NEAL CONAN, host:
From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION. On May 1st, 2003, President Bush landed aboard an aircraft carrier to claim victory in Iraq.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
CONAN: Almost three years after the war began, a new book recounts a litany of mistakes and lost opportunities before, during, and after the invasion. It also includes a secret analysis of Iraq's plan for the war. Authors Michael Gordon and retired General Bernard Trainor join us. Cobra II is the TALK OF THE NATION. First, the news.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In their new book, Cobra II, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor describe the Iraq war as a story of hubris and heroism, of high-technology wizardry and cultural ignorance. They conclude that the bitter insurgency that the American and British forces confront today was not preordained, and they recount the military and political opportunities that were lost along the way. Almost three years to the day after American and British troops invaded Iraq, the current and former military correspondents of the New York Times have produced the most comprehensive account of the war to date, and the first to include a military and political assessment from senior leaders of Sadam Hussein's government and military.
Fifteen years ago, the authors also wrote a well-received history of the first war with Iraq, the General's War. They join us in a moment. We're going to divide this conversation more or less along chronological lines. We'll focus on what happened during and after the war a bit later, but call now if you have questions about the decision to invade Iraq, when it was made and why, about the plans that evolved in Washington and Baghdad, about intelligence and weapons of mass destruction, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Gordon is chief military correspondent of the New York Times. Bernard Trainor is a former military correspondent for the New York Times, he's also a retired Marine Corps Lt. General. They both join us here in Studio 3-A. Thanks to you both, very much, for coming in today.
Mr. MICHAEL GORDON (chief military correspondent for the New York Times): Thank you.
Lt. General BERNARD TRAINOR (Retired United States Marine Corps and former military correspondent for the New York Times): Thank you.
CONAN: I know listeners are going to have a lot of questions about American planning for the war, but you also got access to a secret assessment from Baghdad's point of view compiled from interviews with some of Sadam's senior officials and military commanders after the war. Among other things, it provides an answer to the question, if Sadam did destroy all of his chemical and biological weapons, why didn't he provide UN weapons inspectors with proof that he did it? Michael Gordon?
Mr. GORDON: Well, this is actually a fascinating episode and we now know because American intelligence officers and military officers debriefed, interrogated, and interviewed senior regime figures, that Sadam was walking a very fine line. And what he wanted to do was cooperate enough with UN inspections that there would not be a casus belli in the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. wouldn't have an excuse to go to war, but he didn't want to dispel all the ambiguity about what he might actually have. And the reason that was, is Sadam, somewhat ironically, was concerned about the very same nation that the White House seems most concerned about today, Iran. He was worried about Iran's WMD programs, and Iran, unlike Iraq, did have WMD programs. So, this strategy was described by one of his generals as deterrents by doubt. He wanted to cooperate with the inspections, but kind of leave the impression that he might have something hidden away.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And Bernard Trainor, the degree of his reliance on these weapons, his leaders, his commanders, thought that they'd made the difference in the Iran-Iraq war. He himself said to believe that they are what deterred the United States from marching to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf War.
Lt. General TRAINOR: Yes, WMD played a pretty large role in the first Gulf War. And of course, Iran was bigger, had more troops than he did, so the idea of using chemical weapons in that particular instance was very important to him. So, he and his military leaders felt that having WMD was important, not only as a deterrent, but also as a war-fighting capability.
Now, the way the military thought of it is that the threat of WMD is the thing that kept the United States from advancing and overthrowing the regime in the first Gulf War. They couldn't believe that the President of the United States would forswear going to Baghdad when he had the opportunity, so it must've been the capability of the Iraqi military forces and the threat of WMD. And so this was part of the calculus that it would keep particularly the Iranians at bay and then secondarily, if the United States is a threat, it would also keep them at bay.
And when the Iraqi leadership was told in December of '02, just months before the war started, that the cupboard was bare, they were astounded. They were astounded. And they thought, Lord, if we do go to war against the United States, we have no counterforce to be able to deal with their superiority. But one of the more interesting aspects of it, the way the war drums were being beaten by the administration on the Iraqis having WMD even convinced some of the Iraqis in the hierarchy, well, the Americans wouldn't be beating these drums if they didn't know something that we don't know. So it was just an anomaly, and in a certain sense it was tragic comic.
CONAN: Michael Gordon, as you look at the planning for the war, I mean, I guess one of the questions that everybody has is, when was the decision to make, to go to war with Iraq made? And you quote, I guess an infamous conversation at this point, that on 9/11 a senior defense official says, well, we shouldn't be thinking about Afghanistan, we should be thinking about Iraq.
