Truth, War and Consequences
As the Bush administration faces continuing questions about its failure to secure peace in Iraq, FRONTLINE∆ kicks off its new fall season with an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at what some government officials say is the underlying cause of America's current problems in Iraq: the pre-war political infighting among the Pentagon, State Department, and White House that hampered U.S. efforts to plan for an orderly, post-war transition.
Did America rush into a war for which it was unprepared? Could the current volatility in Iraq have been prevented? And was the White House's rationale for war based on faulty and exaggerated intelligence reports?
In "Truth, War and Consequences," airing Thursday, October 9, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE takes viewers behind the scenes of a fierce internal debate between the State Department and the Pentagon over the shape of Iraq after the war. It was a debate, some officials and observers say, that bogged down America's pre-war planning and distracted officials from the crucial business of preparing for post-war reconstruction.
"Because the government failed to work effectively together, much of the post-war planning was botched," FRONTLINE producer and correspondent Martin Smith says. "Now, the architects of the war are scrambling to address a largely unforeseen crisis and to design a politically and militarily safe exit strategy."
The 90-minute documentary features interviews with key government advisors and military leaders who admit to being unprepared for the lawlessness and devastation--both physical and economic--that greeted them upon their arrival in Baghdad.
Retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, for example, recalls arriving in Baghdad to find that seventeen of Baghdad's 23 ministry buildings--buildings he had planned to use in U.S. reconstruction efforts--had been "deconstructed," stripped bare even of their wiring, plumbing, and insulation.
"I knew there would be looting," says Garner, the first American administrator to oversee the Iraqi reconstruction. "But I didn't think the looting would have the impact it would have [on reconstruction efforts]."
But Garner and other U.S. officials shouldn't have been caught off guard, Robert Perito says. A former deputy executive secretary at the National Security Council and advisor to the Department of Justice, Perito had long studied the post-war problems that arose in such places as Bosnia and Kosovo and was well acquainted with the crime and chaos that was likely to occur in post-Saddam Iraq.
Perito tells FRONTLINE that his efforts to assist Garner and U.S. officials in their post-war planning were largely rebuffed. "We had meetings with people on Garner's staff and people in the administration," he says. "Their basic approach was that they couldn't really foresee what was needed, so they were going to wait until they got there, and then they were going to make recommendations.
"We could have been ready," Perito continues. "U.S. military forces that were there, on the scene, stood by and watched. Why? Because they had no instructions to intervene."
The United States did eventually step in to stop the looting and violence, officials say. But the sudden crackdown by soldiers more accustomed to combat than crowd control produced even more problems. "Truth, War and Consequences" includes footage shot in Iraq of U.S. soldiers mistakenly firing upon--and in some instances killing--unarmed Iraqi civilians, as well as interviews with angry Iraqis who report numerous other such incidents.
"There's a major difference between military and police," Perito says. "Soldiers are trained to deal with soldiers. They are trained to deal with opposition armies. They're not trained to deal with civilians."
The failure to adequately prepare for Iraq's post-war reconstruction is even more frustrating, observers say, given that the State Department convened more than 240 Iraqi exiles to study Iraq's reconstruction beginning in Spring 2002--nearly a full year before the first U.S. troops entered Iraq. The Future of Iraq Project, as it was known, was charged with developing strategies for rebuilding Iraq after a war.
"This was a real effort to be there on the ground the day after and ready to go with some people designated already who could come in as Iraqis...and ensure the continuation of a governing structure," says Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
But the growing rancor between Pentagon and State Department officials would prevent the work done by the State Department's Future of Iraq Project from bearing fruit, insiders say. In "Truth, War and Consequences," General Garner tells FRONTLINE that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld instructed him to effectively shelve the work done by The Future of Iraq Project.
"I think that it was a mistake," Garner says, "that we didn't use that."
FRONTLINE has asked the Bush administration for a response to this charge.
