Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
"Please, fix it." In the spring and summer of 2004, Rice and the NSC had oil on their minds. Rice was concerned that without fuel, the electricity generators would not function, and that without generators, there would be no air conditioning in the 110-degree summer heat. She also feared that insurgents were trying to isolate and bring down the Baghdad government by attacking the oil pipelines. In the end, the government failed to make inroads to boost oil production and refining, in large part because of the disarray of the CPA, the ineptitude of the Iraqi ministries, lack of foreign investment, and the sophistication and relentlessness of the insurgents' attacks. Rice was more frustrated than ever. "You could just see that she was tired," says a former NSC staff member. "And when we would come to her, she would just wave her hand and say, 'Please, fix it.'"
One of the most useful tools available to U.S. forces in Iraq was the Commanders' Emergency Response Program fund. The CERP money was given directly to commanders and tactical forces so they could quickly pay Iraqis for services and to rebuild infrastructure. In March 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the coalition ground forces, asked Bremer to release more CERP funds. Bremer refused. Sanchez went up the chain to Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who appealed to Bremer. Again he refused. Soon after, the NSC's Miller was in Iraq and learned about the problem; he told Rice, who made Bremer release the funds.
The NSC staff began calling Bremer the "Last Viceroy." "He was the proconsul. We all existed at a level way below his," says an NSC staff member. "And he instilled in his people the fear of God that said, 'Don't do anything that Washington tells you to do, and you don't do anything unless I tell you to do it.'" Bremer told U.S. News that he reported to the president through Rumsfeld, and that starting in October 2003, he spoke with Rice virtually every day. "I did object to third-string staff people in Washington second-guessing decisions we were making," Bremer told U.S. News, adding: "My view was if anybody back here had a really good idea about how to do things better, I had a flak jacket, a helmet, and a cot available for them."
Bremer's authority, along with his and Rumsfeld's micromanaging, made it impossible for Rice and her NSC staff to win the David-versus-Goliath struggle against the Pentagon and CPA bureaucracy. "I think they often wanted to do the right thing," says a former Pentagon official. "They didn't always put their muscle into the right thing. When they did, it would be helpful. But often, it wasn't enough."
Starting in the summer of 2004, one of the most intractable issues for the NSC staff was getting realistic assessments of U.S. efforts to train the Iraqi police and military, without which the United States could not even contemplate its own exit strategy. The job of troop training was given to one of the military's brightest stars, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who had won plaudits for leading the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq invasion and the subsequent occupation of Mosul, into early 2004. At the time, Petraeus had been credited with fixing up the schools in Mosul, getting the phones to work, the clean water to flow, the lights turned back on, and generally making life easier and safer for Iraqis. But there was concern in Washington that these seemed to be very temporary fixes, and that no sooner had the 101st Airborne taken credit for cleaning up a section of Mosul and left than the violence erupted again. "He was saying how effective he was being," says a former NSC staff member, "but throughout 2004, the CPA and, later, the embassy were reporting that Mosul was a mess."