Mr. GORDON: Well, that was a conversation that Doug Feith, then the undersecretary of defense for policy, had with Greg Newbold, the senior operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to General Newbold, who has a record of being an honorable official. He's quoted on the record.
CONAN: And Mr. Feith denies the conversation.
Mr. GORDON: He denies saying it quite that way. He doesn't deny raising the issue that Afghanistan was only a first step and more needed to be done. But I think, you know, the interesting question is, you know, in our book, in the Cobra II book, Rich Armitage, secretary of policy number two, said that he and Secretary Powell didn't know when President Bush made the decision to go to war. He says that on the record. And so, you know, when the formal decision was made is hard to pin down, but in my judgment, I would say when the military planning began in earnest in the November-December 2001 timeframe, that's when the central command was tasked with drawing up a new plan to invade Iraq. So I think at that point the policy direction was set, although the formal decision had yet to be made.
CONAN: In November-December 2001. Well, here's a clip of tape that we have from May 2002. President Bush was in Germany, where he was attempting to reassure nervous European leaders that war would not be coming soon.
President BUSH: I told the Chancellor that I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth. And that we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Sadam Hussein.
CONAN: And, Bernard Trainor, no war plans on his desk, you conclude that that statement true in only perhaps the most literal of senses?
Lt. General TRAINOR: Oh, of course it was in literal sense. The planning had been going on, it was well along. But of course he could say that, technically speaking, he did not have the plan on his desk. And there really was no plan that had yet been approved, but it certainly was in the works. So he's being somewhat ingenuous, but then again that's part of diplomacy.
CONAN: The plan wrestled through several different evolutions. Michael Gordon, and one of the figures that is clear at every step of the way is the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who you say is, you describe as being obsessed with what you describe as almost, as a ideology of military transformation.
Mr. GORDON: Well, before Iraq was put on the table, Secretary Rumsfeld had a program of what he calls military transformation, essentially to make armed forces sort of leaner and meaner, boiling it down to sort of bare essentials. Some of this, by the way, is good, and his attempts to introduce new thinking at the Defense Department I think is a welcome thing. But he carried it forward with such insistence that it had a deleterious effect on the war planning. So what happens, and we've chronicled it in the book, but, you know, General Franks, first of all, when he asked for a briefing on the war plan on the shelf, the one left behind by General Tony Zinni, and that plan called for 380,000 troops to secure Iraq. And why did Tony Zinni think you needed 380,000 troops? We've interviewed him.
Not because he thought you needed those number of forces to defeat the Iraqi army, because he thought you needed those number of forces to control the country after your relatively quick victory. Well, Rumsfeld, in his first briefing at this, threw that plan out, essentially, and said he personally didn't understand why you would need more than 125,000 troops. That, again, is on the record, in the book, according to people present. What happened really over the next year is a process in which Franks would come in with a number, Rumsfeld would ask questions, the number would get smaller. Why can't you do it smaller? Why can't you do it faster? And, you know, it was a kind of tug of war really over the planning that really ate up almost an entire year when they really should have been focusing on the hard part, the post-war phase.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. There was, Bernard Trainor, almost a contempt for their predecessors. They certainly did not want to do it the way the Clinton Administration had done it in the Balkans.
Lt. General BERNARD TRAINOR: Absolutely, Neal. They saw nation building, as it's called, something that was anathema to the United States. We didn't, our military does not nation build, it fights and wins wars. And they used the Kosovo example of the wrong way to go about it, that we would, the Clinton Administration got into Kosovo, they said they'd be out within a year and they were still there. And the idea of going into Iraq quickly, getting it over with and getting out, would be the counterpoint to what the Clinton Administration had done in Southeastern Europe, and was still there.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. There are any number of questions that are raised in your discussions of planning. Why so little planning, as Michael Gordon talked about, was done for what they called Phase Four, after the fall of the regime, but also their uses, their planned uses for the Iraqi military. They knew they didn't have enough forces to control the border, to control what they thought were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and control the Iraqi population. They're planning to use the Iraqi military to do that, they were planning to use them as labor forces as well to rebuild the country in the immediate aftermath of the war. And yet, of course, we'll find out later the Iraqi military ends up getting disbanded. They also thought that they would surrender in mass units, they seem to have been just flat wrong on all of those assumptions and some of them, as you point out, are contradictory.
