In this week’s The New Yorker, Steve Coll reports on declassified sections of a report on Saddam Hussein’s regime as reported by former Baathists. (Foreign Affairs has these reports posted on its website.) It ain’t pretty. For the Bush administration. First, it appears that Hussein was increasingly fragile and isolated as a result of the UN blockade and internal political pressure.

Saddam’s former generals and civilian aides…describe their old boss as a Lear-like figure, a confused despot in the enervating twilight of a ruthless career: unable to think straight, dependent upon his two lunatic and incompetent sons, and increasingly reliant on bluff and bluster to remain in power.

It also turns out that our “brilliant” victory might have had something to do with Hussein instructing his generals to not prepare for the upcoming invasion for fear that they might organize a coup.

Nor did this sham mask any plan to foil the invasion by launching a guerrilla war. There has long been speculation that the insurgency, which has so far taken more than twenty-three hundred American lives, might have been seeded in part by clandestine prewar cell formation or arms distribution. In fact, according to the study, there was no such preparation by Saddam or any of his generals, not even as the regime’s “world crumbled around it”; the insurgency was an unplanned, evolving response to the political failings and humiliation of the occupation.

Got that? Not only was Hussein apparently ready to cave under due to the stress and isolation of the prewar global effort to punish Iraq, the quagmire we’re experiencing is home-grown and in direct response to our presence. And all the worse because of Bush administration blundering.

Naturally, the only point in this report that the right has talked about is the revelation that Saddam’s own generals and advisors were unaware that Hussein didn’t have a WMD program, mainly because

Saddam could not bring himself to admit it, because he feared a loss of prestige and, in particular, that Iran might take advantage of his weakness…He did not tell even his most senior generals that he had no W.M.D. until just before the invasion. They were appalled, and some thought that he might be lying, because…the American government insisted that Iraq did have such weapons.

According to the ever-dwindling supporters of the Iraq war, if Saddam’s own government thought he had WMDs, it certainly wasn’t unreasonable for Bush to think he had them. Until, of course, you digest what the generals were telling their interrogators. They believed it because the Bush administration said so. Round and round it goes.

(Of course, most of us who opposed the war from the beginning will remember that Hans Blick, the UN weapons inspector, told us that there wasn’t any evidence of a weapons program. But that’s another post.)

But then the real kicker to the report is the result of interviews with U.S. ground troops and the officers who actually fought the war:

[U.S. officers]had almost as little faith in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield and his aides as their Iraqi counterparts had in Saddam and his sons. Indeed…American officers…are remarkable open about the war’s many errors of conception and execution….they blame the C.I.A. for repeatedly getting the battlefield intelligence wrong, and they blame Rumsfield and his pliant subordinates for sending them to occupy Iraq with a force of inadequate size. The Army and the Marines have paid an extraordinarily high price for the war’s compounding blunders, and, presumably, the officers are speaking candidly now not just to settle scores but to avoid such bungling the future.

So…the war was probably unnecessary, and was fought on the wrong premise, which was entirely manufactured by the president and his minions, and is largely a disaster because of the leadership. Bush.

So, is Bush apologizing? Does he have a plan for withdrawal? What changes are forthcoming that will solve the errors of the past?


Take it away, Mr. Coll:

As usual, transparency and self-reflection does not extend to the White House. Bush and Cheney — even with their approval ratings at historic lows and with Iraq veering towards open civil war — and their staffs still apparently find it impossible to admit error. In the week marking the third anniversary of the invasion, the Bush administration delivered a portfolio of speeches and op-ed pieces that seem even more arid and isolated than usual. (The President kept repeating his claim that he had a “strategy for victory,” but he sounded as if he were reading texts from 2004 that his staff had forgotten to clear from his desk.) At the same time, the White House reissued a national-security strategy doctrine that blandly reaffirmed Bush’s intent to “act pre-emptively,” should he see the need, as if there not a reason in the world to reconsider his assumptions.

The President and the members of his war cabinet now routinely wave at the horizon and speak about the long arc of history’s judgment — many years or decades must pass, they suggest, before the overthrow of Saddam and its impact on the Middle East can be properly evaluated. This is not only an evasion; it is bad histiography. Particularly in free societies, botched or unnecessary military invasions are almost always recognized as mistakes by the public and professional military soon after they happen, and are rarely vindicated by time. This was true of the Boer War, Suez, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it will be true of Iraq.

Most of what we here in the world of blogs do is argue and rant and vilify and praise what we see before us, the more recent and immediate the better. Our words here are temporary. These posts are fads. Splintered thoughts that will drift away like fallen leaves. And so is most of what we read in newspapers and articles. (Just the other day, I was looking through old New Yorkers and saw a dozen feature-length stories on Iraq that are mostly meaningless now.)

But as I was reading this story in the magazine, I got a sudden flash forward to seeing my own son — now two — stumbling on this remarkable two-page report somewhere after all this is over — if it ends, and that depends in no small part in booting Burns — and understanding almost fully what it was all about from reading Coll’s description. It sums up the administration’s folly, the sheer brazenness and incompetence of our president and his advisors almost perfectly.

Let’s end this war, let’s end this administration now, this summer. And we have a chance to do that, right here in Montana. Let's end it, if not to save my two-year-old from getting drafted sixteen years from now, then at least because it's the right thing to do.

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