Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A blind occupation that was spinning its wheels all along!


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

On a Friday afternoon last November, 1 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, which places him, along with
several other undersecretaries, just below Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz in the Pentagon's hierarchy. Informally he
is seen in Washington as "Wolfowitz's Wolfowitz" —
that is, as a deputy who has a wide range of
responsibilities but is clearly identified with one
particular policy. That policy is bringing regime
change to Iraq — a goal that both Wolfowitz and Feith
strongly advocated through the 1990s. To opponents of
the war in Iraq, Feith is one of several shadowy,
Rasputinlike figures who are shaping U.S. policy. He
is seen much the way enemies of the Clinton
Administration saw Hillary Clinton. Others associated
with the Bush Administration who are seen this way
include the consultant Richard Perle; Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick
Cheney: and the Vice President himself. What these
officials have in common is their presumably great
private influence and — even in the case of the Vice
President — their limited public visibility and

In person Douglas Feith is nothing like Rasputin.
Between a Reagan-era stint in the Pentagon and his
current job he was a Washington lawyer for fifteen
years, and he answered my questions with a lawyer's
affability in the face of presumed disagreement. I
could be biased in Feith's favor, because he was the
most senior Administration official who granted my
request for an interview about postwar Iraq. Like
Donald Rumsfeld, Feith acts and sounds younger than
many others of his age (fifty). But distinctly unlike
Rumsfeld at a press conference, Feith in this
interview did not seem at all arrogant or testy. His
replies were relatively candid and unforced, in
contrast to the angry or relentlessly on-message
responses that have become standard from senior
Administration officials. He acknowledged what was
"becoming the conventional wisdom" about the
Administration's failure to plan adequately for events
after the fall of Baghdad, and then explained — with
animation, dramatic pauses, and gestures — why he
thought it was wrong.

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 corning
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. When I
asked what had gone better than expected, and what had
gone worse, he said, "We don't exactly deal in
'expectations.' Expectations are too close to
'predictions' We're not comfortable with predictions.
It is one of the big strategic premises of the work
that we do."

The limits of future knowledge, Feith said, were of
special importance to Rumsfeld, "who is death to
predictions." "His big strategic theme is
uncertainty," Feith said. "The need to deal
strategically with uncertainty. The inability to
predict the future. The limits on our knowledge and
the limits on our intelligence."

In practice, Feith said, this meant being ready for
whatever proved to be the situation in postwar Iraq.
"You will not find a single piece of paper ... If
anybody ever went through all of our records — and
someday some people will, presumably — nobody will
find a single piece of paper that says, 'Mr. Secretary
or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is
going to look like, and here is what we need plans
for.' If you tried that, you would get thrown out of
Rumsfeld's office so fast — if you ever went in there
and said, 'Let me tell you what something's going to
look like in the future,' you wouldn't get to your
next sentence!"

"This is an important point," he said, "because of
this issue of What did we believe? ... The common line
is, nobody planned for security because Ahmed Chalabi
told us that everything was going to be swell."
Chalabi, the exiled leader of the Iraqi National
Congress, has often been blamed for making rosy
predictions about the ease of governing postwar Iraq.
"So we predicted that everything was going to be
swell, and we didn't plan for things not being swell."
Here Feith paused for a few seconds, raised his hands
with both palms up, and put on a "Can you believe it?"
expression. "I mean — one would really have to be a
simpleton. And whatever people think of me, how can
anybody think that Don Rumsfeld is that dumb? He's so
evidently not that dumb, that how can people write
things like that?" He sounded amazed rather than

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

Feith's argument was a less defensive-sounding version
of the Administration's general response to criticisms
of its postwar policy: Life is uncertain, especially
when the lid comes off a long-tyrannized society.
American planners did about as well as anyone could in
preparing for the unforeseeable. Anyone who says
otherwise is indulging in lazy, unfair
second-guessing. '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

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
renter 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. Even now the collective efforts at
planning by the CIA, the State Department, the Army
and the Marine Corps, the United States Agency for
International Development, and a wide variety of other
groups inside and outside the government are
underappreciated by the public. The one pre-war effort
that has received substantial recent attention, the
State Department's Future of Iraq project, produced
thousands of pages of findings, barely one paragraph
of which has until now been quoted in the press. The
Administration will be admired in retrospect for how
much knowledge it created about the challenge it was
taking on. U.S. government predictions about postwar
Iraq's problems have proved as accurate as the
assessments of pre-war Iraq's strategic threat have
proved flawed.

