Friday, May 28, 2004
America deserves better # 13
My apologies for the length of this one. I have edited out about 1/2 of the original text to make it as short as I could. This is perhaps the most serious failing of this administration that I have been made aware of yet. Just note the introductory paragraph and the last sentence.
By ignoring advice on Iraq they have made almost every choice wrong, permitted the early anarchy and looting that damaged the infrastructure and delayed getting things back to normal, as well as costing American credibility, increased the cost and lives lost so far in the transition, and certainly jeopardized long term success. Worse they forbade the military to publicize their advice because it could have been used as a reason to not start the war.
In every thing we do in life we have a choice among 4 options, - do the right thing right, do the right thing wrong, do the wrong thing right, or do the wrong thing wrong. After they had decided to do the wrong thing, they still had 2 choices, and by ignoring an abundance of very knowledgable advice they decided to do it wrong. Bush of course was not involved. He makes the big decisions and doesn't get involved in how they are carried out, - management by negligence.
In addition to the failures described in this article, we learn that Prince Bandar advised these turkeys to give the Iraqi army 3 months back pay, to secure their cooperation early on. The cost would have been $200M, or 0.1% of our now minimum cost for this debacle. That advice too was ignored.
Intelligent people can behave stupidly, and arrogant intelligent people are the ones most likely to do so. The arrogant stupidity of this administration is one of the major reasons why we have to get rid of them. America deserves better. All the best, Murray
Blind Into Baghdad
The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a debacle not because the government did no planning but because a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge. The inside story of a historic failure
BY JAMES FALLOWS.....
On a Friday afternoon last November, I met Douglas Feith in his office at the Pentagon to discuss what has happened in Iraq. Feith's title is undersecretary of defense for policy,. To opponents of the war in Iraq, Feith is one of several shadowy, Rasputinlike figures who are shaping U.S. policy. Feith offered a number of specific illustrations of what he considered underappreciated successes. Some were familiar —the oil wells weren't on fire, Iraqis didn't starve or flee—but others were less so. For instance, he described the Administration's careful effort to replace old Iraqi dinars, which carried Saddam Hussein's image ("It's interesting how important that is, and it ties into the whole issue of whether people think that Saddam might be coming back"), with a new form of currency, without causing a run on the currency.
But mainly he challenged the premise of most critics: that the Administration could have done a better job of preparing for the consequences of victory. No one contends that Donald Rumsfeld, or Paul Wolfowitz, or Douglas Feith, or the Administration as a whole is dumb. The wisdom of their preparations for the aftermath of military victory in Iraq is the question "The notion that there was a memo that was once written, that if we had only listened to that memo, all would be well in Iraq, is so preposterous," Feith told me.
The notion of a single memo's changing history is indeed farfetched. The idea that a substantial body of knowledge could have improved postwar prospects is not. The Administration could not have known everything about what it would find in Iraq. But it could have—and should have—done far more than it did.
Almost everything, good and bad, that has happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime was the subject of extensive pre-war discussion and analysis. This is particularly true of what have proved to be the harshest realities for the United States since the fall of Baghdad: that occupying the country is much more difficult than conquering it; that a breakdown in public order can jeopardize every other goal; that the ambition of patiently nurturing a new democracy is at odds with the desire to turn control over to the Iraqis quickly and get U.S. troops out; that the Sunni center of the country is the main security problem; that with each passing day Americans risk being seen less as liberators and more as occupiers, and targets.
All this, and much more, was laid out in detail and in writing long before the U.S. government made the final decision to attack.
The Administration will be condemned for what it did with what was known. The problems the United States has encountered are precisely the ones its own expert agencies warned against and its missteps have come at a heavy cost. And the ongoing financial, diplomatic, and human cost of the Iraq occupation is the more grievous in light of advance warnings the government had and willfully ignored..
. A military planner inside the Pentagon later told me that on September 13 his group was asked to draw up scenarios for an assault on Iraq, not just Afghanistan.