Government advisors also tell FRONTLINE that the divisive administration debate over Iraq's future centered on the desire by some White House and Pentagon officials to back the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella organization of Iraqi exiles headed by Ahmed Chalabi.
Chalabi's previous failed efforts to mount a coup d'etat against Saddam Hussein had soured Clinton-era State Department and CIA officials on the Iraqi exile. In "Truth, War and Consequences," however, Chalabi emerges as a key figure not only in the Bush administration's post-war planning efforts, but also its attempts to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Government advisors and other key figures tell FRONTLINE it was Chalabi and his INC cohorts who fed intelligence linking Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda to a special intelligence office at the Pentagon established shortly after September 11.
"Ahmed Chalabi convinced people in the media and in the U.S. government that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States," says David Phillips, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who was a consultant to The Future of Iraq Project. "A lot of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction came from people identified by the Iraqi National Congress. That was part of [Chalabi's] strategy for encouraging the U.S. government to get engaged militarily." Chalabi makes no apologies for his efforts.
The problem, some State Department officials say, is that the information Chalabi was providing was not only suspect, but in some cases had already been discredited by U.S. intelligence agencies. In "Truth, War and Consequences," a recently retired intelligence official tells FRONTLINE that several key charges the Bush administration used to make its case for war with Iraq had been disproven or discounted by U.S. intelligence analysts long before they found their way into the president's speeches.
"Instead of our leadership forming conclusions based on a careful reading of the intelligence we provided them, they already had a conclusion to start out with, and they were cherry picking the information we provided to use whatever pieces of it that fit their overall interpretation," says Greg Thielmann, a former intelligence analyst at the State Department. "Worse than that, they were dropping qualifiers and distorting some of the information we provided to make it seem more alarmist and dangerous."
Chalabi's role in feeding suspect intelligence to the Pentagon only widened the growing rift with the State Department and intelligence agencies, insiders say, causing a logjam that effectively halted any meaningful post-war planning efforts.
"The U.S. government turned into two camps," says Nabil Musawi of the Iraqi National Congress. "One of them [was] just totally opposed to Chalabi and the other was so pro-Chalabi the problem we began to face was that everybody almost forgot about Iraq and the main focus became Chalabi."
It's a charge that former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle does not dispute. "There's been a debilitating and I think wasteful and damaging quarrel [regarding] Ahmed Chalabi," says Perle, a top Pentagon advisor and one of the Iraqi exile's staunchest supporters. "He is far and away the most effective individual that we could have hoped would emerge in Iraq."
In "Truth, War and Consequences," Chalabi is questioned about the intelligence he provided U.S. officials regarding links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. After first insisting that he had "very strong evidence" in the form of documents proving such a link, Chalabi hesitates when asked to produce the documents for FRONTLINE.
"Well, I've seen it," he says, "but I do not have it in my possession."
Despite months of repeated requests from FRONTLINE, Ahmed Chalabi never showed FRONTLINE the alleged documents. He now says he has the documents, but can't find them.
Chalabi will concede, however, that some Americans "probably" feel the United States was suckered into a war with Iraq under the false pretenses of disarming Saddam of weapons of mass destruction. When asked if he feels any unease or discomfort at that fact, however, Chalabi replies, "No...we are in Baghdad now."
Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya also says that while he did believe that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States, the primary rationale for war shouldn't have been weapons of mass destruction. To the INC, Makiya says, the war had a far grander purpose--one that more than justifies their efforts to convince the United States to take on Saddam.
"We're talking about beginning something in Iraq which eventually changes the perception of the United States in that part of the world...an alternative to autocracies," Makiya says. "This is a historic change. Nothing like this has ever been tried before....There are no guarantees."
"Truth, War and Consequences" is a FRONTLINE co-production with RAINmedia, Inc. The producers are Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria. The film was written and reported by Martin Smith.
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FRONTLINE XXII/October 2003
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