Warner is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is arguably the best-informed member of the senate between his chairmanship and his place on the intelligence committee. Interestingly, and highlighted on the show, Warner has expressed frustration at a gap between his information and the information available to the White House.
Reflecting back on my own stance toward the invasion of Iraq (I thought it was the right thing to do at the time), I definitely feel guilty and a bit embarrassed. In retrospect, all the evidence was just too thin. After Powell's presentation at the UN, I remember thinking, "Well, he must know something he can't disclose. Colin Powell wouldn't put himself on the line for a bunch of aluminum tubing." So, I assumed the government -- especially the President and the Senate -- had superior information. Clearly, the intelligence information was completely lacking.
In fact, one big conclusion has to be that the US intelligence system, both domestically and internationally, is simply not prepared to handle the level of complexity in tracking terrorism world wide. The armed forces seem to have been completely reconstituted following Vietnam and the end of the Cold War. The information systems dedicated to battlefield monitoring and direction (example in this Time article) sound remarkably advanced -- on par what you would expect from the US as global IT leader. But from the way Warner and other supposedly well-informed leaders discuss intelligence, it basically sounds like we have no idea what is really going on anywhere in the world besides hot battlefields.
The painful twist about the Iraq war, is the President was given permission to enact war if intelligence indicated that weapons of mass destruction existed. The very declaration of war from congress was ambiguous -- when in history has there been a declaration of war that is contingent on further interpretation of intelligence information. In my view, the legislators clearly abdicated responsibility for the choice to go to war. They essentially left the decision to go to war at the President's discretion. If we were all to do it again, I wonder if it would be possible to insist on categorical proof, to authorize the military and the CIA to discover through any means available whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Instead of UN inspectors, could we have sent armed units to really investigate the situation? What would Iraq do, declare war on us? The question of how to handle our suspicions is critical, because we will have to make the same decision soon with Iran. Can we forcibly seek information? Is it feasible? War is an explicit challenge to the sovereignty of the opponent -- I see a comparable need to challenge the sovereignty of the countries we suspect are developing WMD. Call it a microwar; a war to collect the information we need to make better decisions about larger scale action. The military seems adequately prepared for such missions, and I think the public is ready to support them explicitly.
With microwars, the job of the CIA would be far more viable. Rather than being required to offer conclusions formed by distant or narrow observations, the CIA would simply have to stipulate whether they need more information. Targets would be chosen for their potential data payload. Rather than try to dismantle a country's infrastructure or military, we would be fighting to make accurate assessments of what the heck is really happening in the world's hotspots.
Microwar is a potential solution to the "World's Police Force" dilemma. A common critique of the Iraq war is "there are hundreds of other warlords and tyrants around the globe, are we supposed to depose all of them?" I would argue that we needn't depose all despots, but we definitely need to topple some of them. The critical missing piece is: how do we figure out which ones to ignore and which ones to attack?
The Powell Doctrine emerged from the Vietnam war as the dominant philosophy for the US military. The summary version is: In armed conflict, act with overwhelming force so as to guarantee complete victory. I would argue that there is a corollary applicable to intelligence. We need to deliver overwhelming force so as to guarantee complete knowledge of the enemy.
The CIA acts covertly, and frankly, I think the commitment to covert operations diminishes its effectiveness. In the Cold War, we had to tiptoe around our enemy. We were trying to avoid explicit violations of the Soviet Union's sovereignty, because we didn't want to incite a real war. This strategy clearly still applies to Russia, China, India, and other emerging world powers. But in the case of incompetent, corrupt, yet dangerous governments, why should we tiptoe? Why can't the US military take overt, forceful action to discover the data critical to our decisions in handling these rogue nations?
I do not feel that my trust in our elected officials to properly evaluate the need for war was misguided. However, I was clearly wrong in assuming that they had perfect intelligence. What I, and every other conscious American, should be demanding is accurate intelligence. Accurate intelligence about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and any other state that is threatening in part due to instability.
What do we do in Iraq now?
Russert referred to Sally Donnelly's piece in Time, regarding a recent closed-door session Sen. Warner convened with 10 military battle commanders.
Warner said little about the meeting, insisting that he had committed to confidentiality for the military officers involved. However, Russert naturally beat him over the head until he responded to the leaked interpretation of the meeting in the Time article -- are there too few troops in Iraq?
Warner gave this answer ultimately (see transcript):
"There isn't a young company commander, there isn't a lieutenant, there isn't a battalion commander who at times wishes he didn't have more people. But those requests go up, and in this instance, those requests were reviewed by senior officers."
It makes intuitive sense that there are troop requests that have to be denied -- just like there are budget requests throughout the military and the government that have to be denied. No matter how many troops were committed and stationed in Iraq, there would be parts of the system that would be underserved and parts that would be bloated at any time. The question I would want to ask the battlefield officers is -- are we manned enough to make progress? Are you well enough staffed to execute your appointed responsibilities over the next 24 months?
Part of the long-term strategy is to build an Iraqi military capable of handling its own problems. This is a key part of Bush's strategy, and also one of the most criticized. In the immediate days following the decimation of Saddam Hussein's regime, the entire Iraqi military was disbanded. The result is a complete lack of Iraqi military officers. According to the pundits, this completely hamstrung the Iraqi army. How can we possibly withdraw our troops if there is no Iraqi officer core.
So my question is: why can't our plan be to slowly withdraw all our enlisted men and commit to a very long-term mission for our officers? The goal would be to develop and maintain an effective Iraqi military, and the primary measurements for this goal would be the successful commissioning of Iraqi generals. I don't have a statistical figure, but assume it takes 30 years of service to reach the rank of General. That means we would have to be prepared to supply American military leadership in Iraq for at least 30 years. That is a very long time, however, it is a viable plan that requires only a small number of US personnel. It would also put the day to day, house to house combat of the counter-insurgency in the hands of Iraqis.