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Archive for January, 2005

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

The first wish for Iraq has to be that the January election actually take place and that it be conducted in such a way as to make it clearly legitimate in the eyes of the world.  The second wish is that the election results lead to the formation of a government that avoids creating internal Iraqi instability and that is acceptable to all the Iraqis.

These wishes constitute our present exit strategy for Iraq.  This Administration, lacking any rational exit strategy at the onset of their invasion, has now gambled everything on the wildly optimistic premise that we can hold elections, see a “democratic” regime elected, get out and have democratic stability reign.  We plan to do this in a “country” that was not put together in the interest of its inhabitants in the first place and which today bears more resemblance to Yugoslavia than anyplace else.  It is not now and never was a country in our sense of the world.

The problem with these wishes is that there are so many daunting contradictions in them.  First, can we bring enough order to enough of Iraq to hold legitimate elections?  We are not going to get much help from the Iraqis we are training for the security job. They have proven themselves to be wildly unpredictable both in and out of battle.  We will have to go it alone.  Further, the actual elections will be a security nightmare. Consider the election opponents who have displayed beyond question their grisly willingness to blow up their own countrymen.  What will they do as the Iraqis queue up to vote?  That will certainly create a target-rich environment for insurgents of all stripes.

Even if we have an acceptable voting process, what possibility is there that Iraq, in its first-ever free election, will select a democratic government?   The Shia, who constitute the popular majority of about 60% in Iraq, hold the key to power.  They are numerically and probably politically capable of winning the election and then installing whatever kind of government they choose.  Is there anything going on the Middle East right now what would create optimism that after decades of ruthless and bloody domination by the Sunnis, the Shia will forgive and forget and treat the Sunnis according to the Golden Rule?  Unlikely, at best.

The Kurds are an even more complicated matter.  They have never wanted to be a minority in an Arab state.  They have always wanted to join in a Kurdish nation with their Kurdish brethren in Syria, Iran and Turkey.  For the dozen years since the first Gulf War, the Iraqi Kurds have functioned under UN and US protection as an independent state.  Prior to that, they were murdered, exiled and humiliated by Saddam and his Sunni cohorts.  They remain skeptical about the Arab Shia, as well.  They have not given up on their own Kurdistan.

Viewed on the basis of their diverse histories, there seems to be no combination of Iraqis (Shia, Sunni, Kurd), which would be likely to bring representative democracy to Iraq.   Quite the opposite, virtually every conceivable combination is likely to bring some sort of conflict.  This is not a new judgment.  It has always been true.

The Sunnis, used to wielding power, will not give it up willingly to a group of Shia, who are three times as large and whom they have historically mistreated and suppressed.  Hence their current insurgency.  Nor will they abdicate to the Kurds whom they murdered and humiliated for decades.  Any real internal peace will require some accommodations to the Sunnis.

There is nothing in a new Iraq to attract the minority Kurds, however democratic it might seem.  They want their city of Mosul, from which they were ejected and which was then occupied by Sunnis sent by Saddam, as well as their own country and the oil that goes with it.

The Shia, for their part, given their numerical superiority simply have to sit back and wait.  They are the only group in Iraq which wholeheartedly supports January elections and their numbers tell you why.  They will win.  The big question is what will happen when the Shia win.  A cursory look at the real estate argues strongly that such a result would seriously jeopardize stability in Iraq.  The Sunnis would feel threatened and defensive.  They would not want a new constitution which would codify Shia power.  The Kurds would be no more likely to want it.

We really are facing a Hobson’s choice here, simply because no one in the Administration listened to the experts who said from the start this invasion was a bad idea.  Having gotten to this point, there seem to be no good choices available to us primarily because democracy in Iraq appears to be the oxymoron of the moment.  All we can hope is that Iraq avoids internal conflict and disintegrates relatively peacefully into its component parts, perhaps in a federation. Even that seems unlikely if not impossible.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Beirut and Tehran and as Chief of Counterterrorism.

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Dubious Purge at the CIA

[Originally published in the Washington Post.]

Porter Goss, the new CIA Director (DCI) and a devoted political ally of President Bush, has brought with him to Langley a Praetorian guard of hatchet men from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  Against the backdrop of his hands-off management style, they are running wild.  They are said to be thoughtless, brusque, rude and intimidating.  What clearly is true is that they have come to shake the place up.

Whatever is going on, it is at the behest of the White House and probably does not involve faulty intelligence on WMD, but rather on the conduct of the Iraq war and its aftermath.  In that context, the Administration’s wrath seems directed primarily toward the Clandestine Service (CS), that component of the Agency that recruits and handles spies, not the component that publishes intelligence estimates.  Since Goss’ arrival in Langley, much of the senior management of the CS has been fired or has quit, reportedly to be replaced with more compliant officials.

David Brooks of the New York Times wrote in a scurrilous, vituperative column in mid-November that we were viewing a death struggle between the White House and the CIA.  He opined that the CIA had been trying to contribute to the President’s defeat in the election by systematically leaking classified material designed to bolster the idea that the Iraq policy was ill conceived and going badly.  Incidentally, it would now appear that idea was absolutely correct.

It appears that CIA, both the CS and the Intelligence Directorate, had been leaking a wide variety of secrets.  They could and should have been prosecuted for the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.  They were not.  Instead, it would appear that the Administration has found a welcome excuse for the collective punishment of the CIA.

Given the way the Bush White House has handled intelligence during the last three years, it makes sense that they are angry at the Clandestine Service.   CS officers are often required to give their opinions about policies in advance of their implementation.  It is unlikely that any CS officer, having spent a career in the Middle East, would see our current policy there as unflawed.  The White House probably sees the CS as a nest of enemies.  Consider the alternate possibility that they really are professionals who would like to save their country from the further embarrassment and potential difficulties of a truly flawed and dangerous Iraq policy.

Once a year, every CIA Station Chief writes a message to the DCI giving his or her analysis of how things are going in the country to which they are assigned.  These analyses are totally straghtforward and normally show extraordinary understanding of local, on-the-ground-realities.  They contain the kind of candor, which, if they were to get unvarnished to a Bush White House or to the press (as the most recent one from Baghdad recently did), it would likely infuriate this Administration.

After all, this is the President who will not acknowledge any shortcomings in either his policy or its outcomes in Iraq.  Given his dogged adherence to the righteousness of that policy, it makes sense that the President would be angry with the CS.  It seems quite possible that the CS is being punished for having been right, or at least unsupportive of Administration policy.

Would any President in touch with God want a CIA that told him that what he wanted to do was wrong? The Agency’s statutory responsibility is to speak the truth whether the truth supports the President’s plans or not.   It would appear that this concept is not shared by this Administration.

Porter Goss and his troops from the Hill are wreaking havoc on the best current line of defense we have against terrorism.  However angry this Administration is with the CS, whose officers run Human Intelligence operations, those operations are the last best hope we have to keep up with the terrorist problem.

But then, the White House is angry with the CS, presumably because of their position on Iraq, and the Bush Administration has always had trouble clearly separating Iraq from our real problems with Al Qaeda and its allies.   Purging the CIA at this unfortunate, badly timed moment when we need to be dealing with real issues of terrorism is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as Chief of the Agency’s Counterterrorism Staff.

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