Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
It didn't. While some members of the Pentagon's Joint Staff were talking about drawing down troop levels, other information coming to Miller and the NSC staff indicated that things in Iraq were spiraling out of control. "In many instances, we'd be reporting what the generals were saying, [and] we thought we were giving Condi a measure of truth," says a senior NSC staff member. "But what was happening was the generals were also putting a big spin on it."
"Sanity checks." If anyone on the NSC staff could get hard information, it was Miller. A career civil servant, he had spent 31 years in the government, including two years at the State Department and 22 years working for seven secretaries of defense. Miller had been awarded the Pentagon's highest civilian medal five times as well as the department's distinguished public service medal.
Miller's Iraq team had superb Pentagon connections. NSC staff members made furtive forays onto the military's secure intranet, the SIPRNET, for data about troop casualties and insurgent attacks and started compiling their own spreadsheets. They also tapped sources at Franks's Central Command or got sympathetic sources at Bremer's CPA or former colleagues at the Pentagon to let them peek at computer screens to see what new information was coming in from Iraq, and they called friendly embassies for "sanity checks." One reliable source was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who shared the NSC staff's concerns. A veteran defense official who had served three combat tours in Vietnam, Armitage used his tentacles at all levels of the military and the media to get real data and share them with the NSC staff.
Members of Cheney's office also proved to be allies, if unlikely ones. Contrary to much of the conventional wisdom, the vice president had only a small national security staff working on Iraq, and-unlike in the run-up to the invasion-he played very little role in the postwar efforts, NSC sources say. The two Cheney officials most steeped in Iraq issues were career Foreign Service officers, both willing to help. The NSC staff then started asking DOD questions. "The military staffs began to respond," says a former staff member. "But they knew we were passing this information to Rice. So they would report the numbers but downplay the significance of the trends."
Each week, there were scores of White House meetings on Iraq in which the NSC staff participated. Gradually, Rice shifted from the counselor role she had envisioned herself playing to more of a coordinator. "This was the president's priority," says a former NSC staff member, "and the NSC staff was being the sheepdog or border collie, yipping at people to make sure things were getting done." Executing was Miller's job. "I can't tell you the number of times," says a former staff member, "when Dr. Rice would turn to Frank and say, 'Frank, I want you to fix it.'"
But there was only so much even a seasoned veteran like Miller could do. Rumsfeld was a consummate infighter with a strong aversion to briefings that didn't have "some large self-evident truth," says Feith, a former deputy. "Every briefing has to say, 'Here's the cosmos; here's where we are in the cosmos.' You need a map of the cosmos, with a sign saying, 'You are here.'" Once that was established, Feith says, Rumsfeld wanted to spend much of the debate on assumptions that may have been made about the cosmos. "His entire approach to life," says Feith, "is that whatever assumptions you have must be re-examined constantly in the hard light of facts."