Planning to Fail in Iraq

A new report (pdf) on Iraq war planning failures is creating quite a stir. The author, Joseph Collins, is a retired Army colonel who served in the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, is highly regarded within the Army community and is now a professor at the National Defense University.

The study's executive summary succinctly states the problem:

This study examines how the United States chose to go to war in Iraq, how its decisionmaking process functioned, and what can be done to improve that process. The central finding of this study is that U.S. efforts in Iraq were hobbled by a set of faulty assumptions, a flawed planning effort, and a continuing inability to create security conditions in Iraq that could have fostered meaningful advances in stabilization, reconstruction, and governance. With the best of intentions, the United States toppled a vile, dangerous regime but has been unable to replace it with a stable entity. Even allowing for progress under the Surge, the study insists that mistakes in the Iraq operation cry out in the mid- to long-term for improvements in the U.S. decisionmaking and policy execution systems.

According to McClatchy's Washington bureau, which first unearthed and reported on the study:

The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It says that in November 2001, before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld ``to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq.''

Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became ``the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders.''

''The aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld,'' it continues, ``cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation.'' Later, he shut down the military's computerized deployment system, ``questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk.''

In part because ``long, costly, manpower-intensive post-combat operations were anathema to Rumsfeld,'' the report says, the U.S. was unprepared to fight what Collins calls ``War B,'' the battle against insurgents and sectarian violence that began in mid-2003, shortly after ``War A,'' the fight against Saddam Hussein's forces, ended.

Compounding the problem was a series of faulty assumptions made by Bush's top aides, among them an expectation fed by Iraqi exiles that Iraqis would be grateful to America for liberating them from Saddam's dictatorship. The administration also expected that ``Iraq without Saddam could manage and fund its own reconstruction.''

The report also singles out the Bush administration's national security apparatus and implicitly President Bush and both of his national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, saying that ``senior national security officials exhibited in many instances an imperious attitude, exerting power and pressure where diplomacy and bargaining might have had a better effect.''

By Phillip Carter |  April 18, 2008; 9:13 AM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became ``the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders.''

Well, that part is just 100% wrong. The Combatant Commanders have always reported directly to the SECDEF and not the JCS. It's a bit farcical to "bypass" authority that does not exist.

The rest of it sounds ok though.

Posted by: Andy | April 18, 2008 11:39 AM

Posted by: student | April 18, 2008 12:53 PM

The paper mischaracterized the report. The report actually does not say anything about Rumsfeld bypassing the JCS. The report says the chain of command runs from the President to the SECDEF to the Combatant Commander, and that Rumsfeld exercised this legal authority. McClatchy messed this one up.

Posted by: student | April 18, 2008 1:22 PM

From Collins himself (and thanks for the SWJ link!):

"The study recommends the development of a national planning charter, improving the qualifications of national security planners, streamlining policy execution in the field, improving military education, strengthening the Department of State and USAID, and reviewing the tangled legal authorities for complex contingencies. The study ends with a plea to improve alliance relations and to exercise caution in deciding to go to war."

Some nice recommendations; unfortunately only the last one, a plea in fact, gets at the real reason for our troubles in Iraq.

No amount of tinkering with the planning and policy process can overcome the problem of defective and yes, malevolent leaders in the White House.

Posted by: LowHangingMissles | April 18, 2008 5:02 PM

Those are professional-sounding words about the chains of command, and all, but they are obfuscating the points and the reasons behind the trashing of our Armed Forces.

Be honest: We invaded a sovereign nation, killed its sons and daughters, destroyed its physical and governmental infrastructure (saving only the Oil Ministry), for the adolescent dreams of glory of the cowardly draft-dodgers in office.

Wait until OUR sons and daughters all get back, in and out of boxes, and see what the Republicans and war fanatics have done to them. Are you ready for the middle-of-the-night panics, the strained and lost relationships, the futures that will never be realized? Are you ready for the effects of maladjusted, psychologically-abused souls passing their problems down to their spouses and kids?

It will take generations, not decades, to recover from the folly of the mitarists.

If any of the readers here voted for Bush or fell for his thinly-disguised aggression, than THEY are the problem: I learned my lesson in 1968.

Posted by: gkam | April 19, 2008 1:01 PM

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