In his first State of the Union address, on January 29, 2002, President Bush said that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were an "axis of evil" that threatened world peace.
By the time of this speech efforts were afoot not simply to remove Saddam Hussein but also to imagine what Iraq would be like when he was gone. It was in keeping with a surprisingly well established U.S. government tradition of preparing for postwar duties before there was a clear idea of when fighting would begin, let alone when it would end. Before the United States entered World War II, teams at the Army War College were studying what went right and wrong when American doughboys occupied Germany after World War I. Within months of the attack on Pearl Harbor a School of Military Government had been created, at the University of Virginia, to plan for the occupation of both Germany and Japan. In 1995, while U.S. negotiators, led by Richard Holbrooke, were still working at the Dayton peace talks to end the war in the Balkans, World Bank representatives were on hand to arrange loans for the new regimes.
In late October of 2001, while the U.S. military was conducting its rout of the Taliban from Afghanistan, the State Department had quietly begun its planning for the aftermath of a "transition" in Iraq. At about the time of the "axis of evil" speech, working groups within the department were putting together a list of postwar jobs and topics to be considered, and possible groups of experts to work on them. Thus was born the Future of Iraq project, whose existence is by now well known, but whose findings and potential impact have rarely been reported and examined. The State Department first publicly mentioned the project in March of 2002.
Whatever may have been unrealistic or factional about these efforts, even more of what the project created was impressive. The final report consisted of thirteen volumes of recommendations on specific topics, plus a one-volume summary and overview. These I have read—and I read them several months into the occupation, when it was unfairly easy to judge how well the forecast was standing up. (Several hundred of the 2,500 pages were in Arabic, which sped up the reading process.) The report was labeled "For Official Use Only"—an administrative term that implies confidentiality but has no legal significance. The State Department held the report closely until, last fall, it agreed to congressional requests to turn over the findings.
Most of the project's judgments look good in retrospect—and virtually all reveal a touching earnestness about working out the details of reconstructing a society. For instance, one of the thickest volumes considered the corruption endemic in Iraqi life and laid out strategies for coping with it. (These included a new "Iraqi Government Code of Ethics," which began, "Honesty, integrity, and fairness are the fundamental values for the people of Iraq.") The overview volume, which appears to have been composed as a series of PowerPoint charts, said that the United States was undertaking this effort because, among other things, "detailed public planning" conveys U.S. government "seriousness" and the message that the U.S. government "wants to learn from past regime change experiences."
For their part, the Iraqi participants emphasized several points that ran through all the working groups' reports. A recurring theme was the urgency of restoring electricity and water supplies as soon as possible after regime change. The first item in the list of recommendations from the "Water, Agriculture and Environment" group read, "Fundamental importance of clean water supplies for Iraqis immediately after transition. Key to coalition/community relations." One of the groups making economic recommendations wrote, "Stressed importance of getting electrical grid up and running immediately—key to water systems, jobs. Could go a long way to determining Iraqis' attitudes toward Coalition forces."
A second theme was the need to plan carefully for the handling and demobilization of Iraq's very sizable military. On the one hand, a functioning army would be necessary for public order and, once coalition forces withdrew, for the country's defense. ("Our vision of the future is to build a democratic civil society. In order to make this vision a reality, we need to have an army that can work alongside this new society.") On the other hand, a large number of Saddam's henchmen would have to be removed. The trick would be to get rid of the leaders without needlessly alienating the ordinary troops—or leaving them without income. One group wrote, "All combatants who are included in the demobilization process must be assured by their leaders and the new government of their legal rights and that new prospects for work and education will be provided by the new system." Toward this end it laid out a series of steps the occupation authorities should take in the "disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration" process. Another group, in a paper on democratic principles, warned, "The decommissioning of hundreds of thousands of trained military personnel that [a rapid purge] implies could create social problems."