But 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. Exactly what went
wrong with the occupation will be studied for years —
or should be. The missteps of the first half year in
Iraq are as significant as other classic and carefully
examined failures in foreign policy, including John
Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion, in
1961, and Lyndon Johnson's decision to escalate U.S.
involvement in Vietnam, in 1965. The United States
withstood those previous failures, and it will
withstand this one. Having taken over Iraq and
captured Saddam Hussein, it has no moral or practical
choice other than to see out the occupation and to
help rebuild and democratize the country. But 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.

Concern about Saddam Hussein pre-dated the 9/11
attacks and even the inauguration of George W. Bush.
In 1998 Congress passed and President Bill Clinton
signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which declared that
"it should be the policy of the United States to
support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam
Hussein from power." During the 2000 presidential
campaign Al Gore promised to support groups working to
unseat Saddam Hussein. In the week before Bush took
office, Nicholas Lemami reported in The New Yorker
that "the idea of overthrowing Saddam is not an idle
fantasy — or, if it is, it's one that has lately
occupied the minds of many American officials,
including people close to George W. Bush." But the
intellectual case for regime change, argued during the
Clinton years by some Democrats and notably by Paul
Wolfowitz, then the dean of the Johns Hopkins School
of Advanced International Studies, shifted clearly
toward operational planning after the destruction of
the World Trade Center.

For much of the public this case for war against Iraq
rested on an assumed connection (though this was never
demonstrated, and was officially disavowed by the
President) between Saddam Hussein's regime and the
terrorist hijackers. Within the government the case
was equally compelling but different. September 11 had
shown that the United States was newly vulnerable; to
protect itself it had to fight terrorists at their
source; and because Saddam Hussein's regime was the
leading potential source of future "state-sponsored"
terrorism, it had become an active threat, whether or
not it played any role in 9/11. The very next day,
September 12, 2001, James Woolsey, who had been
Clinton's first CIA director, told me that no matter
who proved to be responsible for this attack, the
solution had to include removing Saddam Hussein,
because he was so likely to be involved next time. 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

Soon after becoming the Army Chief of Staff, in 1999.
General Eric Shinseki had begun ordering war-game
exercises to judge strategies and manpower needs for
possible combat in Iraq. This was not because he
assumed a war was imminent. He thought that the
greater Caspian Sea region, including Iraq, would
present a uniquely difficult challenge for U.S.
troops, because of its geography and political
tensions. After 9/11, Army war games involving Iraq
began in earnest.

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 seeking weapons of mass destruction,
these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They
could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them
the means to match their hatred. They could attack our
allies or attempt to blackmail the United States."

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. 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, when it
quietly announced the lineup of the working groups. At
the time, media attention was overwhelmingly directed
toward Afghanistan, where Operation Anaconda, the
half-successful effort to kill or capture al-Qaeda and
Taliban fighters, was under way.

For several months before announcing the project the
State Department had been attempting to coordinate the
efforts of the many fractious Iraqi exile
organizations. The Future of Iraq project held the
potential for harnessing, and perhaps even
harmonizing, the expertise available from the exile

It was also 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 IT, 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.

