On December 11 an ice storm hit the Mid-Atlantic states. For Conrad Crane and his associates at the Army War College, deep in their crash effort to prepare their report on postwar Army challenges, this was a blessing. "The storm worked out perfectly," Crane told me afterward. "We were all on the post, there was no place anyone could go, we basically had the whole place to ourselves."
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 main tool was a Fragebogen, or questionnaire, about each person's past activities, which groups of anti-Nazi Germans and Allied investigators reviewed and based decisions on.)
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.
According to the standard military model, warfare unfolds through four phases: "deterrence and engagement," "seize the initiative," "decisive operations," and "post-conflict." Reality is never divided quite that neatly, of course, but the War College report stressed that Phase IV "post-conflict" planning absolutely had to start as early as possible, well before Phase III "decisive operations"—the war itself. But neither the Army nor the other services moved very far past Phase III thinking. "All the A-Team guys wanted to be in on Phase III, and the B-team guys were put on Phase IV," one man involved in Phase IV told me. Frederick Barton, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who was involved in postwar efforts in Haiti, Rwanda, and elsewhere, put it differently. "If you went to the Pentagon before the war, all the concentration was on the war," he said. "If you went there during the war, all the concentration was on the war. And if you went there after the war, they'd say, 'That's Jerry Bremer's job.'" Still, the War College report confirmed what the Army leadership already suspected: that its real challenges would begin when it took control of Baghdad.
Two Months Before the War
On January 27, 2003, the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, reported that "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it." Twenty-four hours later, in his State of the Union address, President Bush said that the United States was still hoping for UN endorsement of an action against Iraq—but would not be limited by the absence of one.
Increasingly the question in Washington about war was When? Those arguing for delay said that it would make everything easier. Perhaps Saddam Hussein would die. Perhaps he would flee or be overthrown. Perhaps the UN inspectors would find his weapons, or determine conclusively that they no longer existed. Perhaps the United States would have time to assemble, if not a broad alliance for the battle itself, at least support for reconstruction and occupation, so that U.S. soldiers and taxpayers would not be left with the entire job. Even if the responsibility were to be wholly America's, each passing month would mean more time to plan the peace as thoroughly as the war: to train civil-affairs units (which specialize in peacekeeping rather than combat), and to hire Arabic-speakers. Indeed, several months into the U.S. occupation a confidential Army "lessons learned" study said that the "lack of competent interpreters" throughout Iraq had "impeded operations." Most of the "military linguists" who were operating in Iraq, the study said, "basically [had] the ability to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito."
Those arguing against delay said that the mere passage of time wouldn't do any good and would bring various risks. The world had already waited twelve years since the Gulf War for Saddam Hussein to disarm. Congress had already voted to endorse the war. The Security Council had already shown its resolve. The troops were already on their way. Each passing day, in this view, was a day in which Saddam Hussein might deploy his weapons of terror.
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." The most senior Pentagon official to meet with them was Joseph Collins, a deputy assistant secretary of defense. The representatives of the NGOs were generally the most senior and experienced figures from each organization; the government representatives were not of the same stature. "Without naming names, the people we met were not real decision-makers," Joel Charny says.
On January 24 a group of archaeologists and scholars went to the Pentagon to brief Collins and other officials about the most important historic sites in Iraq, so that they could be spared in bombing. Thanks to precision targeting, the sites would indeed survive combat. Many, of course, were pillaged almost immediately afterward.
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 end of January, Sam Gardiner entered the picture. Gardiner is a retired Air Force colonel who taught for years at the National War College in Washington. His specialty is war gaming, and through the 1990s he was involved once or twice a year in major simulations involving an attack on Baghdad. In the late 1990s Gardiner had been a visiting scholar at the Swedish National Defense University, where he studied the effects of the bombing of Serbia's electrical grid. The big discovery was how long it took to get the system up and running again, after even a precise and limited attack. "Decapitation" attacks on a regime, like the one planned for Iraq, routinely begin with disabling the electrical grid. Gardiner warned that this Phase III step could cause big Phase IV problems.
