America's involvement in nation-building over the past fifteen years has yielded some significant knowledge about organizing for the task, as a recent study by the RAND Corporation demonstrates. But the Bush Administration failed to draw on this institutional knowledge. Its most serious planning mistakes were to set up its postwar-reconstruction organization at the last minute, to endow it with insufficient authority, and to put it under the overall control of the Pentagon, which did not have the capacity to do the job properly. The result was an organization that, instead of hitting the ground running after the end of major combat, wasted precious weeks and months building its own capabilities.
Sometime in August of 2002 President Bush signed the executive order that put in train final military planning for the war, and U.S. forces began deploying to the Persian Gulf toward the end of the year. But not until January 20 of last year was Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant general, appointed to coordinate the new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. He had less than two months to pull together the planning efforts of various U.S. agencies before the ORHA was relocated to Kuwait, on March 17, at the start of the war. The ORHA went from a staff of six and a phoneless office in the Pentagon in late January to an organization with a staff of 700 just three months later—an impressive feat of institutional creation by any standard. Nevertheless, since the State Department, USAID, the CIA, and the Army War College had prepared extensive plans for the postwar period, the question remains why the Administration did not seek to integrate their recommendations into a coordinated process as soon as the war planning began (see "Blind Into Baghdad," in this issue).
There was, moreover, a serious problem of authority. Garner, who had led humanitarian relief efforts in Kurdistan after the Gulf War, was a former three-star general, and thus not in a position to give orders to the four-star CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks. Garner was succeeded in mid-May by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a very senior foreign-service officer and counterterrorism expert who now heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, the successor to the ORHA. Bremer was far more visible and well known back in Washington—an insider who could command much more authority than Garner could.
The unfortunate public perception is that Garner was replaced for having presided over a chaotic and disorganized reconstruction effort. In fact he did an amazing job under the circumstances. It had been the Bush Administration's plan all along to replace Garner with a more distinguished and visible administrator; so why wasn't Bremer, or someone of his stature, in place before the beginning of the war?
The Administration has argued that it could not have begun coordinated postwar planning in the fall of 2002, because it was still seeking the approval of the international community for the war. This argument is disingenuous: the President clearly signaled that he would proceed with or without the approval of the international community, and did not wait for the United Nations before deploying military forces to the Gulf—a deployment that, like Von Moltke's railroad schedules in July of 1914, could not easily be reversed. In reality, the late planning and weak command were rooted in a series of interagency battles that took place in the fall of 2002.
Big Idea, Big Fight
The first phase of nation-building—post-conflict reconstruction—is extremely difficult to implement, because the necessary capabilities are widely spread out among a host of government and civilian agencies. Earlier nation-building exercises suffered from poor coordination, both within the U.S. government and within the broader international community. In Bosnia, for example, the Dayton Accords gave military authority to NATO, whereas civil authority was divided among the Office of the High Representative, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Some functions, including the creation of an international police force, fell through the cracks. Within the U.S. government the military clashed with civilian agencies over its role in noncombat missions such as demobilization and policing.