Contemplating postwar plans posed a problem for those
who, like many in the State Department, were skeptical
of the need for war. Were they making a war more
likely if they prepared for its aftermath? Thomas
Warrick. the State Department official who directed
the Future of Iraq project, was considered to be in
the antiwar camp. But according to associates, he
explained the importance of preparing for war by
saying, 'Tm nervous that they're actually going to do
it — and the day after they'll turn to us and ask,
'Now what?'" So he pushed ahead with the project,
setting up numerous conferences and drafting sessions
that would bring together teams of exiles — among them
Kanan Makiya, the author of the influential
anti-Saddam book Republic of Fear, first published in
1989. A small number of "international advisers,"
mainly from the United States, were also assigned to
the teams. Eventually there would be seventeen working
groups, designed systematically to cover what would be
needed to rebuild the political and economic
infrastructure of the country. "Democratic Principles
and Procedures" was the name of one of the groups,
which was assigned to suggest the legal framework for
a new government; Makiya would write much of its
report. The "Transitional Justice" group was supposed
to work on reparations, amnesty, and de-Baathification
laws. Groups studying economic matters included
"Public Finance," "Oil and Energy," and "Water,
Agriculture and Environment."

In May of 2002 Congress authorized $5 million to fund
the project's studies. In the flurry of news from
Afghanistan the project went unnoticed in the press
until June, when the State Department announced that
the first meetings would take place in July. "The role
of the U.S. government and State Department is to see
what the Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans want," Warrick
said at a conference on June 1, 2002. "The impetus for
change comes from [Iraqis], not us. This is the job of
Iraqis inside and outside."

That same day President Bush delivered a graduation
speech at West Point, giving a first look at the
doctrine of pre-emptive war. He told the cadets, to
cheers. "Our security will require all Americans to be
forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for
pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our
liberty and to defend our lives." Later in the summer
the doctrine was elaborated in a new National Security
Strategy, which explained that since "rogue states"
could not be contained or deterred, they needed to be
destroyed before they could attack. Whenever National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was interviewed that
summer, she talked mainly about the thinking behind
the new policy. When Vice President Dick Cheney was
interviewed, he talked mainly about Saddam Hussein's
defiance of international law. But when Secretary of
State Colin Powell was interviewed, he constantly
stressed the value of an international approach to the
problem and the need to give UN arms inspectors
adequate time to do their job.

War with Iraq was not inevitable at this point, but it
seemed more and more likely. Daily conversation in
Washington, which usually reverts to "So, who do you
think will be the next President?," switched instead
to "So, when do you think we're going to war?"

It was in these circumstances that the Future of Iraq
project's working groups deliberated. Most of the
meetings were in Washington. Some were in London, and
one session, in early September, took place in Surrey,
where representatives of a dozen mutually suspicious
exile groups discussed prospects for democratic
coexistence when Saddam Hussein was gone. (Along with
Chalabi's INC the meeting included several rival
Kurdish groups, Assyrian and Turkomen organizations,
the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement, and

The project did not overcome all the tensions among
its members, and the results of its deliberations were
uneven. Three of its intended working groups never
actually met — including, ominously, "Preserving
Iraq's Cultural Heritage." The "Education" group
finally produced a report only six pages long, in
contrast to many hundreds of pages from most others.
Some recommendations were quirky or reflected the
tastes of the individual participants who drafted
them. A report tided "Free Media" proposed that all
Iraqi journalists be taken out of the country for a
month-long re-education process: "Those who 'get it'
go back as reporters; others would be retired or
reassigned." A. group that was considering ways of
informing Iraq about the realities of democracy
mentioned Baywatch and Leave It to Beaver as
information sources that had given Iraqis an imprecise
understanding of American society. It recommended that
a new film, Colonial America: Life in a Theocracy, be
shot, noting, "The Puritan experiments provide amazing
parallels with current Moslem fundamentalism. The
ultimate failures of these US experiments can also be
vividly illustrated — witch trials, intolerance,

But 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 f 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 oil
democratic principles, warned, "The decommissioning of
hundreds of thousands of trained military personnel
that [a rapid purge] implies could create social

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."

Americans are often irritated by the illogic of
"resentful dependence" by weaker states. South
Koreans, for example, complain bitterly about U.S.
soldiers in their country but would complain all the
more bitterly if the soldiers were removed. The
authors of the Future of Iraq report could by those
standards also be accused of illogical thinking, in
wanting U.S. support but not wanting U.S. control.
Moreover, many of the project's members had a bias
that prefigured an important source of postwar
tension: they were exiles who considered themselves
the likeliest beneficiaries if the United States
transferred power to Iraqis quickly — even though,
precisely because of their exile, they had no obvious
base of support within Iraq.