Next the working groups emphasized how disorderly Iraq would be soon after liberation, and how difficult it would be to get the country on the path to democracy—though that was where it had to go. "The removal of Saddam's regime will provide a power vacuum and create popular anxieties about the viability of all Iraqi institutions," a paper on rebuilding civil society said. "The traumatic and disruptive events attendant to the regime change will affect all Iraqis, both Saddam's conspirators and the general populace." Another report warned more explicitly that "the period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting." In the short term the occupying forces would have to prevent disorder. In the long term, according to a report written by Kanan Makiya, they would need to recognize that "the extent of the Iraqi totalitarian state, its absolute power and control exercised from Baghdad, not to mention the terror used to enforce compliance, cannot be overestimated in their impact on the Iraqi psyche and the attendant feeling of fear, weakness, and shame." Makiya continued, "These conditions and circumstances do not provide a strong foundation on which to build new institutions and a modern nation state."
Each of the preceding themes would seem to imply a long, difficult U.S. commitment in Iraq. America should view its involvement in Iraq, the summary report said, not as it had Afghanistan, which was left to stew in lightly supervised warlordism, but as it had Germany and Japan, which were rebuilt over many years. But nearly every working group stressed one other point: the military occupation itself had to be brief. "Note: Military government idea did not go down well," one chart in the summary volume said. The "Oil and Energy" group presented a "key concept": "Iraqis do not work for American contractors; Americans are seen assisting Iraqis."
As combat slowed in Afghanistan and the teams of the Future of Iraq project continued their deliberations, the U.S. government put itself on a wartime footing. In late May the CIA had begun what would become a long series of war-game exercises, to think through the best- and worst-case scenarios after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. According to a person familiar with the process, one recurring theme in the exercises was the risk of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad. The exercises explored how to find and secure the weapons of mass destruction that were then assumed to be in and around Baghdad, and indicated that the hardest task would be finding and protecting scientists who knew about the weapons before they could be killed by the regime as it was going down.
The CIA also considered whether a new Iraqi government could be put together through a process like the Bonn conference, which was then being used to devise a post-Taliban regime for Afghanistan. At the Bonn conference representatives of rival political and ethic groups agreed on the terms that established Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan President. The CIA believed that rivalries in Iraq were so deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.
Representatives from the Defense Department were among those who participated in the first of these CIA war-game sessions. When their Pentagon superiors at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) found out about this, in early summer, the representatives were reprimanded and told not to participate further. "OSD" is Washington shorthand, used frequently in discussions about the origins of Iraq war plans, and it usually refers to strong guidance from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, and one of Feith's deputies, William Luti. Their displeasure over the CIA exercise was an early illustration of a view that became stronger throughout 2002: that postwar planning was an impediment to war.
Because detailed thought about the postwar situation meant facing costs and potential problems, and thus weakened the case for launching a "war of choice" (the Washington term for a war not waged in immediate self-defense), it could be seen as an "antiwar" undertaking. During the months when the Administration was making its case for the war—successfully to Congress, less so to the United Nations—it acted as if the long run should be thought about only later on.
Phebe Marr, an Iraq scholar retired from the National Defense University, told the committee that the United States "should assume that it cannot get the results it wants on the cheap" from regime change. "It must be prepared to put some troops on the ground, advisers to help create new institutions, and above all, time and effort in the future to see the project through to a satisfactory end. If the United States is not willing to do so, it had best rethink the project." Rend Rahim Francke, an Iraqi exile serving on the Future of Iraq project (and now the ambassador from Iraq to the United States), said that "the system of public security will break down, because there will be no functioning police force, no civil service, and no justice system" on the first day after the fighting. "There will be a vacuum of political authority and administrative authority," she said. "The infrastructure of vital sectors will have to be restored. An adequate police force must be trained and equipped as quickly as possible. And the economy will have to be jump-started from not only stagnation but devastation." Other witnesses discussed the need to commit U.S. troops for many years—but to begin turning constitutional authority over to the Iraqis within six months. The upshot of the hearings was an emphasis on the short-term importance of security, the medium-term challenge of maintaining control while transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis, and the long-term reality of commitments and costs. All the experts agreed that what came after the fall of Baghdad would be harder for the United States than what came before.
