By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Vice President Cheney yesterday defended his much-criticized claim a year ago that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes" and said he believes that Iraq "turned a corner" last year when its people held elections creating a constitution and a government.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Cheney predicted that 10 years from now people will look back at 2005 and say, "That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq."
But he also acknowledged that the administration underestimated the strength of the insurgency. "I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered," he said. He added: "We didn't anticipate . . . the devastation that 30 years of Saddam's rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people."
Cheney has repeatedly stood by his May 2005 declaration that the insurgency was waning, even as Democratic politicians and comedians have mocked it. It has joined a litany of administration statements about Iraq cited as examples of wishful thinking, including that reconstruction would be inexpensive for U.S. taxpayers and that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.
The most famous optimistic assessment came nearly three years ago, when President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier off California under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." "We have seen the turning of the tide," he said then. Since that statement, more than 2,300 Americans have died in Iraq.
Despite Cheney's assertion that no one foresaw how difficult the post-invasion phase would be, defense and Middle East experts have said that administration officials during the run-up to the war ignored their warnings about potential obstacles ahead.
For example, a group of specialists who met at the Army War College in December 2002, three months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, warned: "The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace is real and serious." Iraq had been strained by decades of misrule, wars and sanctions, they observed, noting that "if the United States assumes control of Iraq, it will therefore assume control of a badly battered economy." The writers of the Army report emphasized that Iraq was going to be tougher than the administration was acknowledging publicly. "Successful occupation will not occur unless the special circumstances of this unusual country" are heeded, they warned.
Likewise, 70 national security experts and Middle East scholars met about the same time for two days at the National Defense University and then issued a report concluding that occupying Iraq "will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II." One participant, Army Col. Paul Hughes, sent a copy of the conference report to the office of Douglas J. Feith, then the undersecretary of defense for policy, but "never heard back from him or anyone else" over there, he said.