To skip ahead in the story: As chaos increased in
Baghdad last summer, the chief U.S. administrator, L.
Paul "Jerry" Bremer, wrestled constantly with a
variant of this exile paradox. The Iraqi Governing
Council, whose twenty-five members were chosen by
Americans, was supposed to do only the preparatory
work for an elected Iraqi government. But the greater
the pressure on Bremer for "Iraqification," the more
tempted he was to give in to the council's demand that
he simply put it in charge without waiting for an
election. More than a year earlier, long before combat
began, the explicit recommendations and implicit
lessons of the Future of Iraq project had given the
U.S. government a very good idea of what political
conflicts it could expect in Iraq.

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
Lull 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. The knowledge that U.S. soldiers would
still be in Germany and Japan sixty-plus years after
Pearl Harbor would obviously not have changed the
decision to enter World War II, and in theory the Bush
Administration could have presented the overthrow of
Saddam Hussein in a similar way: as a job that had to
be done, even though h might saddle Americans with
costs and a military presence for decades to come.
Everyone can think of moments when Bush or Rumsfeld
has reminded the nation that this would be a long-term
challenge. But 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.

On July 31, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee invited a panel of experts to discuss the
case for war against Iraq. On August 1 it heard from
other experts about me likely "day after" consequences
of military victory. Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat
from Delaware, was then the chairman of the committee.
That first day Biden said that the threat of WMD might
force him to vote in favor of the war (as he
ultimately did). But he worried that if the United
States invaded without full allied support, "we may
very well radicalize the rest of the world, we may
pick up a bill that's $70 billion, $80 billion, we may
have to have extensive commitment of U.S. forces for
an extended period of time in Iraq."

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 h
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.

One week before Labor Day, while President Bush was at
his ranch in Texas, Vice President Cheney gave a
speech at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in
Nashville. "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now
has weapons of mass destruction [and that he will use
them] against our friends, against our allies, and
against us," Cheney said. Time was running out, he
concluded, for America to remove this threat A few
days later CNN quoted a source "intimately familiar
with [Colin] Powell's thinking" as saying that Powell
was still insistent on the need for allied support and
would oppose any war in which the United States would
"go it alone ... as if it doesn't give a damn" about
other nations' views. Just after Labor Day, Powell
apparently won a battle inside the Administration and
persuaded Bush to take the U.S. case to the United
Nations. On September 12 Bush addressed the UN General
Assembly and urged it to insist on Iraqi compliance
with its previous resolutions concerning disarmament
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
(breed to resign. His comment "made it dear Larry just
didn't get it," an unnamed Administration official
told The Washington Post when Lindsay left. Lindsay's
example could hardly have encouraged others in the
Administration to be forthcoming with financial
projections. Indeed, no one who remained in the
Administration offered a plausible cost estimate until
months after the war began.

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, came to the
assignment with a complex set of experiences and
instincts. He started his career, in the 1970s, as a
Republican state legislator in Massachusetts, and
before the Bush Administration he had been the
administrator of the state's "Big Dig," the largest
public-works effort ever in the country. Before the
Big Dig, Natsios spent five years as an executive at a
major humanitarian NGO called World Vision. He also
served in the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War,
as an Army Reserve officer. By background he was the
Administration official best prepared to anticipate
the combination of wartime and postwar obligations in

At any given moment USAID is drawing up contingency
plans for countries that might soon need help. "I
actually have a list, which I will not show you,"
Natsios told me in the fall, "of countries where there
may not be American troops soon, but they could fall
apart — and if they do, what we could do for them." By
mid-September of 2002, six months before the official
beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 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

The weekly meetings at USAID quickly settled into a
pattern. 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 that
has not fully sunk in for most of the American public
In the nearly three decades since U.S. troops left
Vietnam, the American military has fought only two
wars as most people understand the term: the two
against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But through the past
thirty years U.S. troops have almost continuously been
involved in combat somewhere. Because those
engagements — in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti,
Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere —
have no obvious connection with one another,
politicians and the public usually discuss them as
stand-alone cases. Each one seems an aberration from
the "real" wars the military is set up to fight.