Before the war the Administration exercised remarkable "message discipline" about financial projections. When asked how much the war might cost, officials said that so many things were uncertain, starting with whether there would even be a war, that there was no responsible way to make an estimate. In part this reflected Rumsfeld's emphasis on the unknowability of the future. It was also politically essential, in delaying the time when the Administration had to argue that regime change in Iraq was worth a specific number of billions of dollars.
In September, Lawrence Lindsay, then the chief White House economic adviser, broke discipline. He was asked by The Wall Street Journal how much a war and its aftermath might cost. He replied that it might end up at one to two percent of the gross domestic product, which would mean $100 billion to $200 billion. Lindsay added that he thought the cost of not going to war could conceivably be greater—but that didn't placate his critics within the Administration. The Administration was further annoyed by a report a few days later from Democrats on the House Budget Committee, which estimated the cost of the war at $48 billion to $93 billion. Lindsay was widely criticized in "background" comments from Administration officials, and by the end of the year he had been forced to resign. His comment "made it clear Larry just didn't get it," an Administration official told The Washington Post when Lindsay left.
In September the United States Agency for International Development began to think in earnest about its postwar responsibilities in Iraq. It was the natural contact for nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, from the United States and other countries that were concerned with relief efforts in Iraq.
USAID's administrator, Andrew Natsios, had additional teams working on plans for Iraq. Representatives of about a dozen relief organizations and NGOs were gathering each week at USAID headquarters for routine coordination meetings. Iraq occupied more and more of their time through 2002. On October 10, one day before Congress voted to authorize the war, the meetings were recast as the Iraq Working Group.
The representatives of the NGOs would say, "We've dealt with situations like this before, and we know what to expect." The U.S. government representatives would either say nothing or else reply, No, this time it will be different.
The NGOs had experience dealing with a reality in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. To the NGO world, these and other modern wars (like the ones in Africa) are not the exception but the new norm: brutal localized encounters that destroy the existing political order and create a need for long-term international supervision and support. Within the U.S. military almost no one welcomes this reality, but many recognize that peacekeeping, policing, and, yes, nation-building are now the expected military tasks. The military has gotten used to working alongside the NGOs—and the NGOs were ready with a checklist of things to worry about once the regime had fallen.
"Our initial messages were like those in any potential crisis situation," Mitchell said, "but the reason we were so insistent in this case was the precarious situation that already existed in Iraq. The internal infrastructure was shot, and you couldn't easily swing in resources from neighboring countries, like in the Balkans." The NGOs therefore asked, as a first step, for a presidential directive exempting them from the sanctions. They were told to expect an answer to this request by December. That deadline passed with no ruling. By early last year the NGOs felt that it was too dangerous to go to Iraq, and the Administration feared that if they went they might be used as hostages. No directive was ever issued.
The power vacuum that led to looting was disastrous. "The looting was not a surprise," Sandra Mitchell told me. "It should not have come as a surprise. Anyone who has witnessed the fall of a regime while another force is coming in on a temporary basis knows that looting is standard procedure.
And again the question arose of whether what lay ahead in Iraq would be similar to the other "small wars" of the previous decade-plus or something new. If it was similar, the NGOs had their checklists ready. These included, significantly, the obligations placed on any "occupying power" by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was signed in 1949 and is mainly a commonsense list of duties—from protecting hospitals to minimizing postwar reprisals—that a victorious army must carry out. "But we were corrected when we raised this point," Sandra Mitchell says. "The American troops would be 'liberators' rather than 'occupiers,' so the obligations did not apply. Our point was not to pass judgment on the military action but to describe the responsibilities."