Late in 2002 Gardiner had put together what he called a "net assessment" of how Iraq would look after a successful U.S. attack. His intended audience, in government, would recognize the designation as droll. "Net assessment" is a familiar term for a CIA-style intelligence analysis, but Gardiner also meant it to reflect the unusual origin of his data: none of it was classified, and all of it came from the Internet. Through the power of search engines Gardiner was able to assemble what in other days would have seemed like a secret inside look at Iraq's infrastructure. He found electricity diagrams for the pumps used at Iraq's main water stations; he listed replacement parts for the most vulnerable elements of the electrical grid. He produced a scheme showing the elements of the system that would be easiest to attack but then quickest to repair. As it happened, damage to the electrical grid was a major postwar problem. Despite the precision of the bombing campaign, by mid-April wartime damage and immediate postwar looting had reduced Baghdad's power supply to one fifth its pre-war level, according to an internal Pentagon study. In mid-July the grid would be back to only half its pre-war level, working on a three-hours-on, three-hours-off schedule.
On January 19 Gardiner presented his net assessment, with information about Iraq's water, sewage, and public-health systems as well as its electrical grid, at an unclassified forum held by the RAND Corporation, in Washington. Two days later he presented it privately to Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad was a former RAND analyst who had joined the Bush Administration's National Security Council and before the war was named the President's "special envoy and ambassador-at-large for Free Iraqis." (He has recently become the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.) Gardiner told me recently that Khalilzad was sobered by what he heard, and gave Gardiner a list of other people in the government who should certainly be shown the assessment. In the next few weeks Gardiner presented his findings to Bear McConnell, the USAID official in charge of foreign disaster relief, and Michael Dunn, an Air Force general who had once been Gardiner's student and worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as acting director for strategic plans and policy. A scheduled briefing with Joseph Collins, who was becoming the Pentagon's point man for postwar planning, was canceled at the last minute, after a description of Gardiner's report appeared in Inside the Pentagon, an influential newsletter.
The closer the nation came to war, the more the Administration seemed to view people like Gardiner as virtual Frenchmen—that is, softies who would always find some excuse to oppose the war. In one sense they were right. "It became clear that what I was really arguing was that we had to delay the war," Gardiner told me. "I was saying, 'We aren't ready, and in just six or eight weeks there is no way to get ready for everything we need to do.'" (The first bombs fell on Baghdad eight weeks after Gardiner's meeting with Khalilzad.) "Everyone was very interested and very polite and said I should talk to other people," Gardiner said. "But they had that 'Stalingrad stare'—people who had been doing stuff under pressure for too long and hadn't had enough sleep. You want to shake them and say, 'Are you really with me?'"
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. "We had been pushing constantly to have reconstruction authority based in the State Department," Joel Charny told me. He and his colleagues were told by Wendy Chamberlin, a former ambassador to Pakistan who had become USAID's assistant administrator for the area including Iraq, that the NGOs should view Garner's appointment as a victory. After all, Garner was a civilian, and his office would draw representatives from across the government. "We said, 'C'mon, Wendy, his office is in the Pentagon!'" Charny says. Jim Bishop, a former U.S. ambassador who now works for InterAction, pointed out that the NGOs, like the U.S. government, were still hoping that other governments might help to fund humanitarian efforts. Bishop asked rhetorically, "Who from the international community is going to fund reconstruction run through the Pentagon?"
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. "The messiah could not have organized a sufficient relief and reconstruction or humanitarian effort in that short a time," a former CIA analyst named Judith Yaphe said after attending the meeting, according to Mark Fineman, Doyle McManus, and Robin Wright, of the Los Angeles Times. (Fineman died of a heart attack last fall, while reporting from Baghdad.) Garner was also affected by tension between OSD and the rest of the government. 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.
From the archives:"The Mind of George W. Bush"
What are Bush's gifts and limitations as a decision-maker? The author, a journalist and a historian, speaks to people who have known the President for many years, and concludes that Bush's greatest strength is clarity of vision. The unknown quantity? Imagination. By Richard BrookhiserFrom Atlantic Unbound:Interviews: "What Makes W. Tick?"
(March 11, 2003)
The historian and journalist Richard Brookhiser weighs in on George W. Bush—his management style, his mean streak, his religiosity, and his recovery from alcoholism.
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 ...").
To me, the more likely inference is that Bush took a strong overall position—fighting terrorism is this generation's challenge—and then was exposed to only a narrow range of options worked out by the contending forces within his Administration. If this interpretation proves to be right, and if Bush did in fact wish to know more, then blame will fall on those whose responsibility it was to present him with the widest range of choices: Cheney and Rice.