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.

An even larger question about historical precedent
began to surface. When Administration officials talked
about models for what would happen in Iraq, they
almost always referred to the lasting success in Japan
and Germany — or else to countries of the former
Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe. (A civilian adviser who
went to Baghdad early in the occupation recalls
looking at his fellow passengers on the military
transport plane. The ones who weren't asleep or
flipping through magazines were reading books about
Japan or Germany, not about the Arab world. "That was
not a good sign." he told me.) If one thought of Iraq
as Poland, or as the former East Germany, or as the
former Czechoslovakia, or as almost any part of the
onetime Soviet empire in Eastern Europe other than
Romania, one would naturally conclude that regime
change in itself would set the country well along the
path toward recovery. These countries were fine once
their repressive leaders were removed; so might Iraq
well be. And if the former Yugoslavia indicated darker
possibilities, that could be explained as yet another
failure of Clinton-era foreign policy.

Many NGO representatives assumed that postwar recovery
would not be so automatic, and that they should begin
working on preparations before the combat began. "At
the beginning our main message was the need for
access," I was told by Sandra Mitchell, the
vice-president of the International Rescue Committee,
who attended the USATD meetings. Because of U.S.
sanctions against Iraq, it was illegal for American
humanitarian organizations to operate there.
(Journalists were about the only category of Americans
who would not get in trouble with their own government
by traveling to and spending money in Iraq.) "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.

Through the fall and winter of 2002 the International
Rescue Committee, Refugees International,
Inter-Action, and other groups that met with USAID
kept warning about one likely postwar problem that, as
it turned out, Iraq avoided — a mass flow of refugees
— and another that was exactly as bad as everyone
warned: the lawlessness and looting of the "day after"
in Baghdad. The Bush Administration would later point
to the absence of refugees as a sign of the
occupation's underreported success. This achievement
was, indeed, due in part to a success: the speed and
precision of the military campaign itself. But the
absence of refugees was also a sign of a profound
failure: the mistaken estimates of Iraq's WMD threat.
All pre-war scenarios involving huge movements of
refugees began with the assumption that Saddam Hussein
would use chemical or biological weapons against U.S.
troops or his own Kurdish or Shiite populations — and
that either the fact or the fear of such assaults
would force terrified Iraqis to evacuate.

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. In Iraq there were very strong
signals that this could be the period of greatest
concern for humanitarian response." One lesson of
postwar reconstruction through the 1990s was that even
a short period of disorder could have long-lasting

The meetings at USAID gave the veterans of
international relief operations a way to register
their concerns. The problem was that they heard so
little back. "The people in front of us were very
well-meaning," says Joel Charny, who represented
Refugees International at the meetings. "And in
fairness, they were on such a short leash. But the
dialogue was one-way. We would tell them stuff, and
they would nod and say, Everything's under control. To
me it was like the old four-corners offense in
basketball. They were there to just dribble out the
clock but be able to say they'd consulted with us."

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

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.


On November 5, 2002, the Republicans regained control
of the Senate and increased their majority in the
House in national midterm elections. On November 8 the
UN Security Council voted 15-0 in favor of Resolution
1441, threatening Iraq with "serious consequences" if
it could not prove that it had abandoned its weapons

Just before 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld had been thought of
as standing on a banana peel. The newspapers were lull
of leaked anonymous complaints from military officials
who thought that his efforts to streamline and
"transform" the Pentagon were unrealistic and
damaging. But with his dramatic metamorphosis from
embattled Secretary of Defense to triumphant Secretary
of War, Rumsfeld's reputation outside the
Administration and his influence within it rose. He
was operating from a position of great power when, in
November, he decided to "cut the TPFDD"

