Well, usually, once the whistle blows, the game starts changing in ways which, unfortunately, you can’t always foresee.

There have been lots of armchair quarterbacks blowing a lot of smoke up the collective rear end of America regarding how they “predicted” what was going to happen and how they “knew” this was a serious mistake. Here’s a statement of the obvious; The decision to remove Sadaam was a calculated risk with no guarantee as to the outcome. Predicting that it could be ugly and not likely to run according to plan was not really an epiphany.

Now, here’s the part that fascinates a pseudo-deep thinker such as myself. Looking back from the comfort of our recliners, we can all agree that the intelligence leading up to the war was lacking. We can also agree that there have been actions and decisions made since then that have not given us the desired results.

At this point, the camp starts to split… some people look at the above and decide with amazing surety that, “… don’t you see... Iraq is simply a result of the evil-doers in the current administration who one day gathered around the cauldron and decided to create an intricate web of lies and go to war… and they made up lots of crap and laughed at us all as we bought into their cleverly crafted pile of lies and my God, Dick Cheney is actually running the world… and can’t you see their masterplan is to take away all our civil liberties… and yada, yada, yada…”.

Others look at the same situation and draw a different conclusion; reality bites sometimes and sometimes you make decisions based on imperfect information and sometimes leaders make bad decisions. I fall squarely into this camp. As alluring as it is to imagine our involvement in Iraq the result of an evil cabal within the administration, I do recall a great deal of effort expended on gathering information, liaising with our foreign allies (were they in on the cabal or did the cabal simply lie and browbeat them into submission when we were debating all this at the U.N.?), holding hearings up on the Hill, with intelligence being passed to Democrats and Republicans on the intelligence committees.

Generally, the question of should we or shouldn’t we go to war was discussed on the nightly news right up until the first missiles flew.

It can be hard to remember now, what with the nonstop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith and the angst of Britney shaving her head, but there actually was a fairly lively discussion and debate back in the day over the concept of going to war against Sadaam Hussein.

The other reason I have a hard time with the pundits, politicians and others who espouse the “we was duped” theory is this: (and I suspect anyone reading the PWB right now who has served in our government or military will back me up)… I believe I spent enough time in the government to know that a) the government can’t keep a secret, b) often the government would be hard pressed to organize panic in a doomed submarine and c) the government can’t keep a secret.

Don’t get me wrong (here comes a disclaimer), I enjoyed my time in the CIA immensely and will always remain impressed with the energy, professionalism and selflessness of the people within the Agency who work diligently and without fanfare to protect this country. So, yes I’m biased… go ahead and show me someone who’s completely objective. But having peaked behind the curtain, I know that the government, under any administration, is not able to plan, execute and, importantly, keep off the radar screen, the sort of actions ascribed to it by the “we was duped” mob.

The notion that intelligence was willfully fabricated or manipulated to satisfy the demonic urges of the then defense secretary and the vice president (apparently co-chairmen of the Lets Dupe America Evil Cabal) shows a lack of understanding as to how the intelligence community functions, how we work with our foreign allies, how the military decision-making process works, and how a cabal never, ever, operates under a co-chairmen leadership structure.

And speaking of our foreign allies (alright, the segueway wasn’t great, but I’m sitting on an airplane and it’s cramped and the passenger next to me keeps staring at my computer screen), how about those Italians? I was going to revisit one of my favorite recent developments, and of course here I’m referring to the cold war-esque pronouncements escaping from the mouths of certain Russian military and political leaders, but Italy is too good to skip this week.

At last count, since WWII, Italy has changed governments approximately 64 times. According to my math, if we pick 1945 as a start date, that would average out to a new government every 11 months or so. Please don’t quote me on that calculation. So here’s the drill. The current, well, now the former, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, stepped down after a vote the other day that essentially ended in a vote of no confidence in his administration’s foreign policy.

The left, the communists, the socialists and the coalition that believes America is run by a small, evil cabal, disagree strongly with having Italian troops in Afghanistan and despise the idea that the Italian government, first under previous PM Silvio Berlusconi and then backed by Prodi, had agreed to allow the US Air Base in Vicenza to increase in size.

