Ray McGovern: Was Cheney behind Iraqi army’s failed Basra offensive?


Story Transcript

Does Sen. Kennedy know something we don’t?

MATTHEW PALEVSKY,PRESENTER: Here on Capitol Hill, both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker had testified to Iraq several times over the last couple of days. To better understand their testimonies, I spoke with former CIA official Ray McGovern. McGovern worked for the federal government for over 27 years and under seven different presidents, presenting the morning intelligence briefing at the White House for several of them.

RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA OFFICER AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Mostly it was entirely predictable. What shocked me was how Senator Kennedy, at the very end of his remarks, apropos of nothing, asked Petraeus and Crocker, “Tell me, General, and Ambassador Crocker, when the vice president was in Baghdad, were you in any meetings where the offensive against Basra was discussed with the vice president?”

(CLIP BEGINS)

TED KENNEDY, US SENATOR (D-MA): Were you at any meetings with the vice president or Ambassador Crocker where the issue of the Basra invasion took place?

RYAN CROCKER, US AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: It was not discussed.

KENNEDY: It was not discussed at all during the vice president’s visit to Baghdad? The possibility of Maliki going into Basra was not discussed? You were not at any meetings where the vice president was present or where this was discussed in his presence?

CROCKER: It was not discussed in any meeting I attended. No, sir.

KENNEDY: General?

DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: Same, Senator.

KENNEDY: Thank you. My time’s up.

PETRAEUS: Thank you, sir.

(CLIP ENDS)

Well, I thought Petraeus was going to have a little conniptionary. He turned a little bit white and looked at Crocker, and Crocker, ashen as he was for the whole time, even paled the more, and he thought really quick, and his eyes sort of went like this, and he said, “No, sir. I was at no meetings, no meetings where Basra was discussed with the vice president.” “And you, General Petraeus?” “Same.” I think Kennedy knows more than the rest of us know. I think it’s very clear that if you’re looking for why Maliki went off half-cocked for a big offensive down against Muqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq, it was because Cheney told him to. And I would be shocked if Cheney didn’t tell Petraeus and Crocker what he was going to tell Maliki�not only Cheney, but McCain. They were both there just days before. Petraeus has hundreds of troops there embedded with the Iraqi forces. He had to know exactly what was going on. He just couldn’t stop it. Why? Well, he didn’t want to stop it, because Cheney is running things. The plan was to get down there into the south, to (A) show that this fellow could take the initiative and be�well, the president was instructed two days later to say this is a defining moment, a defining moment in the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki. Oh, yeah, it sure was, but not the way they meant. And so Petraeus and Crocker could come before Congress and say, “Look, you told us,” you know, “you told us last time that the Iraqis had to take more initiative so that we’re not doing the fighting.” Well, look�just what happened. You cleaned out the whole of southern Iraq. And they still played that theme, bring several changes on that theme. Here Maliki finally took the initiative, “Iraqis are doing�you know, we supported them.” But that was only an half-truth. The other truth was he lost miserably. Muqtada al-Sadr has 70,000 people under arms with better arms than Maliki had. And if it weren’t for the US air force and US ground troops to bail them out, not only down there in Basra but out from Sadr City, you know, he would have had even a bloodier nose. Right after it became clear that, you know, it’s a great initiative, but it was going to lose, you know, they distanced themselves from it and they told all the press people, you know, “We didn’t know anything about [inaudible].” I mean, Hayden, the head of the CIA, goes on Meet the Press and says, you know, “I didn’t know anything about it, and neither did Petraeus or Crocker.”

(CLIP BEGINS)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, MEET THE PRESS: The United States was not informed by the Iraqis that he was going to do this?

GEN. VINCENT HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: I don’t know what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation. I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister, and personally by the prime minister, and that he’s relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

RUSSERT: Were you aware of it?

HAYDEN: I was�. In terms of being pre-briefed or having, you know, the normal planning process, in which you build up to this days or weeks ahead of time, no, no, I was not.

RUSSERT: You didn’t know it was going to happen?

HAYDEN: No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did.

(CLIP ENDS)

Well, you know, that’s a crock. And in the Bronx, where I come from, we say “that’s a crock,” okay? Because [inaudible] Petraeus has got people all over that Iraqi army, and there’s no way that he could not have known. And I’m sure that Cheney told him, included him as well. Maliki can’t scratch his nose without asking Petraeus to make sure there are some bodyguards around. So it was very much a joint operation. Ironically, they wanted to give the initiative to Maliki because they thought it might succeed, and then they wanted to give the initiative to Maliki because it failed so miserably. You know. This is a great crew, you know. Those of us who are old enough to have been through Vietnam, you know, this is an old tactic. You can construct a concept out of language: “special group” can be brought to mean whatever you want it to mean, okay? And so in this case it’s always Iranian-influenced, nefarious influence from Iran, and all these adjectives that were used yesterday to blame what’s happening on�you know. I mean, you really need to be able to blame somebody. And as has been pointed out ad nauseam, the Iranians are indeed involved with all these groups, including Maliki, including the other part of the government, so to speak. And so to the degree things are going a-�shambles, well, it must be the Iranians. How do we say the Iranians if they’re involved with everybody? Ah! How about “special groups”? Do you think that will work? Well, it seemed to work yesterday, because some of the congress people were using the same thing. And so, you know, those who were more perspicacious or could see through this stuff [were] saying, “Wow, this is really quite a dog and pony show.” Petraeus talked about battlefield geometry; I’ll talk about arithmetic. Okay? Look at his own manual about insurgency. There’s no ratio that can ever cope with a country. He talked about 27 million. There aren’t 27 million Iraqis anymore, only 23 million, ’cause four [million] are outside in diaspora, four [million] refugees, okay? But you can’t occupy a country that doesn’t want to be occupied with the ratio of troops that we have. And the reason we don’t have more troops is because there are no more troops. And so what you have is very similar to Vietnam. We have even US colonels�at the very end of Vietnam, Colonel Harry Summers, who was the army colonel who was sent to Hanoi to negotiate the final withdrawal of US and other troops�okay? So he goes there and he makes the big mistake of saying, “Colonel Tu”�that was his opposite number�”Colonel Tu, you have to admit that you never beat us at a pitched battle.” And Tu looks at him. He says, “That is correct. It is also irrelevant.” Pitched battles don’t happen in insurgencies. And so, as somebody pointed out yesterday�I guess it was said at a Web�here we have taken the most sophisticated, maneuverable forces that have ever been created in the world, and wasted them, squandered them on an enterprise that has no chance of being won. And I have been saying that, personally, for four and a half years.

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Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer and was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.