"Tipfid" is how people in the military pronounce the
acronym for "time-phased force and deployment data,"
but what it really means to the armed forces, in
particular the Army, is a way of doing business that
is methodical, careful, and sure. The TPFDD for Iraq
was an unbelievably complex master plan governing
which forces would go where, when, and with what
equipment, on which planes or ships, so that
everything would be coordinated and ready at the time
of attack. One reason it took the military six months
to get set for each of its wars against Iraq, a
comparatively pitiful foe, was the thoroughness of
TPFDD planning. To its supporters, this approach is
old-school in the best sense: if you fight, you really
fight. To its detractors, this approach is simply old
— ponderous, inefficient, and, although they don't
dare call it cowardly, risk-averse at the least.

A streamlined approach had proved successful in
Afghanistan, at least for a while, as a relatively
small U.S. force left much of the ground fighting to
the Northern Alliance. In the longer run the American
strategy created complications for Afghanistan,
because the victorious Northern Alliance leaders were
newly legitimized as warlords. Donald Rumsfeld was one
member of the Administration who seemed still to share
the pre-9/11 suspicion about the risks of
nation-building, and so didn't much care about the
postwar consequences of a relatively small invasion
force. (His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was more open to
the challenge of rebuilding Iraq, but he would never
undercut or disobey Rumsfeld.) In November, Rumsfeld
began working through the TPFDD, with the goal of
paring the force planned for Iraq to its leanest,
lightest acceptable level.

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 tne 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.

"In what I came to think of as Secretary Rumsfeld's
style," an Army official who was involved in the
process told me recently, "he didn't directly say no
but asked a lot of hard questions about the plan and
sent us away without approval. He would ask questions
that delayed the activation of units, because he
didn't think the planned flow was right. Our people
came back with the understanding that their numbers
were far too big and they should be thinking more
along the lines of Afghanistan" — that is, plan for a
light, mobile attack featuring Special Forces
soldiers. Another participant described Rumsfeld as
looking line by line at the deployments proposed in
the TPFDD and saying, "Can't we do this with one
company?" or "Shouldn't we get rid of this unit?"
Making detailed, last-minute adjustments to the TPFDD
was, in the Army's view, like pulling cogs at random
out of a machine. According to an observer, "The
generals would say, Sir, these changes will ripple
back to every railhead and every company."

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. "Where's the Air Force now?" an Army officer
asked rhetorically last fall. "They're back on their
bases — and they're better off, since they don't need
to patrol the 'no-fly' zones [in northern and southern
Iraq, which U.S. warplanes had patrolled since the end
of the Gulf War]. The Navy's gone, and most of the
Marines have been pulled back. It's the Army holding
the sack of shit" A related concern involved what a
long-term commitment to Iraq would do to the Army's
"ops tempo," or pace of operations — especially if
Reserve and National Guard members, who had no
expectations of long-term foreign service when they
signed up, were posted in Iraq for months or even

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.

"We're in Baghdad, the regime is toppled — what's
next?" Thomas White told me, recounting discussions
before the war. One of the strongest advocates of a
larger force was General Eric Shinseki. the Army Chief
of Staff. White said, "Guys like Shinseki, who had
been in Bosnia [where he supervised the NATO force],
been in Kosovo, started running the numbers and said,
'Let's assume the world is linear.' For five million
Bosnians we had two hundred thousand people to watch
over them. Now we have twenty-five million Iraqis to
worry about, spread out over a state the size of
California. How many people is this going to take?"
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

A note of personal rancor complicated these
discussions, as it did many disagreements over postwar
plans. In our interview Douglas Feith played this down
— maintaining that press reports had exaggerated the
degree of quarreling and division inside the
Administration. These reports, he said, mainly
reflected the experience of lower-level officials, who
were embroiled in one specific policy area and "might
find themselves pretty much always at odds with their
counterparts from another agency." Higher up, where
one might be "fighting with someone on one issue but
allied with them on something else," relations were
more collegial. Perhaps so. But there was no
concealing the hostility within the Pentagon between
most uniformed leaders, especially in the Army, and
the civilians in OSD.