In the same mid-October week that the Senate approved the war resolution, a team from the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College, in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, began a postwar-planning exercise. Even more explicitly than the NGOs, the Army team insisted that America's military past, reaching back to its conquest of the Philippines, in 1898, would be a useful guide to its future duties in Iraq. As a rule, professional soldiers spend more time thinking and talking about history than other people do; past battles are the only real evidence about doctrine and equipment. The institute—in essence, the War College's think tank—was charged with reviewing recent occupations to help the Army "best address the requirements that will necessarily follow operational victory in a war with Iraq," as the institute's director later said in a foreword to the team's report. "As the possibility of war with Iraq looms on the horizon, it is important to look beyond the conflict to the challenges of occupying the country."
The study's principal authors were Conrad Crane, who graduated from West Point in the early 1970s and taught there as a history professor through the 1990s, and Andrew Terrill, an Army Reserve officer and a strategic-studies professor. With a team of other researchers, which included representatives from the Army and the joint staff as well as other government agencies and think tanks, they began high-speed work on a set of detailed recommendations about postwar priorities. The Army War College report was also connected to a pre-war struggle with yet another profound postwar consequence: the fight within the Pentagon, between the civilian leadership in OSD and the generals running the Army, over the size and composition of the force that would conquer Iraq.
The war games run by the Army and the Pentagon's joint staff had led to very high projected troop levels. The Army's recommendation was for an invasion force 400,000 strong, made up of as many Americans as necessary and as many allied troops as possible. "All the numbers we were coming up with were quite large," Thomas White, a retired general (and former Enron executive) who was the Secretary of the Army during the war, told me recently. But Rumsfeld's idea of the right force size was more like 75,000. The Army and the military's joint leadership moderated their requests in putting together the TPFDD, but Rumsfeld began challenging the force numbers in detail. When combat began, slightly more than 200,000 U.S. soldiers were massed around Iraq.
The longer-term problem involved what would happen after Baghdad fell, as it inevitably would. This was distinctly an Army rather than a general military concern The military's fundamental argument for building up what Rumsfeld considered a wastefully large force is that it would be even more useful after Baghdad fell than during actual combat. The first few days or weeks after the fighting, in this view, were crucial in setting long-term expectations. Civilians would see that they could expect a rapid return to order, and would behave accordingly—or they would see the opposite. This was the "shock and awe" that really mattered, in the Army's view: the ability to make clear who was in charge. "Insights from successful occupations suggest that it is best to go in real heavy and then draw down fast," Conrad Crane, of the Army War College, told me. That is, a larger force would be necessary during and immediately after the war, but might mean a much smaller occupation presence six months later.
The heart of the Army's argument was that with too few soldiers, the United States would win the war only to be trapped in an untenable position during the occupation.
The military-civilian difference finally turned on the question of which would be harder: winning the war or maintaining the peace. According to Thomas White and several others, OSD acted as if the war itself would pose the real challenge. As White put it, "The planning assumptions were that the people would realize they were liberated, they would be happy that we were there, so it would take a much smaller force to secure the peace than it did to win the war. The resistance would principally be the remnants of the Baath Party, but they would go away fairly rapidly. And, critically, if we didn't damage the infrastructure in our military operation, as we didn't, the restart of the country could be done fairly rapidly
Through the 1990s Marine General Anthony Zinni, who preceded Tommy Franks as CENTCOM commander, had done war-gaming for a possible invasion of Iraq. His exercises involved a much larger U.S. force than the one that actually attacked last year. "They were very proud that they didn't have the kind of numbers my plan had called for," Zinni told me, referring to Rumsfeld and Cheney. "The reason we had those two extra divisions was the security situation. Revenge killings, crime, chaos—this was all foreseeable." "We went in with the minimum force to accomplish the military objectives, which was a straightforward task, never really in question and then we immediately found ourselves shorthanded in the aftermath. We sat there and watched people dismantle and run off with the country, basically."
