"Maybe," according to a report in today's USA Today
, which mirrors a story
in the Los Angeles Times last week. Barbara Slavin and Dave Moniz make the point that U.S. planning for post-war Iraq was less-than-stellar, largely due to faulty assumptions and group-think about what post-war Iraq would look like.
Baghdad fell just 21 days after the initial assaults, and military analysts describe the campaign as historic, even brilliant.
But so far, the verdict on the aftermath of that campaign is much harsher. More than three months after Baghdad fell, American soldiers are not being treated like liberators. Instead, they are mired in a guerrilla war, according to Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the region. Shadowy forces prey on U.S. troops, sabotage the nation's electric grid and other vital infrastructure, and spread fear among average Iraqis that Saddam is coming back.
Administration officials say the violence will eventually subside. But as of mid-July, even the top U.S. official in Iraq was offering no clear forecast for when. "We need to be patient," Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, told Meet the Press on Sunday. While expressing confidence that resistance could be overcome, he conceded that "we are going to be there for a while. I don't know how many years."
Interviews with more than 30 current and former U.S. officials, analysts, Iraqi-Americans and others — including a cross-section of those involved in the planning process — identified a number of pre-war decisions that they say helped create the current situation. Hasty planning, rosy assumptions about Iraqi attitudes and a failure to foresee and forestall the disastrous effects of looting and sabotage all contributed, they say. Most spoke on the record, but a few in sensitive positions requested anonymity.
Apparently, Bush Administration knew the post-war phase would be the toughest. The USA Today report notes the advice given
by the Army's leadership -- former-SecArmy Tom White and retired-Gen. Eric Shinseki -- that the occupation would require "several hundred thousand" troops. The USA Today report also notes a National Security Council memo analyzing past nation-building operations and projecting a need for 500,000 troops for this one:
As late as February, barely a month before the war began, the question of how many troops to send to Iraq to stabilize the country after the war was unsettled, according to a high-ranking Defense Department official involved in the planning process.
To help planners reach a decision, staff members on the White House's National Security Council (NSC) prepared a memo that looked at the numbers of troops used in recent peacekeeping operations and stated what numbers would be sent to Iraq if those models were followed, the official said. If the peacekeeping operations during the 1999 Kosovo crisis were used as a benchmark, the memo said, 500,000 troops would have been deployed to Iraq. A large number of peacekeepers was also sent to Bosnia, but relatively smaller forces were deployed in other crises in Haiti, Sierra Leone, where the outcome has been less successful than in the Balkans.
The memo did not set an inflexible rule for force size, but instead laid out the apparent lessons of recent peacekeeping operations. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice saw the memo, but it is not clear whether President Bush did. Michael Anton, an NSC spokesman, refused to comment on the document, apart from denying that any specific recommendation had been made regarding how many troops should be deployed. "The NSC staff does not make recommendations or provide estimates to the president on the number of troops needed for any mission," he said.
Yet about the same time the document was drafted, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz harshly criticized then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki for telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" to stabilize Iraq in the months after the war.
In the end, the conviction that U.S. forces would be warmly welcomed was at the heart of the decisionmaking, judging from the administration's public statements and inside accounts from those who took part in the debate. Thomas White, who served as secretary of the Army until Rumsfeld pushed him out after the war over differences about force size and other matters, traces the force-size decision to the belief by Cheney, Rumsfeld and others that U.S. troops would be hailed as liberators.
Shortly after American troops entered Baghdad, I wrote a piece similar to this memo
in the Washington Monthly, arguing that our recent experience with nation-building should be a guide for doing it this time around.
The architects of the war might be forgiven for misgauging the number of troops required had the war come a dozen years ago, when the United States had little experience in modern nation-building. But over the course of the 1990s America gained some hard understanding, at no small cost. From Port-au-Prince to Mogadishu, every recent engagement taught the lesson we're now learning again in Iraq: America's high-tech, highly mobile military can scatter enemies which many times outnumber them, in ways beyond the wildest dreams of commanders just a generation ago. But it's not so easy to win the peace.So what's the bottom line?
Consider the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In Bosnia, America won its war with a combination of muscular diplomacy, air power, and covertly armed Bosnian-Muslim and Croat proxy armies on the ground. That mix of tools brought about the Dayton Accords in the fall of 1995. But when it came to making that treaty work, America had to send in its heaviest armor divisions, putting a Bradley fighting vehicle on nearly every street corner to enforce the peace. NATO initially sent 60,000 soldiers into Bosnia, and almost eight years after Dayton, America still has several thousand soldiers on the ground in Bosnia, as part of a 13,000-soldier NATO force. Winning hearts and minds took a backseat to overawing malcontent factions with an overwhelming and, for all intents and purposes, enduring show of force.
Like Bosnia, Kosovo was taken without any American ground commitment. There the United States won its war by unifying air power with what now-retired Gen. Wesley Clark calls "coercive diplomacy." But to win the peace America had to send in substantial ground forces. NATO quickly deployed a force of nearly 50,000 troops to the tiny province that is roughly 1/40 the size of Iraq. Truly pacifying Kosovo--a process that has really only just begun--means leeching it of its toxic ethnic hatreds and endemic violence. Most indicators hint that NATO will have to maintain its mission in Kosovo for at least a generation.
In Afghanistan, the pattern was much the same. It took only 300 U.S. special forces on foot and horseback--supported by 21st-century aircraft, GPS-guided bombs, and a force of Northern Alliance fighters--to bring down the Taliban. But once the government in Kabul had fallen, thousands of U.S. and allied troops had to come in to secure the country. Today, 15,000 American and allied soldiers remain there, 50 times more than it took to win the war.
I think we can draw some conclusions from today's article, the LA Times article last Friday, and some of my writing.
(1) The U.S. knew what it would take to do the job right in Iraq, because of our recent experiences in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Indeed, our top officials knew what it would take, based on studies done by the Army War College and National Security Council.
(2) Senior officials in the Pentagon and White House appear to have chosen courses of action which were contraindicated by the advice mentioned in (1). It's not clear why this choice was made. It may never be possible to pin down the exact decision calculus inside the minds of the top leaders in the Pentagon. However, it appears that the Pentagon made a conscious decision to accept risk in the planning and execution of its post-war plan, in order to start and fight the war faster. That may have been an acceptable tradeoff, given the effect that our high operational tempo had on the Iraqis. But it's clear now that the risk on the back-end (in the post-war phase) was significant, and possibly larger than planners anticipated. (More on operational risk and planning later
(3) The entire post-war plan was given relatively short shrift by planners and commanders at the top levels, apparently because of assumptions at the highest levels of government that "we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." (Vice President Cheney, March 16) This assumption drove every other aspect of the plan, from mobilization of additional reservists for security to contracts for additional civilian security forces. When this assumption proved to be false, it was too late to change those other aspects of the plan. Without a contingency force already sitting in Kuwait ready for commitment, it was impossible to rapidly mobilize one from the states to get there when they were needed.The result
: American soldiers have not been set up for success in Iraq. The Administration has not yet done all it can do to set them up for success, and we must. Our mission in Iraq is important, notwithstanding questions about our casus belli
. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo
for the best reporting on this issue.) We must succeed there in order to create regional stability and prevent the kind of threats from emerging in Iraq that have emerged in other failed states (e.g. Afghanistan). Going to the U.N.
on bended knee to get official U.N. sanction and peacekeeping support is one answer. Mobilizing sufficient numbers of reservists to implement a long-term rotation plan with enough boots on the ground is another. Contracting with Iraqis
for civilian security forces is a third good option. Ultimately, we must prevail. But we must get smarter about our planning in order to do so.