One Month Before the War
On February 14 Hans Blix reaffirmed to the United Nations his view that Iraq had decided to cooperate with inspectors. The division separating the United States and Britain from France, Germany, and Russia became stark. On February 15 antiwar demonstrators massed in major cities around the world: a million in Madrid, more than a million in Rome, and a million or more in London, the largest demonstration in Britain's history.
On February 21 Tony Blair joined George Bush at Camp David, to underscore their joint determination to remove the threat from Iraq.
Three Weeks Before the War
As the war drew near, the dispute about how to conduct it became public. On February 25 the Senate Armed Services Committee summoned all four Chiefs of Staff to answer questions about the war—and its aftermath. The crucial exchange began with a question from the ranking Democrat, Carl Levin. He asked Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, how many soldiers would be required not to defeat Iraq but to occupy it. Well aware that he was at odds with his civilian superiors at the Pentagon, Shinseki at first deflected the question. "In specific numbers," he said, "I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements. But I think ..." and he trailed off.
"How about a range?" Levin asked. Shinseki replied—and recapitulated the argument he had made to Rumsfeld.
I would say that what's been mobilized to this point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.
We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so, it takes significant ground force presence to maintain safe and secure environment to ensure that the people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.
Two days later Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the House Budget Committee. He began working through his prepared statement about the Pentagon's budget request and then asked permission to "digress for a moment" and respond to recent commentary, "some of it quite outlandish, about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq." Everyone knew he meant Shinseki's remarks.
"I am reluctant to try to predict anything about what the cost of a possible conflict in Iraq would be," Wolfowitz said, "or what the possible cost of reconstructing and stabilizing that country afterwards might be." This was more than reluctance—it was the Administration's consistent policy before the war. "But some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark."
This was as direct a rebuke of a military leader by his civilian superior as the United States had seen in fifty years. 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 March 17 the United States, Britain, and Spain announced that they would abandon their attempt to get a second Security Council vote in favor of the war, and President Bush gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum: leave the country within forty-eight hours or suffer the consequences. On March 19 the first bombs fell on Baghdad.
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, as when he tore up the TPFDD, that 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. There were two arguments for taking this step. First, the army had "already disbanded itself," as Douglas Feith put it to me—soldiers had melted away, with their weapons. Second, the army had been an integral part of the Sunni-dominated Baathist security structure. Leaving it intact would be the wrong symbol for the new Iraq—especially for the Shiites, whom the army had oppressed. "These actions are part of a robust campaign to show the Iraqi people that the Saddam regime is gone, and will never return," a statement from Bremer's office said.
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. "The critical point," he told Slevin, "was that nobody argued that we shouldn't do this." No one, that is, the Administration listened to.
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. My guess is that three factors will be important parts of the explanation.
One is the panache of Donald Rumsfeld. He was near the zenith of his influence as the war was planned. His emphasis on the vagaries of life was all the more appealing within his circle because of his jauntiness and verve. But he was not careful about remembering his practical obligations. Precisely because he could not foresee all hazards, he should have been more zealous about avoiding the ones that were evident—the big and obvious ones the rest of the government tried to point out to him.
A second is the triumphalism of the Administration. In the twenty-five years since Ronald Reagan's rise, political conservatives have changed position in a way they have not fully recognized. Reagan's arrival marked the end of a half century of Democrat-dominated government in Washington. Yes, there has been one Democratic President since Reagan, and eventually there will be others. But as a rule the Republicans are now in command. Older Republicans—those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, those who are now in power in the Administration—have not fully adjusted to this reality. They still feel like embattled insurgents, as if the liberals were in the driver's seat. They recognize their electoral strength but feel that in the battle of ideology their main task is to puncture fatuous liberal ideas.
The consequence is that Republicans are less used to exposing their own ideas to challenges than they should be. Today's liberals know there is a challenge to every aspect of their world view. All they have to do is turn on the radio. Today's conservatives are more likely to think that any contrary ideas are leftovers from the tired 1960s, much as liberals of the Kennedy era thought that conservatives were in thrall to Herbert Hoover. In addition, the conservatives' understanding of modern history makes them think that their instincts are likely to be right and that their critics will be proved wrong. Europeans scorned Ronald Reagan, and the United Nations feared him, but in the end the Soviet Union was gone. So for reasons of personal, political, and intellectual history, it is understandable that members of this Administration could proceed down one path in defiance of mounting evidence of its perils. The Democrats had similar destructive self-confidence in the 1960s, when they did their most grandiose Great Society thinking.
The third 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.