Mr. GORDON: Yeah, one of the most mysterious and important episodes in this whole conflict was the decision made by Ambassador Bremer and the chief civilian administrator of Iraq, with the support and approval of Secretary Rumsfeld, to disband the Iraqi army, because that decision was 180 degrees against what President Bush had himself approved in the March timeframe, and, by the way, was made without the knowledge of Condi Rice, then the national security advisor, and Secretary Powell, Secretary of State, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So, still boggles my mind that such an important decision could be made without all the relevant officials and agencies of the government even being informed about it ahead of time.
CONAN: We're talking with Bernard Trainor and Michael Gordon. They're the authors of the new book Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. When we come back, we'll start taking your phone calls, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com. We're going to be focusing a little bit more on what unfolded as the war began, so if you have questions about what really happened to Jessica Lynch, now is the time. Give us a call. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Today our guests are Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, retired from the United States Marine Corps, and Michael Gordon. They are the co-authors of a new book out this week called Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Their book addresses the question, what went wrong with the U.S. invasion and execution of the war? Later in the program, we'll discuss the way U.S. intelligence handled the occupation of Iraq post war. But right now, if you have questions about the tactics of the invasion, about what happened during the war itself, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's begin with Bob. And Bob's calling us from New York City.
BOB (Caller): Hi gentlemen, how're you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
BOB: My question is, I've heard these gentlemen, one of the gentlemen on a another show that we had no idea about the Fedayeen possible guerilla war. I don't think that's correct, because I specifically remember Tariq Aziz specifically saying that they could not match the strength of the U.S. Army or the U.S. military and that they would be deploying these type of tactics, unfortunately, as you said. And another point, didn't you, isn't President Bush exonerated about these weapons of mass destruction lie that the Democrats keep throwing upon him? Because if even the generals of Saddam's army thought he had them, and the entire world, come on, give him a break.
CONAN: Hmm. Well, Bob's first point on the Fedayeen, Michael Gordon, if Tariq Aziz, then the Deputy Prime Minster of Iraq, warned ahead of time that they would be used.
Mr. GORDON: Well, I mean, the listener has raised an excellent question and one that shows that he's paid very careful attention to the history of the war. It was known that Fedayeen were in the force structure of the Iraqi, kind of, you know, national security establishment that was not a surprise.
CONAN: And by Fedayeen we mean paramilitary, people who are not dressed in uniforms, using small weapons?
Mr. GORDON: Right, and there were Ba'ath Party militia and Al-Quods(ph) there was whole kind of smorgasbord of these kinds of folks. So, it was known that they existed for sure. They had parades, they flaunted them, as the listener noted. But what was not anticipated by the CIA was that they would be in such numbers, with such large caches of arms in the southern cites. That was entirely unanticipated. They expected to run into them when they got to Baghdad. So when General Wallace made his famous comment, the enemy we're engaged with now is not the one we war-gamed against, he wasn't saying, as the commander of the Fifth Corps, that he had never heard of the Fedayeen. What he was saying was, he had not expected the Fedayeen to come out of the southern cities, attack his supply or arms, menace his logistics bases, and basically be such a problem so early in the conflict.
On the WMD issue, you know, again I think the listener raises an interesting question, how can we be expected to know they didn't have WMD if even the generals thought they had some? But I would say to that is, the CIA asserted that Iraq had WMD with such, their conclusions were rather categorical...
CONAN: I think the memorable phrase is slam dunk.
Mr. GORDON: ...from George Tenet, but even in their official documents, they were very categorical about it. And I think that, given the intelligence reports that existed at the time, the White House could be expected to believe Iraq had some form of WMD, actually that's what the Clinton White House also thought, but in their public presentations to justify the war, the president and his senior officials presented really the worst-case analysis of the intelligence community. They often overlooked the caveats.
CONAN: Bernard Trainor, do you think the books were cooked?
Lt. General TRAINOR: No. I think that's a charge that's going beyond the beyond. I think the best you can say is that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were in the gun sights right from the time the president was elected. And they had a propensity to look for justification within the intelligence data of their own perception. They wanted to believe what they believed, and I think that's the most you can charge them with. I don't think you can say that they cherry- picked out of the intelligence in order to support their position, they were looking for evidence to support their position, but they had this disposition. And I think that's the most, and as Michael has already pointed out, you know, the CIA did come on very categorically on it, and the international community. So, you can fault the administration for an attitude, but I think it's a stretch to say they were cooking the books.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Bob, thanks very much. When the invasion itself began, I think the Iraqis were not the only people who were expecting a long preparatory bombardment a la Gulf War I, Michael Gordon.