THREE MONTHS BEFORE THE WAR
There had still been few or no estimates of the war's cost from the Administration—only contentions that projections like Lawrence Lindsay's were too high. When pressed on this point, Administration officials repeatedly said that with so many uncertainties, they could not possibly estimate the cost. But early in December, just before Lindsay was forced out, The New York Review of Books published an article by William Nordhaus titled "Iraq: The Economic Consequences of War," which included carefully considered estimates. Nordhaus, an economist at Yale, had served on Jimmy Carter's Council of Economic Advisers; the article was excerpted from a much longer economic paper he had prepared. His range of estimates was enormous, depending on how long the war lasted and what its impact on the world economy proved to be. Nordhaus calculated that over the course of a decade the direct and indirect costs of the war to the United States could be as low as $121 billion or as high as $1.6 trillion. This was a more thoroughgoing approach than the congressional budget committees had taken, but it was similar in its overall outlook. Nordhaus told me recently that he thinks he should have increased all his estimates to account for the "opportunity costs" of stationing soldiers in Iraq—that is, if they are assigned to Iraq, they're not available for deployment somewhere else.
On the last day of December, Mitch Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told The New York Times that the war might cost $50 billion to $60 billion. He had to backtrack immediately, his spokesman stressing that "it is impossible to know what any military campaign would ultimately cost." The spokesman explained Daniels's mistake by saying, "The only cost estimate we know of in this arena is the Persian Gulf War, and that was a sixty-billion-dollar event." Daniels would leave the Administration, of his own volition, five months later.
In the immediate run-up to the war the Administration still insisted that the costs were unforeseeable.
When Administration officials stopped being vague, they started being unrealistic. On March 27, eight days into combat, members of the House Appropriations Committee asked Paul Wolfowitz for a figure. He told them that whatever it was, Iraq's oil supplies would keep it low. "There's a lot of money to pay for this," he said. "It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money.
Planning for the postwar period intensified in December. The Council on Foreign Relations, working with the Baker Institute for Public Policy, at Rice University, convened a working group on "guiding principles for U.S. post-war conflict policy in Iraq." Leslie Gelb, then the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the group would take no position for or against the war. But its report, which was prepared late in January of last year, said that "U.S. and coalition military units will need to pivot quickly from combat to peacekeeping operations in order to prevent post-conflict Iraq from descending into anarchy." The report continued, "Without an initial and broad-based commitment to law and order, the logic of score-settling and revenge-taking will reduce Iraq to chaos."
By the end of the month the War College team had assembled a draft of its report, called "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." It was not classified, and can be found through the Army War College's Web site.
The War College report has three sections. The first is a review of twentieth-century occupations—from the major efforts in Japan and Germany to the smaller and more recent ones in Haiti, Panama, and the Balkans. The purpose of the review is to identify common situations that occupiers might face in Iraq. The discussion of Germany, for instance, includes a detailed account of how U.S. occupiers "de-Nazified" the country without totally dismantling its bureaucracy or excluding everyone who had held a position of responsibility
The second section of the report is an assessment of the specific problems likely to arise in Iraq, given its ethnic and regional tensions and the impact of decades of Baathist rule. Most Iraqis would welcome the end of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, it said. Nonetheless,
Long-term gratitude is unlikely and suspicion of U.S. motives will increase as the occupation continues. A force initially viewed as liberators can rapidly be relegated to the status of invaders should an unwelcome occupation continue for a prolonged time. Occupation problems may be especially acute if the United States must implement the bulk of the occupation itself rather than turn these duties over to a postwar international force.
If these views about the risk of disorder and the short welcome that Americans would enjoy sound familiar, that is because every organization that looked seriously into the situation sounded the same note.
The last and most distinctive part of the War College report is its "Mission Matrix"—a 135-item checklist of what tasks would have to be done right after the war and by whom. About a quarter of these were "critical tasks" for which the military would have to be prepared long before it reached Baghdad: securing the borders so that foreign terrorists would not slip in (as they in fact did), locating and destroying WMD supplies, protecting religious sites, performing police and security functions, and so on. The matrix was intended to lay out a phased shift of responsibilities, over months or years, from a mainly U.S. occupation force to international organizations and, finally, to sovereign Iraqis. By the end of December copies of the War College report were being circulated throughout the Army.
