The price of ignoring dissent

The Bush administration has little tolerance for opposing views. Two new reports show the consequences of not listening.

Published April 1, 2005 3:59PM (EST)

The Bush administration's disregard for dissenting voices is the stuff of legend by now. Whether it's Ari Fleischer warning Americans to "watch what they say" or Republican volunteers ejecting Americans from Bush events on the grounds that they might wage a protest, the administration has shown itself so antagonistic to questioning voices that it's no wonder liberals are sometimes left heckling Ann Coulter, throwing salad dressing on Pat Buchanan and hitting William Kristol in the face with an ice cream pie.

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. But as two reports released this week show, a lot of people have already been hurt. The presidential commission assigned to investigate the intelligence failures on Iraq faulted the administration this week for not being "sufficiently open to being told that affirmative, specific evidence to support the assumption [that Saddam Hussein had WMDs] was, at best, uncertain in content or reliability." If the administration had paid attention to what would charitably be called the "equivocal" nature of the intelligence in Iraq, Sen. Joseph Biden said Thursday, the "crisis" in Iraq might have "led to U.N. inspections backed up by force, rather than to a shooting war."

And now the Washington Post brings news of a new Rand Corp. study prepared for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. One of its conclusions: Planning for the Iraq war would have been better if the administration had actually listened to the words of caution coming from outside the Pentagon. In words that could have come straight from the WMD commission's report, the Rand Corp. study recommends that the government set up "some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning."

And in the case of post-war Iraq, the report makes clear that "planning" might be a generous word. The Post quotes the report as saying that stabilization and reconstruction issues "were addressed only very generally" before the war began -- and that "no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people."

The Bush administration left virtually all planning for post-war Iraq in the hands of the Defense Department, all but freezing out more cautious -- and more experienced -- hands at the State Department. "Overall, this approach worked poorly," the Rand Corp. report says. As the Post explains, the report notes that the Pentagon lacked the know-how or the contacts with civilian aid organizations to carry out post-war reconstruction. And when the insurgency arose in Iraq, the report finds, Pentagon planners didn't understand it and didn't know how to respond to it.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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