Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
On May 23, Bremer disbanded Iraq's 500,000-member military and intelligence services, leaving thousands of angry, jobless men with guns on the streets. "If we had reinstated Saddam's Army, which had been the key instrument of his repression," Bremer told U.S. News, "it would have led to an immediate civil war." Key military officials, including Gen. Peter Pace, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later said that the Joint Chiefs were not told in advance of Bremer's decision. Neither, NSC officials say, was Rice.
With the violence in Iraq escalating and the number of American casualties climbing, President Bush asked Rice to become more involved in the postwar effort. The White House insider who had left the power vacuum 15 months earlier was now being asked to fill it-immediately. "As the magnitude of misjudgments becomes visible in Iraq," says a former NSC staff member, "Condi becomes more responsible for the management of the process."
On June 18, Rice met with the NSC staff and expressed her fears about the consequences of Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi Army. Were there enough U.S. troops in Iraq to deal with a further upsurge in violence? she asked. "It looks like we're not in a stability phase. It looks like we're still in a combat operations phase," Rice said, according to a former staff member. "It looks like we're still trying to impose our will."
Rice told Miller, her senior director for defense policy and arms control, that she wanted him to restart the Executive Steering Group, an interagency group he had cochaired back in the summer of 2002, when the early war planning had begun. Rice told Miller, "Find out what we have to do," an NSC staff member recalls, "and find out how much time it will take and how much it will cost."
Each morning at 6:30, Miller rushed into his office in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, peeled off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and grabbed the phone. How much power had the grids in Iraq generated overnight? What about the water? What was yesterday's death toll? In an interview with U.S. News, Miller recalled that the NSC staff was deeply engaged in postwar efforts, but he downplayed his role and that of his staff. Some in the Pentagon complained of White House micromanagement, but Rice made it clear to her staff she wanted action. "Dr. Rice reconvened the group because things weren't working," Miller says, "so we got very operational. That's because nobody else was doing it. We were fighting fires every day."
On June 20, Army Col. Anthony Harriman, the Pentagon's assistant deputy director for Joint Operations, told NSC staffers that the Joint Chiefs believed the level of combat forces in Iraq was sufficient and that the plan was to take the military police and artillery regiments and have them operate as "straight-leg infantry," NSC sources say. "What they recognized was that things weren't quite what they should be," says one staff member. "But they thought, 'We can take people trained to do different things and make them act as infantrymen. That'll take care of the problem.'"