Early in January the National Intelligence Council, at the CIA, ran a two-day exercise on postwar problems. Pentagon representatives were still forbidden by OSD to attend. The exercise covered issues similar to those addressed in the Future of Iraq and Army War College reports—and, indeed, to those considered by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: political reconstruction, public order, border control, humanitarian problems, finding and securing WMD.
On January 15 the humanitarian groups that had been meeting at USAID asked for a meeting with Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz. They never got one. At an earlier meeting, according to a participant, they had been told, "The President has already spent an hour on the humanitarian issues."
On January 30 the International Rescue Committee, which had been participating in the weekly Iraq Working Group sessions, publicly warned that a breakdown of law and order was likely unless the victorious U.S. forces acted immediately, with martial law if necessary, to prevent it. A week later Refugees International issued a similar warning.
At the regular meeting of the Iraq Working Group on January 29, the NGO representatives discussed a recent piece of vital news. The Administration had chosen a leader for all postwar efforts in Iraq: Jay M. Garner, a retired three-star Army general who had worked successfully with the Kurds at the end of the Gulf War. The NGO representatives had no fault to find with the choice of Garner, but they were concerned, because his organization would be a subunit of the Pentagon rather than an independent operation or part of a civilian agency.
Garner assembled a team and immediately went to work. What happened to him in the next two months is the best-chronicled part of the postwar fiasco. He started from scratch, trying to familiarize himself with what the rest of the government had already done. On February 21 he convened a two-day meeting of diplomats, soldiers, academics, and development experts, who gathered at the National Defense University to discuss postwar plans. Garner had heard about the Future of Iraq project, although Rumsfeld had told him not to waste his time reading it. Nonetheless, he decided to bring its director, Thomas Warrick, onto his planning team. Garner, who clearly does not intend to be the fall guy for postwar problems in Baghdad, told me last fall that Rumsfeld had asked him to kick Warrick off his staff. In an interview with the BBC last November, Garner confirmed details of the firing that had earlier been published in Newsweek. According to Garner, Rumsfeld asked him, "Jay, have you got a guy named Warrick on your team?" "I said, 'Yes, I do.' He said, 'Well, I've got to ask you to remove him.' I said, 'I don't want to remove him; he's too valuable.' But he said, 'This came to me from such a high level that I can't overturn it, and I've just got to ask you to remove Mr. Warrick.'" Newsweek's conclusion was that the man giving the instructions was Vice President Cheney.
This is the place to note that in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say "We took this step because the President indicated ..." or "The President really wanted ..." Instead I heard "Rumsfeld wanted," "Powell thought," "The Vice President pushed," "Bremer asked," and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan's or Clinton's Administration—or Nixon's, or Kennedy's, or Johnson's, or most others—to sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover. The other conspicuously absent figure was Condoleezza Rice, even after she was supposedly put in charge of coordinating Administration policy on Iraq, last October. It is possible that the President's confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President's authority whenever they possibly can ("The President feels strongly about this, so ...").
. Wolfowitz offered a variety of incidental reasons why his views were so different from those he alluded to: "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq's reconstruction," and "We can't be sure that the Iraqi people will welcome us as liberators ... [but] I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down." His fundamental point was this: "It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine."
None of the government working groups that had seriously looked into the question had simply "imagined" that occupying Iraq would be more difficult than defeating it. They had presented years' worth of experience suggesting that this would be the central reality of the undertaking. Wolfowitz either didn't notice this evidence or chose to disbelieve it. What David Halberstam said of Robert McNamara in The Best and the Brightest is true of those at OSD as well: they were brilliant, and they were fools.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE WAR
At the beginning of March, Andrew Natsios won a little-noticed but crucial battle. Because the United States had not yet officially decided whether to go to war, Natsios had not been able to persuade the Office of Management and Budget to set aside the money that USAID would need for immediate postwar efforts in Iraq. The battle was the more intense because Natsios, unlike his counterparts at the State Department, was both privately and publicly supportive of the case for war. Just before combat he was able to arrange an emergency $200 million grant from USAID to the World Food Programme. This money could be used to buy food immediately for Iraqi relief operations—and it helped to ensure that there were no postwar food shortages.