Mr. GORDON: Well, one of the things that was striking to me was the degree to which the Iraqis misread the American political and military strategy. And the American style of warfare, up until this conflict, had been to have a long air campaign. I mean, look at the Kosovo War...
Mr. GORDON: ...with 70 odd days without a ground war. Or in the case of the Gulf War, the air campaign was 43 days, I think, probably 39 days before the four day ground war. That had been the American style of warfare. One of the innovations here, and I think a good innovation, and something, since much of our book is critical of General Franks, let's give him credit for something, one of the good innovations here, I think, was to time the ground war and the air war so they were essentially simultaneous. That enabled the U.S. to achieve tactical surprise in this conflict. And they did it because they were concerned about the risk to the oil fields. So that was a new approach and I think, actually, a very smart one.
CONAN: Bernard Trainor, there was also a lot of criticism about, sort of, the strategic intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing. Your book is also highly critical of tactical intelligence provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, which neglected, did not pick up the presence, as Michael mentioned earlier, of the Fedayeen in the southern cities and, in fact, were directing American units to avoid formations of Iraqi tanks that didn't exist. And as you point out, the first American casualty in the War in Iraq was, I think, a platoon commander who was shot by somebody in a Toyota pickup truck.
Lt. General TRAINOR: Mm-hmm. The intelligence picture is interesting. We have this great technical intelligence capability with all the head surveillance means and signal intelligence and so forth, but human intelligence was the weakness, and to a degree, it was understandable. We just didn't have agents in Iraq because Iraq was not as high an intelligence target as places like Iran or North Korea or Afghanistan.
Lt. General TRAINOR: And as you know, we had a lot of agents in Afghanistan from the time that the Soviets went in there. We didn't have that advantage in Iraq. So, therefore the intelligence tended to be faulty and was based on best- case assumptions, presumably from Iraqi agents that turned out to be an error. And the base, the worst assumption was that we would be welcomed, this became conventional wisdom, that we'd be welcomed in southern Iraq, and it may be that we would have been, except the Fedayeen were embedded in all of these southern cities to keep the Shia under control so that they couldn't greet us. One of the interesting stories Terry Ferrell had a cavalry squadron that was going into Samarra, and he was asked on the radio whether he was being greeted with people waving flags, and he said, no, he was being met with people waving AK- 47s and shooting at him. So, this was a big assumption that the Iraqi people, in the south in particular, would support us, but we overlooked the fact that the Fedayeen would prevent that and fight us.
CONAN: Let's get some more listeners questions on the air. Let's go to Brent, Brent's calling from Kansas City.
BRENT (Caller): Yes, I was curious as to why the administration felt to justify the war they had to push the WMDs and not basically present the case that Al- Qaida had no beef with us until we set foot in Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War, and the fact that we had to stay there to enforce all of the United Nations restrictions and embargos and what not to keep Saddam, who was clearly not willing to capitulate. Why could they not use that as the logic behind invading? That, you know, we have to keep troops there to keep Saddam in line and as long as we keep troops in Saudi Arabia to keep him in line, the Al-Qaida is going to be going after, that's the first tack they had on us was after we had already entered Saudi Arabia?
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So why the focus on WMD, as Brent says, democratization, the administration did talk about other goals, they focused on WMD. Michael?
Mr. GORDON: I think the reason the administration went into Iraq in the first place, that WMD was part of it, but was by no means all of it. I think they saw this as a strategic opportunity, really. You know, they didn't shrink from the prospect of war with Iraq. I think they saw it as something that the U.S. could exploit to its advantage to redraw kind of the geopolitical map of the Middle East. And in one of General Franks' talking points for President Bush that I reviewed, he talks about, this could be an object lesson for the Iranians or the Syrians if we went into Iraq. I think that was also part of the calculation. I think though in terms of publicly justifying the war, to take the nation to war is a serious business.
You can't take the nation to war simply because American forces aren't welcome to Saudi Arabia, even though I don't believe that was the major calculation in the first place. But I think WMD is an issue that everybody can understand, as Paul Wolfowitz put it. It was the one thing everybody could agree on. Also let's remember, there was one significant U.S. ally in this operation, the British. And I think from the British standpoint, they were very concerned about international law, the legality of this operation. They insisted that it go to the United Nations, and at the United Nations the issue was not Saddam's human rights record, not the presence of American forces in the region, it was whether Saddam was in compliance with the U.N. requirements on getting rid of his WMD.
