Monday, April 17, 2006

Who Said American Soldiers would be Greeted in Iraq with Flowers? The CIA

One of the advantages of the passage of time is the emergence of new information that can lead to a deepening of, or occasionally a change in, perspective. That kind of information is now emerging about the planning for the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Among the best of a recent spate of such books is Cobra II by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor. Mr. Gordon is a New York Times reporter who was embedded with the invasion force and has been covering the war for the Times. Mr. Trainor is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general.

The authors talked to many of the people involved in planning and carrying out the invasion, had access to many of the planning documents, and minutes of important meetings. The result is a wealth of new information that sheds light on a number of issues that have vexed American domestic and international discussion and understanding of this controversial war. In the process some of the facile assertions that accompanied such discussions will need to be revised, at least among those open to evidence.

A case in point is the Iraqi response to the American invasion. The standard line is that the Bush Administration believed that Americans would be greeted with flowers. The standard criticisms are that, “None of that happened.” that such views are, ”clap trap” “or that it is “one of the biggest frauds of the Iraqi debacle.”

Critics point to the flowers assumption as reflecting the arrogance, wishful thinking and gullibility of the Bush Administration. It was arrogant because the administration assumed Iraqis would see us as we saw ourselves rather than as they truly felt. How did they truly feel? That is where the wishful thinking comes in, because the raging insurgency proves just how out of touch the Bush Administration was (and remains). And it showed Bush’s hubris and gullibility because he was traduced into the invading Iraq by wily exiles that gave false information designed to tell the administration what it wanted to hear.

The truth, as always, is more complicated.

Yes, on September 14, 2003 Vice President Cheney said to Tim Russert on Meet the Press that, “I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators.” And yes, he also said that:“I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with various groups and individuals, people who’ve devoted their lives from the outside to try and change things inside of Iraq.”

Among the exiles he talked to was Kanan Makiya an Iraqi whose seminal book Republic of Fear laid bare the danger and brutality of the Saddam regime when few understood its true nature.

At the National Press Club event the day after Mr. Cheney spoke Meet the Press, Mr. Makiya was asked the following question [Thanks to Neo-Neocon]:

(QUESTIONER): Vice President Cheney yesterday said that he expects that American forces will be greeted as liberators and I wonder if you could tell us if you agree with that and how you think they'll be greeted and also what you meant you said before that some Iraqi opposition groups might be in Baghdad even before American forces?

KANAN MAKIYA: I most certainly do agree with that. As I told the President on January 10th, I think they will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case (emphasis mine).

Mr. Makiya was not the only exile to make this case, but notice that he confines his prediction to “the first months.” The importance of that qualification is clearer now in retrospect.

Why did Mr. Cheney and those exiles expect Americans to be greeted as liberators? Mr. Cheney made the basis of views quite clear to Mr. Russert: “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there’s no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

Critics assume that “the read we get on the people of Iraq” comes from the administration’s wishful thinking, arrogance, and listening only to the people the gave the answers it wanted to hear, like Kanan Mikaya. Well, it turns when Mr. Cheney referred to “the read we get on the people of Iraq,” he was referring to a great deal more than the critic’s litany.

This is where Mr. Gordon and General Trainors’ new book is so instructive. They report the following:

“Throughout the winter of 2002-2003, CIA agents had been operating in Southern Iraq and were convinced that U.S. forces would not face determined resistance but would actually receive active cooperation.” (p.136)

The most upbeat assessment was provided by a [CIA] team who met with [General] McKiernan and his aides at Camp Doha in early 2003. The CIA was so sure that American soldiers would be greeted warmly when they pushed into Southern Iraq that a CIA operative suggested sneaking hundreds of small American flags into the country for grateful Iraqis to wave at their liberators.”(p.137).

In retrospect, the view that Iraqis (with the exception of the Sunnis), having suffered enormously under the murderous Saddam Hussein regime would welcome the end of his tyranny was not at all far fetched and made good psychological sense. The customary response to having been saved from the everyday threat of torture and death is relief and gratitude, and indeed those feelings were present. However, if that is true, then what happened?

Next: Who said American Soldiers would be Greeted in Iraq with Flowers? Part II: Appreciation, Ambivalence, and Nationalism