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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Pentagon in the Papers

There are a couple of DoD-related stories in today's paper that are worth noting.

The first is about a speech Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave to the Council on Foreign Relations. This passage, apparently from the Q&A, has been widely quoted:
On possible connections between al Qaeda and the former government of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld said he had "not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."
However, hours later, Rumsfeld claimed that he had been "misunderstood" and that the CIA has long thought there were some links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. He pointed out that he has long repeated such claims.

Was Rumsfeld, who has a reputation for frankness, caught in a moment of unusual candor at the CFR? After all, CFR remarks are frequently off-the-record (and not-for-attribution). Since the Pentagon released the speech and the followup clarification, that standard practice obviously didn't apply in this case. Perhaps Rumsfeld thought the Q&A would be off-the-record?

Why would he say one thing and then renounce it hours later? Isn't that a mixed message?

The other story receiving attention concerns some conference speeches Paul Bremer has given lately. Bremer, of course, is the former administrator of the American occupation in Iraq. Though he apparently thought his latest remarks were off the record, conference organizers distributed them in a press release:
"We paid a big price for not stopping it [the initial Iraqi looting] because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said yesterday in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

..."There was planning, but planning for a situation that didn't arise," he said.
Apparently, Bremer said something similar in a speech on September 17:
Bremer said he frequently raised the issue [troop levels] within the administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was spurned because the situation in Iraq might be different today. "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.
Bremer too issued a clarification within hours of this story hitting the wire services:
"I believe that we currently have sufficient troop levels in Iraq," he said in an e-mailed statement. He said all references in recent speeches to troop levels related to the situation when he arrived in Baghdad in May 2003 -- "and when I believed we needed either more coalition troops or Iraqi security forces to address the looting."
Though Bremer says his support for the war hasn't wavered, this is essentially the critique Kerry offered last Thursday in the debate when he made reference to the pre-war troop assessments of Army chief-of-staff General Eric K. Shinseki.

The President said that such criticism, combined with the October vote, sends a mixed message to American troops, allies, and terrorists.

Bremer's words prove however, that it is possible to have supported the ouster of Saddam Hussein and still criticize both the way the war has been fought and the utter failure of post-war planning.

Kerry did not support the war on March 19, 2003, and has gone further with his criticisms of the situation on the ground, but the basic premise is the same.

If taken to its logical conclusion, Bush's point about mixed messages would stifle dissent and preclude the possibility of fixing bad policy on-the-ground as the situation changes.

Update: I fixed 2 minor errors (thanks for noting one, Avery).

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