CONAN: Brent, thanks for the question.
BRENT (Caller): And if I may, basically, you know, I understand all of that. We can't go to war, but I mean, do people not really understand what Chamberlain allowed, and I hate the tired old cliché of Hitler, because you know Saddam was no where near as powerful or influential among his people, but can people not remember history, that we could have averted most of the causalities in World War II if we would have stepped in early instead of waiting until we had to.
CONAN: Actually, it's interesting that this is a side note in your book, but one of the things you point out is that during the Shiite rebellion in 1991, Iraqi helicopters dropped saran gas bombs on Shiite cities in Southern Iraq, which failed to go off. They were just militarily faulty and they just didn't go off. Had they gone off, this conflict would have been fought 15 years ago.
Lt. General TRAINOR: I think so.
CONAN: I think so. Anyway Brent, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
BRENT: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking today with Michael Gordon and with Bernard Trainor. They are the authors of the new book Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Michael Gordon, the name Cobra II, where is it from?
Mr. GORDON: Some very senior American officials asked me that as well. They hadn't heard of it before. It just happens to be the name of the Land War Invasion Plan that was set by the Land War Command. There was an allied Land War Command which reported to Tommy Franks that was lead by General McKiernan. And the reason they picked that particular name was Cobra I, Cobra, was the name of the George Patton's breakout from Normandy that was led by the Third Army. And the Third Army headquarters is really the nucleus of the Land War Command. So they were looking back to sort of their, you know, historical precedence here.
CONAN: The book is just out today. The authors are with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's see if we can get another caller on line. And this is Alan. Alan is with us from Vancouver in Canada.
ALAN (Caller): Hello, Neal. Actually, I am an old fellow. I was one of the translators earlier, both wars. And when the information translated to some of the U.S. groups or agencies and European, does not fit what they really want. So, the answer, they said go back and get us something different. Basically, looking for certain weapons, certain information, basically.
ALAN: My concern is that region, and I lived over 70 years, you can pay money to find someone to say anything. Shalabi is one good example. And that's very dangerous when it comes to gathering intelligence. I quit because that's not the right way to do business. So, I'm very concerned. And my only concern really is this, current events, it's going to get larger and it's going to spread throughout region. I hope I'm wrong and many others say that's going to be the case.
CONAN: Hmm. We also hope you're wrong, Alan. But on the question of intelligence, Bernard Trainor, there was an agent named Curve Ball who was prominent in this. And reading your book, some of the most important things that he was talking about were the mobile biological weapons laboratories. Somebody saying, well, he was hung over that day and in a bad mood. We're not quite sure about this.
Mr. TRAINOR: Well, the Curve Ball, to use a phrase, was very flaky, and turned out to be totally unreliable and a bad source. But he did provide information that got everybody excited, particularly the mobile laboratories. And there was anecdotal information concerning these when the Marines went beyond, up beyond Baghdad, up to a place called Bakaba, all of sudden, one of the patrols went out there and saw what appeared to be described by Colin Powell and shown before the U.N. as one of the mobile chemical or biological labs, and they all got excited about it. So they went up with a sledge hammer and broke their way into it. And it turned out to be a Soviet-made field kitchen and not a lab at all. But Curve Ball turned out to be exactly that, a curve ball.
CONAN: Alan, thank you very much for the call.
ALLAN: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a quick caller in. This is Lou. Lou, calling us from Roda in Spain.
LOU (Caller): Yes, hello.
CONAN: Hello there.
LOU: I had a comment on the WMD, but I feel like that's probably a dead horse that's been beaten to death. But what I would like to mention is that I was here, I was active duty during the Bosnia and Kosovo affair, and I was intimately involved in that. I'm amazed that the unsung hero of the preparation, or lack of, for the Iraq war, was Shinseki. He had the formula. He knew what he was doing. When we were in Kosovo, we had a formula one troop for so many people. I don't remember what it was. He goes before Congress. He uses basically the same formula and says we need a quarter of million plus people to not only take Saddam Hussein down, close the borders, occupy it, and make sure that we don't, we can keep police control over the country. And Wolfowitz gets up there a few days later and essentially blows him off, tells him he's nuts, and they kind of retire him early, which in military speak means he got fired. And I just don't know why he doesn't do interviews, or nobody really questions him or finds him to find his opinion.
