Paying a price for ignoring the truth

WASHINGTON—This administration, from President George W. Bush to Vice President Dick Cheney to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has sowed the seeds of a bitter harvest in the Middle East that Americans will reap for decades, if not generations.

That harvest includes but isn't limited to a war bill that's approaching $400 billion and growing by $100 billion a year, an American military ground down by unceasing combat deployments, and a casualty count that doesn't include thousands of troops who are coming home with psychological problems.

We can never know how many of the 2,298 dead soldiers and 16,906 wounded might have been saved by better body armor, more and better armored vehicles and, above all, an honest assessment of the enemy they were sent to fight.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq that was going to be over by the summer of 2003 is entering its fourth year. The violence is unabated. The numbers of Americans and Iraqis dying daily haven't dropped.

It's not as if the triumvirate wasn't warned, though they would like you to believe that. It's that they chose to believe their own rose-colored vision of what was happening in Iraq and what wasn't, reinforced by the likes of Ahmad Chalabi.

As Iraq now trembles on the brink of all-out civil war, my Knight Ridder colleagues Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel reported this week that a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) requested by the U.S. Central Command was delivered in October 2003. It warned that the real danger we faced in Iraq was homegrown Sunni insurgents, not just the foreign terrorists and Baath Party dead-enders that the White House and the Pentagon kept holding up as the bogey-men.

By twisting or ignoring the warnings of senior intelligence analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the nation's civilian leaders allowed a small Sunni insurgency to grow like cancer.

The authors of that NIE sounded the warning but offered hope of improvement, saying that the insurgency could be tamped down if Iraq's economic condition improved. Other civilian and military officials sought increases in the number of American troops in Iraq, as well as some role for the Sunni minority in any new government.

The NIE's authors were dismissed as "nay-sayers" and "not team players" by the administration. The vice president was so out of touch with reality that as recently as May of 2005 he was declaring that the Iraq insurgency was "in the last throes."

So what we now know is this: The administration was told again and again what was wrong and what ought to be done, and the principals chose to ignore the truth.

I keep coming back to the failure to properly arm and protect our soldiers, and to send enough of them in the beginning to get the job done and keep the lid on a huge, fractious country with 25 million people with even more old hatreds. When a soldier in Kuwait challenged him on the issue of vehicle protection, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld replied: "You have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want."

At the time, Rumsfeld was sending American divisions to Iraq without their Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, and sending their crews out to patrol the most dangerous roads in the world in light Humvees.

Some 60 percent of our casualties in Iraq have been from the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that any idiot can plant beside or beneath a highway or road or city street and then hit the call button on a cell phone when an American convoy drives into the kill zone.

Three years into the war, the Pentagon only now has named a retired four-star general to head a search for technical solutions to the enemy's prime weapon.

History is going to judge these men harshly for what they did, and also for what they did not do, when the lives of American soldiers and the future of Americans yet unborn were in their hands.

To paraphrase Mr. Rumsfeld: You must fight the war you have, not the one you want; and you must fight it with the leadership you have, not the leadership you want.



Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young