... While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.This is not news, but is damning evidence to support what we think we know — that the Pentagon committed a gross error of tremendous proportions in planning for post-war Iraq. At every point in the planning process, the senior leaders of the Pentagon embraced the "best case" scenarios offered by intelligence officials and military planners. Senior Pentagon officials used those "best case" projections to justify force package adjustments, resourcing decisions, and strategic decisions which continue to impede progress in Iraq today.
"While there may have been 'plans' at the national level, and even within various agencies within the war zone, none of these 'plans' operationalized the problem beyond regime collapse" — that is, laid out how U.S. forces would be moved and structured, Wilson writes in an essay that has been delivered at several academic conferences but not published. "There was no adequate operational plan for stability operations and support operations."
Similar criticisms have been made before, but until now they have not been stated so authoritatively and publicly by a military insider positioned to be familiar with top-secret planning. During the period in question, from April to June 2003, Wilson was a researcher for the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group. Then, from July 2003 to March 2004, he was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division, which was stationed in northern Iraq.
A copy of Wilson's study as presented at Cornell University in October was obtained by The Washington Post.
As a result of the failure to produce a plan, Wilson asserts, the U.S. military lost the dominant position in Iraq in the summer of 2003 and has been scrambling to recover ever since. "In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative . . . gained over an off-balanced enemy," he writes. "The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."
It was only in November 2003, seven months after the fall of Baghdad, that U.S. occupation authorities produced a formal "Phase IV" plan for stability operations, Wilson reports. Phase I covers preparation for combat, followed by initial operations, Phase II, and combat, Phase III. Post-combat operations are called Phase IV.
Many in the Army have blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon civilians for the unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq, but Wilson reserves his toughest criticism for Army commanders who, he concludes, failed to grasp the strategic situation in Iraq and so not did not plan properly for victory. He concludes that those who planned the war suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt."
Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year. "Plainly stated, the 'western coalition' failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness," he asserts.
"Reluctance in even defining the situation . . . is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it," he comments.
Because of this failure, Wilson concludes, the U.S. military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."
Mr. Ricks is right to emphasize the importance of this report as evidence. Maj. Wilson was, quite literally, present at the creation of the plan. I've been a division planner, and I've seen how much information comes into a division plans cell. If anyone had a big-picture view of the planning process and the way it impacted execution, it would be a division planner. Moreover, the Army puts its smartest officers in these jobs. The key members of a division plans team are usually SAMS graduates ("Jedi knights") who are the best and brightest officers in their year group. When one of these guys speaks, you listen, because he probably knows what he's talking about.
So at this point, we've heard recriminations from a lot of people about the post-war planning failures. Paul Bremer has criticized troop allocations, saying "We never had enough troops on the ground." Tommy Franks strongly implies in his book that post-war planning was not a priority. Official after-action reports from 3ID and 101ID speak of the absence of a post-war plan. And now you have it from one of the key planners in the middle of the operation. And yet, there appears to be no political accountability for these failures in either the Pentagon or the White House. President Bush has said previously that he embraces the model of political command described in "Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime" by Eliot Cohen — that he strives to emulate great wartime leaders like Lincoln and FDR. If that's true, then maybe he needs to cruise across the Potomac and fire a few people in the war department, just as Lincoln and FDR did.
Update I: A friend of mine e-mailed to let me know that MAJ Wilson's study was available online via the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University. I plan to read the whole thing this weekend.