This came on the heels of a decision in Italy to prosecute 31 individuals-- 26 American intelligence and military officers, and 5 Italians (including the chief of Italian military intelligence)-- in the extraordinary rendition of a suspected terrorist, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. An Egyptian, Nasr was picked up in Milan in February, 2003 and transported to Egypt via Germany. He was released last week and his lawyer is now claiming that he was tortured while in captivity.

You may have read about the rendition program (often tied to the secret prisons story when referred to in the media and particularly in the foreign press). There has been much gnashing of teeth and foaming at the mouth in the European Union over this program.

Here’s how it theoretically works… members of the U.S. intel community, often working closely with our relevant foreign liaison partners, identify high value targets and others who could be classified as suspect terrorists based on available intelligence (see earlier paragraph explaining that intelligence is rarely flawless). We then work with our foreign liaison partners and relevant host country governments to orchestrate a scenario whereby the target is picked up and moved to a location in another country where he can be detained and debriefed, interviewed or interrogated, depending on your frame of reference.

The naïve who walk among us here in the U.S. and overseas believe that the CIA does all this on its own. The reality is that we coordinate and depend heavily on our foreign partners for assistance in this and many other aspects of the war on terror. But the EU countries are following an age-old rule… we’ll help out the effort but we’ll deny any knowledge if push comes to shove. It’s irritating but politically expedient.

There are well meaning people here in the U.S. and overseas who condemn the practice of rendition… I’m not sure what their suggested alternatives would be. I suppose we could identify the targets and then serve them with subpoenas. We could then coordinate calendars to find a convenient time when we could sit down over a frappe and run through a list of lawyer approved questions.

“Is Thursday good for you Khaled Sheik Mohammed? Say, lunchtime? Great, see you then. We really, really appreciate your cooperation.”

Now let’s all hold hands and sing We Are The World.

Finally, a segment of the PWB we like to call “What’s Keeping You Up at Night?”:

First up, General Nikolai Y. Solovtsov, the commander of Russia’s missile forces. Reacting to a long discussed plan within NATO (and previously briefed to the Russians) to deploy ballistic missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland, the good General (possibly played by Sean Connery in a future movie), blustered “… If the government of Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries make this decision, the strategic missile troops (of Russia) will be able to have those facilities as targets.”

Say what? This isn’t about whose missile is bigger, this is about Russia being unhappy over the expansion and actions of NATO. Before they built up an amazing stash of petro dollars, Russia would have been less bellicose. Still upset, but less bellicose. Now, they feel strong enough to raise the spectre, once again, of Russian missiles being pointed at NATO countries. Let’s all calm down and realize that we and the Russians have a great deal in common and can, and should, be working closely together on numerous fronts.

Next, several blasts this week in Baghdad involving chlorine gas. Iraqi insurgents combined gas canisters with their typical car/truck bombs in an effort to wreak even more death and destruction among the Iraqi population. This combined with their recent focus on downing U.S. helicopters are two significant developments as we continue to implement the stepped up security campaign in and around Baghdad. The increased presence and effort in central Baghdad has apparently resulted in increased violence in the outlying parts of the city. This should surprise no one. American military spokesman Lt. Colonel Christopher Garver said it best; “… The enemy is adaptive. The enemy wants to win.”

Speaking of no surprise, guess who’s thumbed their nose at another UN deadline… Iranian President Ahmadinejad stated this week that he will continue with Iran’s nuclear enrichment program regardless of the UN’s deadline for the shutting down of the program.

Really? Another bellicose leader jacked up on petro dollars mooning the rest of us? Petrodollars are the steroids for the current crop of leaders fortunate enough to be sitting on oil and gas reserves. At what point do we get serious about alternative fuels?

But that's just my opinion. Let me know yours.

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Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, and appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker also serves as a script consultant and advisor within the entertainment industry, lending his technical expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," and the major motion pictures "Proof of Life" and "Spy Games."

Mike Baker is the Co-Founder of Diligence LLC, a leading global intelligence, security and risk management firm. Prior to starting Diligence, Mike spent over a decade and half with the CIA as a covert field operations officer. He is a regular contributor in the national and international media on intelligence, security, counterterrorism and political issues. He appears regularly on Fox News, as well as other major media outlets.