Monday, February 11, 2008

Burying Bad News

It should come as no surprise that when an administration prizes secrecy above almost anything else, different branches of that administration will follow suit, especially when what is being hidden is bad news. A rather lengthy article in today's NY Times gives a good example of this mission creep by showing how the Pentagon buried a RAND Corporation report because it was critical of the administration's planning and execution of the Iraq War.

The Army is accustomed to protecting classified information. But when it comes to the planning for the Iraq war, even an unclassified assessment can acquire the status of a state secret.

That is what happened to a detailed study of the planning for postwar Iraq prepared for the Army by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed center that conducts research for the military.

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key. ...

The report was submitted at a time when the Bush administration was trying to rebut building criticism of the war in Iraq by stressing the progress Mr. Bush said was being made. The approach culminated in his announcement in November 2005 of his “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

That "wide-ranging critique" starts with the foolish assumptions that were in place from day one (little reconstruction would be necessary once the battles were over) and continues with the various mistakes thereafter, among them the failure to secure the Iraqi borders and to retain the Iraqi civilian police force. The point of the study, however, was to assist in the planning for a post-war Iraq, and, by implication, to provide a useful guide for further conflicts. Surely the Army would want to know what went wrong and why so that those mistakes would not be repeated, right?


Neither General Lovelace nor General Melcher agreed to be interviewed for this article, but General Lovelace provided a statement through a spokesman at his headquarters in Kuwait.

“The RAND study simply did not deliver a product that could have assisted the Army in paving a clear way ahead; it lacked the perspective needed for future planning by the U.S. Army,” he said.

That's the official response. The NY Times soon found a more reasonable answer:

A Pentagon official who is familiar with the episode offered a different interpretation: Army officials were concerned that the report would strain relations with a powerful defense secretary and become caught up in the political debate over the war. “The Army leaders who were involved did not want to take the chance of increasing the friction with Secretary Rumsfeld,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he did not want to alienate senior military officials.

That's the way this administration operates. And that's why the casualties continue.

343 days.

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