Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blame Rummy For A War Plan That Went Wrong

By Andrew Sullivan
London Sunday Times
January 15, 2006

The great conundrum in understanding the conduct of the war in Iraq is a relatively simple one. How on earth did a noble and necessary decision to remove the Saddam Hussein regime result in such a chaotic occupation? The initial campaign to seize the country was brilliant, but almost immediately it was clear that something was awry.

The looting and mayhem in the wake of the collapse of a totalitarian state were eminently predictable. So why did the US and coalition armies simply let it happen? Why did they allow whole swathes of Iraq to descend into near-anarchy or control by Ba’athists and jihadist insurgents, make no attempt to seal the borders and dither for more than a year about the constitutional way forward?

Or to put it another way: if this project was as important as the Bush administration said it was, why did it seem unprepared and at times even indifferent to the consequences of invasion?

Well, we are beginning to get some answers — drip by drip, as former officials begin to leak or write memoirs. Two new books help a little. The first, My Year in Iraq, is by Paul Bremer, the former de facto pro-consul in Iraq in the critical early period. The second is a new biography of George W Bush, Rebel-In-Chief by Fred Barnes, published this week. Barnes, a former colleague and friend, has great White House access. If you piece together both books, you get a glimpse into how the most secretive presidency in years operated.

The picture is not pretty. Back in the spring of 2003 it had seemed obvious to most rational observers that we had too few troops to maintain order in Iraq. A mere 170,000 to control a country of 25m in a power vacuum was a joke. Towns and cities could be cleared of insurgents but never retained, because we had too few troops to stay put.

The borders were porous. We didn’t have enough troops to secure the weapons sites that the war had been designed to eradicate. General (Eric K) Shinseki famously argued before the war that we needed 500,000 troops to do the job. He was fired. Many pro-Bush military analysts, besotted with Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a lean, mean fighting machine, told us we knew nothing about military strategy. They planned on about 40,000 troops remaining a few months after the fall of Saddam.

Well, it turns out that Bush’s right-hand man in Iraq agreed completely with the critics — or so he claims now. And Bremer is no Michael Moore. He believed in this war. And reading his book, you are struck by one thing. His appointment was rushed; he had mere days to assemble a team to govern Iraq (he largely had to find his own staff); and yet the administration had had years to prepare for this scenario.

As his plane circled into Iraq for the first time, an aide pointed out pillars of smoke everywhere. “Industrial-strength looting” was the assessment. Bremer almost immediately came to the obvious conclusion that Shinseki had been right and wanted to triple the force numbers. Triple. That is not a mild policy disagreement. It’s an indictment of the whole plan.

Bremer sent a top-level analysis by the Rand Corporation advocating far more troops to Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld never even bothered to acknowledge it. Later, when Rumsfeld was in Iraq, Bremer tried to make the case again. But Rummy was more interested in reducing troop levels because of domestic political pressure.

Back in Washington, according to Barnes’s pro-Bush book, the president found his weekly teleconferences with the generals irritatingly long. According to Barnes, “Bush liked crisp sessions without whining or complaints. Once he had to interrupt a discussion of troop rotation to say, ‘Stop the hand-wringing!’ ” This is not a management style designed to expose problems and solve them. It’s a style designed to squelch dissent.

As security deteriorated, Bremer tried again to wake Rumsfeld up: “On May 18 (2004), I gave (Condoleezza) Rice a heads-up that I intended to send Secretary Rumsfeld a very private message suggesting that the coalition needed more troops . . . That afternoon I sent my message. I noted the deterioration . . . since April had made it clear, to me at least, that we were trying to cover too many fronts with too few resources.” Again, Rumsfeld never bothered to respond.

All Bremer and (coalition commander General Ricardo) Sanchez wanted were enough troops to control Baghdad. Rummy couldn’t care less. When Bremer told him at a dinner in September 2003 that security was the No 1 priority, Rumsfeld replied, “That means moving as fast as possible on getting Iraq’s security forces stood up.” Bremer’s response: “Here we go again, I thought.”

Rumsfeld had a fixed idea that a smaller military could accomplish anything, and had absolutely no sense of responsibility for the chaos his war plan had unleashed.

His famous “stuff happens” remark in response to the early looting in Baghdad stands as the leitmotif for his entire view of the war. While Colin Powell had insisted that once you invaded Iraq you were responsible for its security, Rumsfeld thought that the Iraqis should fend for themselves.

This policy of neglect has something to do with the 30,000 innocent Iraqi civilians killed (largely by insurgents) since the US invasion. While Powell wanted to kill Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite radical, Rumsfeld balked. By May 2004, Bremer told Rice the coalition had become “the worst of all things — an ineffective occupier”.

What deeper conclusions can we draw? The post-invasion plan was all but non-existent, an act of recklessness. The reason, however, was not just incompetence; it was a deliberate decision by Rumsfeld and Bush not to commit sufficient resources for nation-building.

Rumsfeld, after all, had never been a neocon. He loathed the idea of using large numbers of American forces to reconstruct a broken society. So he deflected responsibility and ordered the crudest tactics against the insurgency: torturing large numbers of innocent Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, sending troops into combat with insufficient armour, engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with Iraqi and jihadist terrorists who knew the terrain intimately.

And Bush? There’s a very revealing statement in the Barnes book, reminding us of something that Bush said back in 1999. Bush’s main political interest “is not in the means, it is the results”. Once he had declared war, his decision was done. It was up to others to implement it. And he was bored and irritated by the follow-up details.

In Barnes’s book, Bush said during the Iraq occupation, “If Bremer’s happy, I’m happy. If Bremer’s nervous, I’m nervous.” But if Bremer is to be believed, he was deeply unhappy and Bush either dismissed his concerns or had no idea that they existed.

In an earlier statement, Bush had spoken of his faith. It is ludicrous to think, as some Europeans do, that this president invaded Iraq on instructions from the Almighty. But Bush’s kind of faith may help to explain the shambles of the occupation. He once wrote, “(My faith) frees me to enjoy life and not worry what comes next.”

His mindset is focused on grand decisions followed by results. There is no toleration for mess, whining, criticism or second- guessing. The nitty gritty — which can mean the difference between success and failure in wartime — was not his concern. He delegated the whole thing to commanders completely intimidated by Rumsfeld and institutionally trained not to challenge their bosses. You want to know why we are where we are in Iraq? We’re beginning to piece it together.

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