With his article in this issue, "Why Iraq Has No Army," James Fallows completes a quartet of cover stories on issues concerning the Iraq War that together constitute a sobering—and decidedly unofficial—history of the Bush administration's conception and prosecution of its policy in Iraq.
The first of these articles, "The Fifty-first State?" (November 2002), published long before the war had even begun, laid out the many challenges that would confront the United States in a postwar Iraq—a prophetic imagining of the calamities that have in fact ensued. A further, disturbing insight involved the mindset Fallows encountered as he did his reporting: within the pre-war administration even to ask about how to prepare for possible difficulties in postwar Iraq was seen as tantamount to being anti-war and disloyal to the administration's program. "The Fifty-first State?" won the 2003 National Magazine Award in the public-interest category.
The second of the articles, "Blind Into Baghdad" (January/February 2004), brought to widespread attention the vast amount of thoughtful analysis and planning about the war and its aftermath—by the military, the State Department, universities, think tanks—that the administration chose simply to ignore in its rush to invade. These meticulous studies warned about everything from the catastrophic collapse of order in Iraq to the breakdown of the country's water and power systems.
The third article, "Bush's Lost Year" (October 2004), documented the Iraq War's impact on the war on terrorism: it drained resources and attention from other efforts while at the same time making the central problem worse by turning Iraq into a terrorist recruiting field and a de facto marketing tool.
Now, in this issue, Fallows considers the administration's pledge—that America will begin to "stand down" in Iraq as Iraqi security forces "stand up"—and asks how those security forces are coming along. The answer turns out to be that they hardly exist. Why? Once again the challenge was not anticipated. When the need for security forces became clear, the plan for training them wasn't thought through. And even now, inexplicably, the situation is being addressed without the urgency it demands.
Readers of The Atlantic have seen the public reaction to Fallows's articles in our letters columns and in many press accounts. What they cannot see is the private reaction, corroborating Fallows's assessments, in the form of off-the-record e-mails from people throughout the military and the intelligence agencies, in America and in Iraq. It will take years—and the release of documents, the rectification of memories, the loosening of tongues—before the Iraq War has its own full-blown version of The Best and the Brightest (1972), David Halberstam's authoritative and haunting reconstruction of how the United States was led into, and then mired itself ever more deeply in, the disaster of Vietnam. But the work of James Fallows already provides the framework.
In all his articles Fallows has focused on reporting the policy and planning side of the story—that is, the White House/Pentagon/Washington side—rather than on reporting from Iraq itself. That job has been handled in our pages by others, including William Langewiesche and Robert D. Kaplan. To this list we can now add Nir Rosen. Rosen's short piece in this issue is a contrarian thought experiment, playing out the consequences of a sooner rather than later U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. By way of background: Rosen speaks Arabic and has spent sixteen months in postwar Iraq, living mostly among ordinary Iraqis. The dynamics of the insurgency are of particular interest to him, and we expect to be publishing more from Rosen on that topic.
Also in this issue Corby Kummer contributes another of his regular columns on food and wine—columns that readers will be able to look forward to in every issue rather than only four times a year. Kummer has been an editor at the magazine for more than two decades, working with writers as diverse as James Fallows and Garrison Keillor, Eric Schlosser and Ian Frazier. His food writing began as something of a personal sideline. Today he is recognized as one of the most original writers in an intensely competitive field—"a dean among food writers in America," as the San Francisco Examiner called him. Kummer is a three-time recipient of James Beard journalism awards, including the prestigious M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. His work in The Atlantic has led to two acclaimed books, The Joy of Coffee (1995; revised 2003) and The Pleasures of Slow Food (2002).