ONE WEEK BEFORE THE WAR
On March 13 humanitarian organizations had gathered at USAID headquarters for what was effectively the last meeting of the Iraq Working Group. Wendy Chamberlin, the senior USAID official present, discussed the impending war in terms that several participants noted, wrote down, and later mentioned to me. "It's going to be very quick," she said, referring to the actual war. "We're going to meet their immediate needs. We're going to turn it over to the Iraqis. And we're going to be out within the year."
On April 9 U.S. forces took Baghdad. On April 14 the Pentagon announced that most of the fighting was over. On May 1 President Bush declared that combat operations were at an end. By then looting had gone on in Baghdad for several weeks. "When the United States entered Baghdad on April 9, it entered a city largely undamaged by a carefully executed military campaign," Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, told a congressional committee in June. "However, in the three weeks following the U.S. takeover, unchecked looting effectively gutted every important public institution in the city—with the notable exception of the oil ministry." On April 11, when asked why U.S. soldiers were not stopping the looting, Donald Rumsfeld said, "Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here."
This was a moment, when Rumsfeld crossed a line. His embrace of "uncertainty" became a reckless evasion of responsibility. He had only disdain for "predictions," yes, and no one could have forecast every circumstance of postwar Baghdad. But virtually everyone who had thought about the issue had warned about the risk of looting. U.S. soldiers could have prevented it—and would have, if so instructed.
The looting spread, destroying the infrastructure that had survived the war and creating the expectation of future chaos. "There is this kind of magic moment, which you can't imagine until you see it," an American civilian who was in Baghdad during the looting told me. "People are used to someone being in charge, and when they realize no one is, the fabric rips."
On May 6 the Administration announced that Bremer would be the new U.S. administrator in Iraq. Two weeks into that job Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and other parts of the Baathist security structure.
If the failure to stop the looting was a major sin of omission, sending the Iraqi soldiers home was, in the view of nearly everyone except those who made the decision, a catastrophic error of commission.
The case against wholesale dissolution of the army, rather than a selective purge at the top, was that it created an instant enemy class: hundreds of thousands of men who still had their weapons but no longer had a paycheck or a place to go each day. Manpower that could have helped on security patrols became part of the security threat. Studies from the Army War College, the Future of Iraq project, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to name a few, had all considered exactly this problem and suggested ways of removing the noxious leadership while retaining the ordinary troops. They had all warned strongly against disbanding the Iraqi army. The Army War College, for example, said in its report, "To tear apart the Army in the war's aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society."
"This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute," Walter Slocombe—who held Feith's job, undersecretary of defense for policy, during the Clinton Administration, and who is now a security adviser on Bremer's team—told Peter Slevin, of The Washington Post, last November. He said that he had discussed the plan with Wolfowitz at least once and with Feith several times, including the day before the order was given.
Here is the hardest question: How could the Administration have thought that it was safe to proceed in blithe indifference to the warnings of nearly everyone with operational experience in modern military occupations? Saying that the Administration considered this a truly urgent "war of necessity" doesn't explain the indifference. Even if it feared that Iraq might give terrorists fearsome weapons at any moment, it could still have thought more carefully about the day after the war. World War II was a war of absolute necessity, and the United States still found time for detailed occupation planning.
The President must have known that however bright the scenarios, the reality of Iraq eighteen months after the war would affect his re-election. The political risk was enormous and obvious. Administration officials must have believed not only that the war was necessary but also that a successful occupation would not require any more forethought than they gave it.
It will be years before we fully understand how intelligent people convinced themselves of this.
One factor is the nature of the President himself. Leadership is always a balance between making large choices and being aware of details. George W. Bush has an obvious preference for large choices. This gave him his chance for greatness after the September 11 attacks. But his lack of curiosity about significant details may be his fatal weakness. When the decisions of the past eighteen months are assessed and judged, the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness. Because of warnings it chose to ignore, it squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives.