Time runs a scathing investigation this week into the history of missteps and miscalculations by U.S. policymakers that has fueled the insurgency in Iraq. Near the end of the piece, reporter Joe Klein writes that some members of the intelligence community favor putting a stop to aggressive sweeps through insurgent-heavy areas, in order to concentrate troop levels in major cities. But, he adds:

[T]he Pentagon leadership is unlikely to support a strategy that concedes broad swaths of territory to the enemy. In fact, none of the intelligence officers who spoke with Time or their ranking superiors could provide a plausible road map toward stability in Iraq. … Yet, despite their gloom, every one of the officers favors continuing — indeed, augmenting — the war effort. If the U.S. leaves, they say, the chaos in central Iraq could threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. And al Qaeda operatives like al-Zarqawi could have a relatively safe base of operations in the Sunni triangle. “We have never taken this operation seriously enough,” says a retired senior military official with experience in Iraq. “We have never provided enough troops. We have never provided enough equipment, or the right kind of equipment. We have never worked the intelligence part of the war in a serious, sustained fashion. We have failed the Iraqi people, and we have failed our troops.”

We’ve seen overviews like this before, but Time trots out a few nuggets that are new to us. One of the more damning revelations comes from “a covert-intelligence officer working for the [Iraq Survey Group]” who told the magazine that he had been ordered in August 2003 to “terminate” contact with any Iraqi sources working on matters other than the WMD search. As a result, the officer says, he stopped meeting with a dozen Iraqis who were “providing information — maps, photographs and addresses of former Baathist militants, safe houses and stockpiles of explosives — about the insurgency in the Mosul area.”

On another front, In These Times reports that some of the grunts in Iraq who have come home in one piece are finding their health isn’t as whole as they thought. The piece focuses on New York National Guardsman Gerard Matthew, who returned from his Iraq tour a year and a half ago. Once home, he found out that a fellow soldier, Sgt. Ray Ramos, and a group of other New York Guard members tested positive for depleted uranium (DU) contamination — and so did he. As a possible result, his 13-month old daughter has a condition common to those with radioactive exposure: her right hand has only two fingers.

It turns out that the U.S. military has used more than 1,000 tons of DU weapons in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 tons in Iraq. “The problem is that when DU hits its target, it burns at a high temperature, throwing off clouds of microscopic particles that poison a wide area and remain radioactive for billions of years,” the magazine reports. “If inhaled, these particles can lodge in lungs, other organs or bones, irradiating tissue and causing cancers.” Even though soldiers are facing these risks, the military is putting off testing soldiers for exposure, with only 270 returning troops having been tested for DU so far.

In this week’s New York Review of Books, Peter W. Galbraith explores the Iraqi constitution and finds that it’s the best bad solution we have. His piece notes the many areas in which the constitution is lacking, including the fact that local law will trump federal law, making “provisions on the rights of women … confusing and unworkable.” But the constitution is as close as we’ll come to perfection, and as a result, “Iraq is well on the way to becoming a loose union of three separate and radically different states.” He continues, “If the current constitution is rejected, there will not be another one … For all its flaws, this constitution represents the last chance to hold Iraq together. The alternative is not a more centralized state. It is disintegration and chaos.”

Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative also weighs in on Iraq this week, though in an unorthodox way. James Kurth, a professor at Swarthmore College, sees the only road to success for the U.S. in Iraq as coming though a “splitting policy.” Citing Cold War examples of “splitting” radical Marxists from moderate communists in Europe, Kurth advocates splitting the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq, and letting them bleed each other to death in a civil war while American troops pull out.

It might seem obvious that an Iraqi civil war, or a war between separating Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish states, would be bad for U.S. interests. … If, however, American military forces were no longer in Iraq, the major enemies of each Iraqi ethnic community or state would be each other. The United States would remain an enemy in the memory of many of the people living in Iraq … but for each ethnic community, the immediate and operational enemy would be the other communities now engaged in killing them.

It’s a ruthless calculation, and one which may eventually come about by default — but making it a matter of national policy seems pretty unlikely.

Paul McLeary

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.