[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/03/28/art.libyaopposflag_afpgetty.jpg]Charles S. Faddis
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Charles S. Faddis is a retired CIA operations officer and the former head of CIA's WMD terrorism unit. He is the author of several works of nonfiction, including "Beyond Repair," an argument for the creation of a new intelligence agency modeled on the World War II-era OSS. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Charles S. Faddis.
From July 2002 to May 2003, I was in charge of a CIA base in the mountains of Kurdistan, running intelligence collection operations and covert action directed at the regime of Saddam Hussein.
We had a host of missions to perform, but one of our key tasks was to persuade Iraqi military leaders to lay down their arms and come over to our side in advance of the American invasion of the country in the spring of 2003.
We made contact with hundreds of military officers. The vast majority posed no objection to Saddam's ouster. Many effectively said they planned to sit out the coming conflict. Almost none would agree to take actions against the regime in advance of seeing American troops enter Baghdad.
The reason, as we repeatedly explained to Washington, was that the struggle for the allegiance of the Iraqi military was psychological, and we were losing.
Saddam ran a regime of terror. No matter how badly many in the military wanted Saddam to go, they were still more afraid of him than they were of us. The dynamic was only made that much more difficult for us because over the years, we had on many occasions threatened Saddam, even bombed his military, and then wandered off leaving the monster in place and his people to continue to suffer.
While many of the officers with whom we had contact ultimately decided to sit out the war when it started, they took no action to depose Saddam and they refused to ever actively assist us. And, perhaps, most significantly, they emerged after the invasion, never psychologically defeated, to lead resistance against our occupation.
The Bush administration never fully understood what we were telling them in 2003. The Obama administration does not appear to have any better comprehension as it stumbles its way into war in Libya.
The time to intervene on behalf of the rebels in Libya, assuming that such intervention was going to take place, was at the high tide of the insurgency when Tripoli itself was threatened, military defections were at their peak and there was a sense that Gadhafi was about to be toppled. Even limited intervention at that point would have sent the key message that we would not tolerate Gadhafi remaining and that anyone standing by him would face our wrath.
A strong, decisive push at that point would likely have persuaded the key figures still supporting the existing regime to jump ship and brought a rapid end to the conflict.
Instead, we watched impotently for weeks while Gadhafi regained his footing and the rebels suffered defeat after defeat. Only when rebel-held Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, was threatened did we step in.
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