After the Fall
An inside look at the Bush team's plan to run Iraq once Saddam is gone
The last time American armor massed along the Iraqi border for an invasion, the war plan was the mission. Period. This time, if America invades Iraq, the battle plan will be just the beginning. War would not be about simply removing a loathsome dictator. It would be a prelude to a far more ambitious undertaking--transforming Saddam Hussein's dysfunctional police state into a free, democratic nation.
Pentagon planners have been working on the war plan for months. The planning for engineering a post-Saddam Iraq, though, has been far more seat-of-the-pants. Still, in a series of interviews, senior government officials tell U.S. News that a consensus is forming at the highest levels of the Bush administration over how to run the country after Saddam and his regime are history. The plan is being developed by a high-level, interagency task force called the Executive Steering Group. The group, whose existence has not previously been disclosed, is run by the White House and is responsible for coordinating all Iraq war planning efforts and postwar initiatives. The postwar plan calls for a three-phase scenario beginning with a period of military rule, most likely by an American general, and ending with a new, representative Iraqi government within a relatively short but undefined number of years.
Should President Bush have the opportunity to implement the plan, it would represent one of the most ambitious, potentially perilous American commitments to another nation since the end of the Second World War. The plan is all the more striking for the fact that Bush came into office roundly dismissive of nation building. But the officials who spoke with U.S. News for this article say that he is onboard. "I have been with the president when he has been briefed about the need to have U.S. forces there for an extended period of time," a senior administration official told the magazine. "A couple of years is an extended period of time, and that we're prepared for."
War, of course, may yet be avoided. United Nations weapons inspectors were dusting off their old offices in Baghdad last week and settling in for a long stay. Saddam has pledged his full cooperation, but most of official Washington remains convinced that the Iraqi will ultimately block the inspectors' progress, sparking a conflict.
As U.S. forces gather in the Persian Gulf, the planning for a postwar Iraq remains shrouded in secrecy. One reason is that, in a region with a long and unhappy history of colonialism, an American-led Iraq, for however brief a time, would not sit well. The other is that the perils involved in such a venture are, to say the least, daunting. Tribal rivalries, ethnic and religious strife, a potentially violent spasm of retribution and revenge merely top the list.
At the White House, planning for the aftermath of a war had been proceeding slowly over the summer. But after the Executive Steering Group was formed, work accelerated. In the past several weeks, debate over details moved up to the influential Deputies Committee--the small group made of the No. 2 officials at the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department, CIA, National Security Council, and vice president's office. Usually meeting in the White House Situation Room, the deputies have recently begun to reach agreement on specifics and have briefed cabinet heads several times on their progress. President Bush has been kept apprised of their progress through National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but he has not yet been asked to approve any specific aspects of the plan.