Back in October of 2004, L. Paul Bremer gave a speech (it was supposed to be off the record) where he said:

The former U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion said yesterday that the United States made two major mistakes: not deploying enough troops in Iraq and then not containing the violence and looting immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Those were big mistakes. But there were other bigger mistakes. As Woodward reports, Jay Garner told Donald Rumsfeld about them after he returned from Iraq (replaced by Bremer).

On June 18, 2003, Jay Garner went to see Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to report on his brief tenure in Iraq as head of the postwar planning office. Throughout the invasion and the early days of the war, Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general, had struggled just to get his team into Iraq. Two days after he arrived, Rumsfeld called to tell him that L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer, a 61-year-old terrorism expert and protege of Henry A. Kissinger, would be coming over as the presidential envoy, effectively replacing Garner.

“We’ve made three tragic decisions,” Garner told Rumsfeld at their meeting.

“Really?” Rumsfeld said.

“Three terrible mistakes,” Garner said.

He cited the first two orders Bremer signed when he arrived, the first banning as many as 50,000 members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party from government jobs and the second disbanding the Iraqi military. Now there were hundreds of thousands of disorganized, unemployed, armed Iraqis running around.

Third, Garner said, Bremer had summarily dismissed an interim Iraqi leadership group that had been eager to help the United States administer the country in the short term. “Jerry Bremer can’t be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You’ve got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people,” he said.

Garner made his final point: “There’s still time to rectify this. There’s still time to turn it around.”

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are.”

He thinks I’ve lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I’m absolutely wrong. Garner didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. “They’re all reversible,” Garner said again.

“We’re not going to go back,” Rumsfeld said emphatically.

And with that, whatever chance America ever had in Iraq was over.

There is a revisionist history school of thought about the Vietnam War that holds that we had won the war there by 1972, and simply lost the resolve to keep up the fight. Evidently, and not so surprisingly, Henry Kissinger subscribes to this minority view. Woodward reports that Kissinger has sold Bush and Cheney on this view as well. The Bush administration appears to be refighting the Vietnam war using Kissinger’s revised playbook. This time, they plan on getting it right. This time there won’t be any discussion of troop withdrawals. To even discuss them would encourage the enemy. As for the Americans:

In a meeting with presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson in early September 2005, Kissinger was more explicit: Bush needed to resist the pressure to withdraw American troops. He repeated his axiom that the only meaningful exit strategy was victory.

“The president can’t be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece,” Kissinger said. “You may want to reduce troops,” but troop reduction should not be the objective. “This is not where you put the emphasis.”

To emphasize his point, he gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Richard M. Nixon, dated Sept. 10, 1969.

“Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded,” he wrote.

The policy of “Vietnamization,” turning the fight over to the South Vietnamese military, Kissinger wrote, might increase pressure to end the war because the American public wanted a quick resolution. Troop withdrawals would only encourage the enemy. “It will become harder and harder to maintain the morale of those who remain, not to speak of their mothers.”

It’s hard to even know where to start with this madness. It seems to have never occurred to Kissinger that there were countless ways in which the U.S. Government’s dishonesty (about the reasons for our involvement in Vietnam, the conditions there, and the progress there) were instrumental in damaging the resolve of the American people and the Congress. That is the mistake they have repeated.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. There were no WMD in Iraq. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was a great military victory. But the very fact that it could be launched belied the rosy stories the government had been telling the American people. The Tet Offensive was devastating to U.S. ambitions in Vietnam only because of U.S. dishonesty. Had the American public been emotionally prepared for such a possibility, they would have seen nothing but a decimated North Vietnamese capability (which was the truth). But Kissinger, Bush, and Cheney don’t draw the proper conclusions.

And so we discover that the Pentagon deliberately defrauded Congress by issuing them a completely misleading report on Iraq.

In May, President Bush spoke in Chicago and gave a characteristically upbeat forecast: “Years from now, people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East and the forces of terror began their long retreat.”

Two days later, the intelligence division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff circulated a secret intelligence assessment to the White House that contradicted the president’s forecast.

Instead of a “long retreat,” the report predicted a more violent 2007: “Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the next year.”

A graph included in the assessment measured attacks from May 2003 to May 2006. It showed some significant dips, but the current number of attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraqi authorities was as high as it had ever been — exceeding 3,500 a month. (In July the number would be over 4,500.) The assessment also included a pessimistic report on crude oil production, the delivery of electricity and political progress.

On May 26, the Pentagon released an unclassified report to Congress, required by law, that contradicted the Joint Chiefs’ secret assessment. The public report sent to Congress said the “appeal and motivation for continued violent action will begin to wane in early 2007.”

How is Congress supposed to feel about this? Are they supposed to show increased resolve now? Naturally, GOP lockstep aside, the Congress is going to lose confidence in the mission if it is going so badly that they are not even allowed to see the assessments of the Joint Chiefs.

It isn’t the American people that are the problem. It’s the situation on the ground in Iraq. They can’t hide that situation forever. And they obviously can’t be trusted with our foreign policy, or to tell the truth to Congress or the American people.

It’s a good thing Congress used their last day before the elections to give Bush more power.

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