Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
On April 9, 2003, the world watched as U.S. marines and Iraqi citizens toppled an imposing statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. Three and a half years later, the promise of democracy in Iraq seems a cruel joke, and the administration in Washington that launched the invasion seems utterly bereft of clues as to how to sort out the mess. "The fall of the statue," says a former White House National Security Council staff member, "is where the story diverges from the White House's expectations."
President Bush's acceptance of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation was intended to signal a change in course on Iraq. But many national security experts say that Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser at the time of the invasion, and the National Security Council share much of the blame for the problems in Iraq. "She did not perceive, and the National Security Council did not assess, what is in the United States' interests and what is in the interests of our enemies," says retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, an outspoken critic of the war who served as military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "Once you make that basic mistake, there isn't any way to make the war come out good. It's all over."
With her ardent support for the invasion, Odom and others say, Rice was unable to play the traditional role of national security adviser-impartial broker in the rough-and-tumble of interagency government. That was further complicated by the fact that Rumsfeld all but ignored the input of other agencies, then never took responsibility for postwar reconstruction, leaving Rice to try to manage the Iraq rebuilding effort from the White House. "The people who took responsibility for the rebuilding of Iraq-that is, the office of the secretary of defense-expressed no interest in solving problems as problems appeared," says Franklin Miller, one of Rice's principal aides handling the reconstruction effort. "They never brought any issues to the table, and they never took any taskings away."
The problems were compounded, former NSC staff members say, by conflicting information provided by virtually everyone involved in the Iraq effort, including military generals who often gave NSC staffers information at odds with what soldiers on the ground and lower-level military and civilian officials were reporting. "The internal whitewashing was as great as the external whitewashing," says a former senior NSC staff member. "We wasted two years, spinning the situation, using smoke and mirrors to say, 'Hey, it's not as it's being reported. Everything is OK.'"
"Knocking heads." This is the story of how Rice, a veteran White House insider with close personal ties to the president, failed to pull together the administration's fractious postwar efforts and why her successor, Stephen Hadley, has yet to navigate or even identify a way out of Iraq. "Hadley's NSC," says a former senior NSC staff member, "has become a rubber stamp for the Defense Department." Bush has tasked Hadley, Rice, now secretary of state, and other advisers to come up with a solution for Iraq, even as the congressionally directed Iraq Study Group, cochaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state, is racing to finish up its own report. Completing the trifecta is a report to be issued next month by the Pentagon on U.S. military strategy in Iraq.