Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
An extensive review of the National Security Council's role in the Iraq war and its aftermath-based on interviews with a dozen former NSC staff members, senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon, and outside security experts-reveals new details of the White House's failure to effectively manage the interagency effort on Iraq. The review by U.S. News is based on a detailed recounting of the NSC's interagency deliberations, including the daily and weekly secure video teleconferences conducted from the White House's Situation Room. Rice and Hadley declined to be interviewed for this account. Rumsfeld failed to respond to an interview request.
Several important new books, including Fiasco, by the Washington Post's Pentagon correspondent, Thomas Ricks, and State of Denial, by Bob Woodward have chronicled the many missteps in the Bush administration's prewar planning and post-invasion conduct. But historians will be discussing for years how a venture vested with such singular importance by its advocates could have been conceived and executed with such myopia and ineptitude. To date, the administration has failed to meet a single one of the reconstruction goals it set for itself back in 2003-goals for rebuilding infrastructure, defraying reconstruction costs by increasing oil production, and instituting a constitutional democracy with functioning courts and the rule of law.
To understand the genesis of the problems in Iraq, it is helpful to know a bit of the history of the position to which Rice was appointed in January 2001. Congress created the National Security Council in 1947 to serve as the president's principal forum for resolution of military and foreign-policy matters. The council has four permanent members: the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, and the secretary of state. A variety of other cabinet secretaries and military and other presidential aides attend NSC meetings, as well. The job description of the national security adviser has been shaped over time by presidential fiat rather than by statute, and while it has been conceived somewhat differently from administration to administration, it has generally been viewed as the president's primary surrogate for bringing dueling cabinet secretaries into line, resolving differences, and framing issues for decision. The term "honest broker" has typically been affixed to the job description. So has the term "knocking heads together." "Rice seemed to take the position from the very beginning that she wasn't going to knock heads," says Robert Perito, a retired career Foreign Service officer, who served on President Ronald Reagan's NSC staff and is at the United States Institute of Peace. "She was just going to facilitate" for the president.
"Stovepiped." The result, virtually every close observer of the Bush White House agrees, was a power vacuum that was filled by Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney-particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks-with Secretary of State Colin Powell edged to a position of just marginal influence. "For a long time, DOD got whatever they wanted," says a former NSC staff member, using the bureaucratic shorthand for the Department of Defense, "because they were winning [in Afghanistan] and because Cheney backed them."