The Other Intelligence Assessments on Iraq
by Paul R. Pillar
But the weapons estimate was one of only three classified, community-coordinated assessments about Iraq that the intelligence community produced in the months prior to the war. Don’t feel bad if you missed the other two, which addressed the principal challenges that Iraq likely would present during the first several years after Saddam’s removal, as well as likely repercussions in the surrounding region. After being kept under wraps (except for a few leaks) for over four years, the Senate committee quietly released redacted versions of those assessments on its website May 25, as Americans were beginning their Memorial Day holiday weekend.That's right, the cluster-fuck that the occupation of Iraq has become was accurately predicted before the invasion. But nobody was listening - yes that includes the Democrats.
In contrast, the other two assessments spoke directly to the instability, conflict, and black hole for blood and treasure that over the past four years we have come to know as Iraq. The assessments described the main contours of the mess that was to be, including Iraq’s unpromising and undemocratic political culture, the sharp conflicts and prospect for violence among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups, the Marshall Plan-scale of effort needed for economic reconstruction, the major refugee problem, the hostility that would be directed at any occupying force that did not provide adequate security and public services, and the exploitation of the conflict by Al-Qaeda and other terrorists.
Always was a fool’s errand
The story of these pre-war assessments has other implications that are at least important, however, including ones for current debate over Iraq policy. The assessments support the proposition that the expedition in Iraq always was a fool’s errand rather than a good idea spoiled by poor execution, implying that the continued search for a winning strategy is likely to be fruitless. Some support for the poor execution hypothesis can be found in the assessments, such as the observation that Iraq’s regular army could make an important contribution in providing security (thus implicitly questioning in advance the wisdom of ever disbanding the army). But the analysts had no reason to assume poor execution, and their prognosis was dark nonetheless. Moreover, amid the stultifying policy environment that prevailed when the assessments were prepared—in which it was evident that the administration was going to war and that analysis supporting that decision was welcome and contrary analysis was not—it is all the more remarkable that the analysts would produce such a gloomy view.While the intelligence community has been blamed for the war and the quagmire that followed there were many in that community that got it right but nobody was listening.