Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
On Iraq, the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis was stronger than ever. The two old friends were convinced of the urgent need to remove Saddam; views to the contrary were unwelcome. Even in the most intimate meetings with the president in the Oval Office, where one was assured of confidentiality, says a former NSC staff member, there was little candor and few conflicting views, including from Rice. "The discussions of how things were going were so wildly optimistic and so out of line with the intelligence," this staff member says, "it was almost a cheerleading role."
In December 2002, President Bush made a crucial decision, to give the Defense Department, rather than State, responsibility for postwar reconstruction in Iraq. Rumsfeld pushed hard for the responsibility, says Douglas Feith, one of the defense chief's top aides in the war-policymaking effort, because he didn't want to see a recurrence of the problems that arose in the Balkans, where the responsibility for civil reconstruction and security operations was under separate chains of command. "The people responsible for civil reconstruction [in the Balkans] said, 'We can't take the troops out or everything will collapse,'" says Feith. "So the troops became hostage to the lack of progress on infrastructure reconstruction."
In January 2003, President Bush signed a national security presidential directive, NSPD24. It was drafted by Feith and by Hadley, Rice's deputy. The presidential order gave the authority for management of postwar security, stability, and reconstruction in Iraq to the Pentagon and created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. At Rumsfeld's request, Feith called Rumsfeld's friend, retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, and asked him to head up ORHA and begin the postwar planning for Iraq. But Garner says he was told he probably wouldn't ever actually go to Baghdad because the president wanted to name an envoy who had national recognition. "I went in as a temp," Garner told U.S. News. "That was always known in the administration." Garner had just five weeks to coordinate the postwar plans of all the different U.S. government agencies, which, he says, had all been "stovepiped"-effectively, shoved into different drawers, one having no relation to the next.
In February, the U.S. Army War College released a study by Conrad Crane and W. Andrew Terrill spelling out the urgent need for serious interagency planning, a multiyear commitment to Iraq, and a real nation-building plan. "I understand there were competing truths out there," Crane says. "I believe the CIA had much more rosy scenarios than we did. But people within the Army took the study seriously. Many planners took it seriously."
The assault on Iraq began in March 2003, with the 3rd Infantry Division the first American troops to reach Baghdad. Not long after the statue of Saddam fell, U.S. troops found themselves battling with insurgents almost daily. "All of us had military people coming to us and saying, 'This isn't going the way they are saying it's going to go,' " says Kori Schake, a former staff member at the NSC who once worked at the Pentagon and now teaches at West Point. "From the bottom up, everybody was saying, 'What happens once we have Iraq?'" says Schake. "How does a military plan that emphasizes speed and a city-skipping strategy translate into control of the country?"