CONAN: Michael Gordon, had you talk with General Shinseki?
Mr. GORDON: No. He doesn't do interviews on this. But I think he's trying to. But I think he understands that his analysis has been vindicated and he wasn't the only one. You know, in the book we recount an episode. The day before General Shinseki goes up to the Hill, which again was not on this subject, he offered these thoughts in response to a question about which the Senators didn't not follow up, by the way. And the day before, he saw a General who was working on the post-war planning, Steve Hawkins, one star general. And he told Shinseki his internal analysis was that he needed 350,000 troops. So when Shinseki made these comments, he was aware that this reflected some internal planning estimates by Army officials out in the theatre.
CONAN: Lou, thanks very much for the call. You're calling from Roda, Spain. Are you still on active service?
LOU: No. I'm retired and just soaking up the sun.
CONAN: All right. Well, congratulations then.
LOU: Thank you.
CONAN: We will have more after we come back from a short break. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. You can also hear an audio excerpt from Cobra II at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: Today we're asking the question what went right and what went wrong during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Our guests are Lt. General, Retired, Bernard Trainor, and Michael Gordon. They are the co-authors of a new book out this week called Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. If you have questions about what happened during and after the conflict, about after the statute of Saddam fell, our phone number is 800- 989-8255, and the email address is email@example.com. And let's get right to the phones. Chuck is calling from San Francisco.
CHUCK (Caller): Thanks very much. Just since Curve Ball and Shalabi came up, I would be interested if your guests have any opinions about whether or not, rosy opinions about our reception by the Iraqi people and WMD might have been disinformation from Iran. But what I called to ask about, and what really bugs me, is Abu Ghraib really shot our credibility out there, and it seems that we got that really wrong and it should have been really predictable. Psychological studies have proven that in a situation like you have in the prison there, especially in a war zone where the stress is high, you're going to have this sort of problem.
And since our credibility was so important for the success of this whole project in Iraq, it seems like we should have anticipated that and guarded against it. But instead, I seem to remember Rumsfeld saying when earlier reports come in, he didn't really take them seriously until he saw the pictures. And it just seems like that was a horrible mistake. It set us back and it should have been predictable.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Bernard Trainor, you actually date the problems at Abu Ghraib post-war back to a decision made before the war, which, it's an obscure bureaucratic flow through chart that the military uses to describe the forces it's going to need afterwards. Secretary Rumsfeld said, well, this is old thinking. We've got to question every assumption in this chart, and canceled it.
Mr. TRAINOR: Well, that extended well beyond the business of Abu Ghraib and the prisoner treatment. One thing you should recognize that when a person is captured, his most dangerous period is when he is captured, because the captor, usually his blood is up, he's very excited and so forth, and he's apt to go after this person. As you go up the chain of custody though, it usually settles down, that's when he is safe. This was not the case here. And we don't know and our book does not go as far as the prison problem. But we do know that the force levels were not sufficient to take care of the post-war period. Not only that, but the force mix was inadequate. Most of the forces that we had out there were combat infantry men. We didn't have enough civil affairs people, didn't have enough military police people, and some of these people that were called up from the National Guard were, some, of questionable quality. And now all of this contributed to the problem in the prison. But beyond that, we're not prepared to make any comment on that because it was outside the ken of the book.
CONAN: Well, Michael Gordon, you do say in the book though that the cancellation of these follow-on forces of this order led to the fact that these forces being called up late and not getting the training they needed.
Mr. GORDON: Yeah. The bureaucratic term you're wisely trying to avoid but I'm going to throw out here is the tip fiddle. But basically, it's a computerized system for deploying forces. I'm not inventing this point. It's tucked away, buried in a tiny paragraph in James Schlesinger's assessment of the Abu Ghraib case. And in there the Schlesinger report, former defense secretary, called on by the Pentagon to investigate this, says that when this system for deploying forces was basically dispensed with, one of the consequences were the military police units that later ended up at Abu Ghraib didn't receive sufficient training. They were combined in odd ways that basically interfered with their own structure and training deployment and all that. It was a contributory factor. The report doesn't quite make the connection with Secretary Rumsfeld, but he's the man that decided you didn't need all these forces and you needed to have a new model for how to deploy the military.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Chuck.
CHUCK (Caller): Thanks. Can I just ask one thing though?
