I am a huge NPR listener, especially on my commute and on Saturday, when “This American Life” is on. Today was part of a pledge drive, since they are “listener-supported” public radio, so this was a repeat. My internet connection wasn’t working, but I wrote the name “Conrad Crane” down on an envelope, because he warned that it was folly to invade Iraq and not plan for the Reconstruction. From his study of history, he knew that what would befall our country, the Iraqi people and their neighbors would dwarf what had been experienced under the government of Saddam Hussein.
As soon as my internet connection was up, I discovered Rod Dreher at BeliefNet had written “Conrad Crane Told Us So” after hearing the original NPR podcast. Concrad Crane knew .. and so did the man I photographed in late 2002.
From Rod’s piece:
I get “This American Life” via podcast, and listened to the latest one this morning. It was a stunner. One of the segments was about the work of Conrad Crane, a historian at the US Army War College, who with colleague W. Andrew Terrill produced this February 2003 monograph. It was a document, based on study of historical experience, intended to guide the American occupation of Iraq, by warning the military what would happen if they did, or failed to do, certain things. Like the TAL correspondent said, it reads like a letter from the future predicting exactly what did happen in Iraq. (See PDF at end of article) Note especially the warning that to disband the Iraqi army would be to annihilate one of the only sources of unity in the country, and could send its soldiers straight into the arms of sectarian militias.
This is not a new story; James Fallows reported on it a couple of years ago in The Atlantic. The point is, nobody in the administration can say they weren’t warned about what could happen in Iraq. They were. They chose to ignore it because it didn’t suit their ideological vision. Nothing that happened in Iraq after the end of the first phase of the war surprised Conrad Crane. It shouldn’t have surprised President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, or any of them. They chose not to believe it.
It seems that Rumsfeld et al chose to disbelieve it because if historian Crane was right, then he, Rumsfeld, was wrong in his theories about how the US military needed to be transformed. So he — and the commander in chief he served — chose theory over experience. The arrogance simply begs belief.
If you listen on in that This American Life podcast, you’ll hear an interview with the WaPo’s Tom Ricks, on the ground in Baghdad, warning that people who expect a clean and swift withdrawal from Iraq are deluding themselves. He says we will see months of long convoys crawling across the desert to Kuwait, trailing refugees, and possibly coming under enemy assault. It will be a long, drawn-out, ugly humiliation.
Why do elites do this to themselves and the organizations and people they serve? Is there a grand unified theory of elite behavior that explains this? Catholics were asking the same question about their bishops in the wake of the sex abuse disaster. No bishop could claim he didn’t know what was happening, and what was going to happen if it wasn’t dealt with. I don’t believe that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith wanted to do harm to the military and the country. Nor do I believe that the Catholic bishops wanted to harm the Church. In both cases, I take it as a given that they thought they were doing the right thing. But in both cases, they were so blinded by their own mistaken interests that they chose the wrong path, with catastrophic results.
How does political theory explain this kind of failure of leadership? I seem to recall from my college studies that in time, elites will unconsciously come to identify the institution’s best interest with their own. This could explain the Catholic bishops’ institutional behavior, but can it really explain Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s, given their status as short-timers? Are there other examples of a leadership class making the same terrible mistakes? I don’t count people like the Enron executives, because I think they made their decisions out of deliberate, knowing corruption.
Here is the link to the PDF version:
I suggest taking a look, or listening to the podcast, as there is no way to convey the staggering idiocy of Rumsfeld and the idots who followed his plan of a small, “high-tech” military with short, sanitized wars.
I also wrote about the Fallows article in Atlantic Monthly for Democracy Cell Project back in November of 2005, in a piece entitled “Why Iraq Has No Army. This piece is published also today at Democracy Cell Project.
Conrad Crane’s Website: click here
Link to the NPR podcast: click here