Donald Rumsfeld viewed Shinseki as a symbol of
uncooperative, old-style thinking, and had in the past
gone out of his way to humiliate him. In the spring of
2002, fourteen months before the scheduled end of
Shinseki's term, Rumsfeld announced who his successor
would be; such an announcement, which converts the
incumbent into a lame duck, usually comes at the last
minute. The action was one of several calculated

From OSD's point of view, Shinseki and many of his
colleagues were dragging their feet. From the Army's
point of view, OSD was being reckless about the way it
was committing troops and high-handed in disregarding
the military's professional advice. One man who was
then working in the Pentagon told me of walking down a
hallway a few months before the war and seeing Army
General John Abizaid standing outside a door. Abizaid,
who after the war succeeded Tommy Franks as commander
of the Central Command, or CENTCOM, was then the
director of the Joint Staff — the highest uniformed
position in the Pentagon apart from the Joint Chiefs.
A planning meeting for Iraq operations was under way.
OSD officials told him he could not take part.

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." The first assumption was clearly
expressed by Cheney three days before the war began,
in an exchange with Tim Russen on Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we're
not treated
as liberators but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin
to resist,
particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American
people are
prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with
American casualties?
CHENEY: Well, i don't think it's likely to unfold that
way. Tim,
because I really do believe that we will be greeted as
liberators., The read we get on the people of Iraq is
there is
no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam
Hussein and
they will welcome as liberators the United States when
we come
to do that.

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."

Thomas White agrees. Because of reasoning like
Cheney's, "we went in with the minimum force to
accomplish the military objectives, which was a
straightforward task, never really in question," he
told me. "And then we immediately found ourselves
shorthanded in the aftermath. We sat there and watched
people dismantle and run off with the country,

In the beginning of December, Iraq submitted its
12,000-page declaration to the UM Security Council
contending that it had no remaining WMD stores. Near
the end of December, President Bush authorized the
dispatch of more than 200,000 U.S. soldiers to the
Persian Gulf.

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.
"Fundamentally, we have no idea what is needed unless
and until we get there on the ground," Paul Wolfowitz
told the House Budget Committee on February 27, with
combat less than three weeks away. "This delicate
moment — when we are assembling a coalition, when we
are mobilizing people inside Iraq and throughout the
region to help us in the event of war, and when we are
still trying, through the United Nations and by other
means, to achieve a peaceful solution without war — is
not a good time to publish highly suspect numerical
estimates and have them drive our declaratory policy."

Wolfowitz's stonewalling that day was in keeping with
the policy of all senior Administration officials.
Until many months after combat had begun, they refused
to hazard even the vaguest approximation of what
financial costs it might involve. Shinseki, so often
at odds with USD, contemplated taking a different
course. He was scheduled to testify, with Thomas
White, before the Senate Appropriations Committee on
March 19, which turned out to be the first day of
actual combat. In a routine prep session before the
hearing he asked his assistants what he should say
about how much the operations in Iraq were going to
cost. "Well, it's impossible to predict," a briefer
began, reminding him of the official line.

Shinseki cut him off. "We don't know everything," he
said, and then he went through a list of the many
things the military already did know. "We know how
many troops are there now, and the projected numbers.
We know how much it costs to feed them every day. We
know how much it cost to send the force there. We know
what we have spent already to prepare the force and
how much it would cost to bring them back. We have
estimates of how much fuel and ammunition we would use
per day of operations." In short, anyone who actually
wanted to make an estimate had plenty of information
on hand.

At this point Jerry Sinn, a three-star general in
charge of the Army's budget, said that in fact he had
worked up some numbers — and he named a figure, for
the Army's likely costs, in the tens of billions of
dollars. But when Senator Byron Dorgan, of North
Dakota, asked Shinseki at hearings on March 19 how
much the war just beginning would cost Shinseki was
loyally vague ("Any potential discussion about what an
operation in Iraq or any follow-on probably is
undefined at this point").