CHUCK: It seems that after that came out, they tried to kind of attribute this to a few twisted individuals, and in the context of Guantanamo, and the Vice President talking about times when torture is appropriate, and the tortured legal arguments about that same subject. It really seems that there is responsibility that needs to be taken at the very top, and blaming it on a few individuals in the prison when it was so predictable, and it was such a mistake that hurt us so bad, is really appalling in my opinion.
CONAN: Okay Chuck, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. Again, that's outside the orbit of this particular book. But General Trainor, I did want to ask you something about the military and how it responds to a Secretary of Defense, President of the United States who seemed to know what they wanted to do. There were several officers interviewed for this book who said, when this was laid out, I knew this was wrong, there's not enough forces, maybe not for the attack, much less for these other jobs that you want us to do after the war, and I didn't say anything.
Lt. General TRAINOR: That's a very interesting point, Neal. One, and it's partly a cultural thing with the military, to make their case and then the decision goes against, they salute, say aye-aye, and then go on and carry it out. But what you have to understand is Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is a business man, and he was always looking, and that's part of his transformation motivation, looking to trim the U.S. military from its old, Cold War status of mass units to small, very mobile, lethal units, very, very highly trained. And he kept pushing this transformation, particularly with the U.S. Army.
Lt. General TRAINOR: Now, he had a management technique, which tended to defeat people who would try to discuss things with him. He would ask a question and when the individual, General Franks or whoever, is responding to the question, then he'll change the direction of the question, and in large measure, he simply, with constant questions, and off-beat questions, constantly working on his target, in this instance the military commanders and planners, and literally wore them down to the point they came to say, okay, whatever then. Having settled that, there's no question of it, because the, not only the field commanders but a lot of the staff officers, all the way back to the Pentagon, who realized that there were real problems here, particularly in the numbers of people and the force mix for the post-war period, not necessarily for the fighting, and they just didn't fight hard enough against Rumsfeld. And I think to their discredit, they'll be found, as a legacy of this particular period, guilty of not speaking up when they should've spoke up.
CONAN: And let me ask you again, outside the orbit of this book, but the question comes up today, then and now Secretary Rumsfeld says, I'm giving the officers in the field everything they ask me for.
General TRAINOR: Well yes, this is part of the technique that he uses, you know. He keeps questioning and whittling away at the plans that have come up and then says, do you agree with that? And in the final analysis, you know, people go along with it, yes, we agree with it, and then he transfers them the responsibility for it.
Mr. GORDON: Well, I can give you an example where that's not the case, and it's a very important example. As the American forces were closing in on Baghdad, having already encountered the Fedayeen, there was a decision to be made on what to do with the First Cavalry Division. We're now talking about a 16,000- strong unit. And this Division was dearly wanted by the senior land-war commander, General McKiernan. He was the guy who was going to end up in Iraq trying to control the place. Secretary Rumsfeld put the issue on the table, repeatedly pressed it with General Franks, whom I interviewed about this very point, and General Franks eventually went along with Secretary Rumsfeld's position, which is that the Division should be cancelled. Therefore, the U.S. was short one division right at the time when the insurgency was beginning to gain hold. It was an absolutely critical decision, and no one can say that the commanders in Iraq at that time had gotten everything they wanted. What you can say is that Tommy Franks, under pressure from Secretary Rumsfeld, went along with a questionable decision.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you also, there are important questions about what happened after the war, and again, getting back to the question we raised earlier, why was the Iraqi Army disbanded? This was a force, not the republican guard, not the special republican guard, but this was a force that people were counting on to help police the Iraqi population and help control the borders.
Mr. GORDON: Well, you're absolutely right. And what happened was, in the pre- war planning for the post-war, President Bush was briefed on a plan to keep the Iraqi Army. He was briefed by Doug Feith. And they said one of the drawbacks of disbanding the army is you put 300,000-plus people on the street. It was considered undesirable. What happened was, when Bremer was appointed as an outgrowth of the de-Bathification policy, and on the advice of a subordinate, he decided to sort of build it from the ground up. And he thought it would be desirable to build a whole new army that would be much smaller and would contain no Bathists. And he made this decision, it was approved by Rumsfeld, Condee Rice was unaware of it, I interviewed her for the, on my own, others were also unaware of it. It later emerged that this was based on an entire misconception. When they actually got records on who the senior Bathists were, they discovered there weren't nearly as many senior Bathists in the Iraqi military as Ambassador Bremer had thought. In fact, as you pointed out earlier, Sadam didn't even trust his military and wouldn't even let them in the city.
