Epitaph for a ‘Cake Walk’: An Iraq Case Study

NOTE: The following is “back-story” to yesterday’s post, which I was tempted to title “All You Ever Wanted to Know About the Attack on Iraq and Now Want to Forget.” I do encourage you to give that posting a look before reading what follows. The attack was launched 20 years ago today.

In late February 2003 I could no longer hope against hope that war against Iraq could be avoided. This was beyond sad – beyond frustrating. It was unnecessary, and “the consequences were likely to be catastrophic.” I needed to take a time-out for a rigorous swim during the “adult hour” at the local high school pool; a promising way to put the coming carnage out of my mind by putting the rest of my body through its paces.

It was there it happened. Post-swim, I stood, buck naked, in the large shower room feeling as though my body and mind could indeed hang in there together; Suddenly, my blood pressure went sky high, and I found my training in nonviolence put to the test as never before. Who struts into the shower room but Kenneth Adelman, privileged protégé and egger-on of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board then headed by the infamous Richard Perle.

Still ringing in my ears was a benighted but highly mischievous op-ed Adelman had written a year earlier blithely claiming that “demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” So, when I saw him, I came close to losing it: “You and your neocon friends are going to get a lot of people killed, not only kids that don’t look like your kids, but American kids as well.” I then added a more colloquial, two-word expression for male bovine excrement to describe his “cakewalk” forecast. (In the heat of the moment it escaped me that nonviolent action includes forgoing such expletives, but I am not contrite. As for Cakewalker Adelman, he walked abruptly to his locker and was quickly gone.)

Why Pick on Adelman?

I’ll focus on Adelman because, well, how do I say this: he is the very-model-of-a-modern-major-general-neocon who polished-up-the-handle-of-Rumfeld’s-big-front-door (apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan). Not only that: Adelman is a self-described “Renaissance Man,” as one can learn from his own posting. He teaches Shakespeare. And, like Brutus in “Julius Ceasar,” Adelman an “honorable man.” Indeed, Marc Antony might sardonically apply his famous dictum to all neocons: “So are they all, all honorable men.” On military matters, though, Adelman is at best a novice, at worst a charlatan. I doubt he could shoot an azimuth, much less an actual adversary, even if his life depended on it.

Like so many neocon geniuses, then and now (think Jacob Sullivan and Antony Blinken), Adelman has no personal experience in the military. Nor is he a good judge of character, as he was eventually forced to concede when his former patron and idol Rumsfeld ended up killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as well as most of the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq on a fool’s errand. In my view, Adelman is a banal stereotype of the ‘exceptional’ foreign policy elite – the same clique of the “best and brightest” responsible for leaving three million Vietnamese dead and thousands more in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria – not to mention the proxy war in Ukraine.

As mentioned above, in his Feb. 13, 2002 Washington Post op-ed “Cakewalk in Iraq,” Adelman predicted that “liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” He added, “Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they’ve become much weaker; (3) we’ve become much stronger; and (4) now we’re playing for keeps.” And he sharply ridiculed “fearmongering from military analysts,” particularly those warning that thousands more ground troops would be needed for the war.

Adelman’s smug, acerbic assuredness – and amateurishness – screamed through even more clearly in “Cakewalk Revisited” another op-ed published by the Washington Post on April 10, 2003, three weeks after the invasion. In this one he wrote of widespread “awe at the professionalism and power of the US military” and claimed vindication for his “cakewalk” prediction. “Now is not an occasion for gloating,” he wrote, at the same time adding:

But now is an occasion for pride, and for thanks to our fighting men and women and those leading them. My confidence 14 months ago sprang from having worked for Don Rumsfeld three times – knowing he would fashion a most creative and detailed war plan – and from knowing Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz well for many years.

WMD: “We Know Where They Are”

On March 30, 2003, when George Stephanopoulos asked Rumsfeld about the “weapons of mass destruction” alleged to be in Iraq, Rumsfeld answered:

“We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”

Three years later I had a chance to follow up publicly, quoting Rumsfeld back to himself, after he denied having said that. Where did Rumsfeld get that “intelligence”? Maybe from the honorable James Clapper, who was head of imagery analysis at the time? Clapper played his role as one of “the team” (and wound up Director of National Intelligence!). In his memoir, Clapper confesses that because of pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and others, “intelligence officers, including me, were so eager to help that we found what wasn’t really there.”

Or perhaps it was a double-play trio: Clapper to Adelman to Rumsfeld. A week before Rumsfeld lied to Stephanopoulos (and then years later to me), Kenneth Adelman told the Washington Post: “I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.” He added that the WMD are likeliest to be found near Tikrit and Baghdad, “because they’re the most protected places with the best troops.”

No Cake Walk: Abandon Ship

Pity Kenneth Adelman and his neocon friends, who poured their hearts out to Vanity Fair in the fall 2006 as things went sour in Iraq. Their grandiose plans had rubbed up against reality. Adelman was perhaps the most disconsolate. Why did he not get his “cakewalk”?

“I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.…

We’re losing in Iraq.… I’ve worked with [Rumsfeld] three times in my life. I’ve been to each of his houses, in Chicago, Taos, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo, and Las Vegas. I’m very, very fond of him, but I’m crushed by his performance. Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged before? I don’t know. He certainly fooled me.”

The Same Effete Elite on Ukraine

What will happen with the present-day Adelman-type neocons, who now call the shots in the war against Russia in Ukraine, and the burgeoning confrontation with China over Taiwan? Russia’s President Vladimir Putin deems them “crazy” to take on both other nuclear powers, and has said precisely that. It seems all but certain that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is conferring with Putin as I write this, shares Putin’s view on the craziness in Washington.

Russia and China are together as never before, and each sees a need to be on very high alert. It is not healthy that these two superpowers cannot be sure of anything. Today’s situation is beyond dangerous.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Reprinted from RayMcGovern.com with permission.

Author: Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).