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. tax-payer money.
We are dealing with a country that can really finance
its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." On April
23 Andrew Natsios, of USAID, told an incredulous Ted
Koppel, on Nightline, that the total cost to America
of reconstructing Iraq would be $1.7 billion. Koppel
shot back, "I mean, when you talk about
one-point-seven, you're not suggesting that the
rebuilding of Iraq is gonna be done for
one-point-seven billion dollars?" Natsios was clear:
"Well, in terms of the American taxpayers'
contribution, I do; this is it for the U.S. The rest
of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other
countries who have already made pledges . But the
American part of this will be one-point-seven billion
dollars. We have no plans for any further-on funding
for this." Only in September did President Bush make
his request for a supplemental appropriation of $87
billion for operations in Iraq.

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."

The momentum toward war put officials at the United
Nations and other international organizations in a
difficult position. On the one hand, they had to be
ready for what was coming; on the other, it was
awkward to be seen discussing the impending takeover
of one of their member states by another.
"Off-the-record meetings were happening in every bar
in New York," one senior UN official told me in the
fall. An American delegation that included Pentagon
representatives went to Rome in December for a
confidential meeting with officials of the UN's World
Food Programme, to discuss possible food needs after
combat in Iraq. As The Wall Street Journal later
reported, the meeting was uncomfortable for both
sides: the Americans had to tell the WFP officials, as
one of them recalled, "It is looking most probable you
are going to witness one of the largest military
engagements since the Second World War." This was
hyperbole (Korea? Vietnam?), but it helped to convince
the WFP that relief preparations should begin.

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, tin's
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.

Long-term gratitude is unlikely and suspicion of U.S.
will increase as the occupation continues. A force
viewed as liberators can rapidly be relegated to the
status of
invaders should an unwelcome occupation continue for a
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

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

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 Jay 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 neady, 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 TIL 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

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 he 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.
Cardiner 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 (he 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 carne 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 1 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 organisation 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 Ghamberlin. a former
ambassador to Pakistan who had become USAID's
assistant administrator for the area including Iraq,
that the NGOs should view Gamer'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 Inter-Action,
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, ahhough Rumsfeld had told him not to waste
his time reading it. Nonedieless, he decided to bring
its director, Thomas Warrick, onto his planning team.
Garner, who clearly docs 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'& 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 T 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.

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

On February 21 Tony Blair joined George Bush at Camp
David, to underscore their joint determination to
remove the threat from Iraq.

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

I would say that what's been mobilized to this point,
on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are
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
tensions that could lead to other problems. And so, it
significant ground force presence to maintain safe and
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
out-landish, about what our postwar requirements might
be in Iraq." Everyone knew he meant Shinseki's

"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

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

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.

At the beginning of March, Andrew Natsios won a
littlenoticed 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

On March 13 humanitarian organizations had gathered at
U SA l D headquarters for what was effectively the
last meeting of the Iraq Working Croup. 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

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

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

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 sec 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

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 11 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 (he
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 he 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

The United States will be condemned for ignoring what
was known about the challenges of postwar Iraq. The
problems it encountered are precisely the ones U.S.
expert agencies warned against.

Because detailed planning for the postwar situation
meant facing costs and potential problems, it weakened
the case for a "war of choice," and was seen by the
war's proponents as an "antiwar" undertaking.

All the government working groups concluded that
occupying Iraq would be far more difficult than
defeating it Wolfowitz either didn't notice this
evidence or chose to disbelieve it.

The National Intelligence Council, at the CIA, ran a
two-day exercise on postwar Iraq. The Office of the
Secretary of Defense forbade Pentagon representatives
to attend.

Humanitarian groups asked for a meeting with Donald
Rumsfeld or Paul Wolf owitz. They never got one. They
had earlier been told, "The President has already
spent an hour on the humanitarian issues."

If the failure to stop the looting was a major sin of
omission, disbanding the Iraqi army was a catastrophic
error of commission — creating an instant enemy class.
Every pre-war study had warned against it.


By James Fallows

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Source: Atlantic, Jan/Feb2004, Vol. 293 Issue 1, p52,
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