CONAN: Hmm. We're talking with Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor. They're the authors of a new book called Cobra II: the Inside Story. We're going to try to hang up the phone too. The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Michael Gordon, I know you've got to go to another interview. We thank you for being with us today. Michael Gordon was with us here in Studio 3-A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And we'll see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Glen (ph). Glen, you're on the air.
GLEN (Caller): Hey, thanks, Neal, for taking my call.
CONAN: Sure. Go ahead.
GLEN: General, thanks for your service. You kind of stole my thunder a few minutes ago. I was an Army officer for seven years. And the Army values goes by an acronym, LDRSHIP. Three of those values are duty, integrity, and personal courage. And I really do hope that some of the senior Army commanders and former Secretary of State Powell, when they had the opportunity, when they knew that the calculations were wrong and they were going to be short-changed, and did not stand up, I hope that they think about that, can ruminate on that, because they really didn't live up to the Army values. And thanks for taking my comment.
CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call, Glen. You were in the Marine Corps, not the Army, but do you agree with him?
Lt. General TRAINOR: Well, I think we have to distinguish. The field commanders, the people that were actually facing the problem on the ground, they had the most realistic view of what was going on, and they adapted very well, and the troops adapted very well. So, they can't be faulted on anything. Even in the business of dealing with the looting and chaos at the end of the trail. Because they just didn't have the forces to do it and they were still actively engaged in combat, so they couldn't handle the looting at the same time. I think the fault lies further up the line, probably starting at the central command level, the theater commander, Tommy Franks, and then back up into the Pentagon. They're the ones that had to deal with Rumsfeld, and you know, I feel sorry for them, even General Franks, because Rumsfeld, it was a very tough determined negotiator, or a dictator more than a negotiator. He thought, he would allow people to think they were in discussion, but he was forcing the goal that he wanted.
And they really weren't, the senior military officers in the Pentagon and at the central command, weren't of the disposition to fight back that way. That's not the way that the military was. You take your orders, you make your case, and if you lose your case, then you make the best of it. And I think that there was a cultural aspect of this that influenced the action. But there's no question of it, it had a deleterious effect in the business of not shifting enough forces into reinforcing the area when the fighting initially came to an end and before the insurgency started. And if there had been more forces there, then the idea of an insurgency probably still would've been there, according to most of the senior officers that we talked to, they all agreed with that. But they all also agreed that it never would have had the vehemence that it turned out to have.
CONAN: And there's another sort of pattern that emerges, each unit, that is, each group of forces as they come out of Iraq, seems to be convinced that the people who are following them are really going to mess it up.
Lt. General TRAINOR: Well, there's always a sense, you know, and I don't think this is particularly a military characteristic, you know, when somebody has a project and they work on it and then they leave and somebody else is taking over, you always sense, well, he's certainly not going to do as good a job as I did. But in fact I don't think that applies, because the commanders and the units that came in subsequently, while mistakes were made in the early days, they've pretty much settled down and we've had a pretty coherent strategy for dealing with the situation. It hasn't been particularly successful, but those are circumstances beyond our capabilities, specifically the business of getting the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police trained up to replace us. A lot of mistakes have been made in the process, but the idea of doing this is the only way that we can get out of that place.
CONAN: Yeah, but even two years ago, more American forces could've been sent to plug the holes which by that point must've become obvious.
Lt. General TRAINOR: Well, I think that's debatable, Neal. I don't know that the American public would accept that. And there was a complicating feature that very soon after our victory, when we were viewed as omnipotence, then all of a sudden they found out that the country that put a man on the moon couldn't get the electricity working. And so we started to show a chink in our armor. And then there was Iraqis that were sitting on the fence about what had happened, delighted Sadam Hussein was gone, but now wondering what these Americans were going to bring. And then they started to get an attitude contrary to what they considered our occupation. And we probably would've exacerbated the problem at a certain point by sending more troops there. The window of opportunity was there in those initial months, weeks, right after the fall of Sadam Hussein.
That was when we should've gotten the forces in there, particularly with the proper mix of specialties. But after that window of opportunity had closed, roughly by September of '03, then putting more forces in there at that particular time would've helped, surely, to control the situation, but it probably would've exacerbated the tendency to have an insurgency.
CONAN: That period of time, the war itself, the planning for the conflict, all described in a new book called COBRA II: the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Its authors are Michael Gordon and General Bernard Trainor, who were both kind enough to join us today here in Studio 3-A. General Trainor, thanks as always.
Lt. General TRAINOR: It's been a pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: I'm Neal Conan, this is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.