Monday, November 21, 2005

Plan A from Outer Space

Josh Marshall's November 26, 2003 post on the firing of Tom Warrick of the State Department's prescient Future of Iraq Project - the government's best expertise shelved to facilitate contemplation of One Giant Cakewalk For Mankind - was put into devastating context by George Packer's extensive November 1993 New Yorker article on the Bush administration's post-war "planning:"
Erdmann’s view that rebuilding Iraq would require a significant, sustained effort was echoed by the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Throughout 2002, sixteen groups of Iraqi exiles, coördinated by a bureau official named Thomas S. Warrick, researched potential problems in postwar Iraq, from the electricity grid to the justice system. The thousands of pages that emerged from this effort, which became known as the Future of Iraq Project, presented a sobering view of the country’s physical and human infrastructure—and suggested the need for a long-term, expensive commitment.

The Pentagon also spent time developing a postwar scenario, but, because of Rumsfeld’s battle with Powell over foreign policy, it didn’t coördinate its ideas with the State Department. The planning was directed, in an atmosphere of near-total secrecy, by Douglas J. Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, and William Luti, his deputy. According to a Defense Department official, Feith’s team pointedly excluded Pentagon officials with experience in postwar reconstructions. The fear, the official said, was that such people would offer pessimistic scenarios, which would challenge Rumsfeld’s aversion to using troops as peacekeepers; if leaked, these scenarios might dampen public enthusiasm for the war. “You got the impression in this exercise that we didn’t harness the best and brightest minds in a concerted effort,” Thomas E. White, the Secretary of the Army during this period, told me. “With the Department of Defense the first issue was ‘We’ve got to control this thing’—so everyone else was suspect.” White was fired in April. Feith’s team, he said, “had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived.”

This was the view held by exiles in the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi. The exiles told President Bush that Iraqis would receive their liberators with “sweets and flowers.” Their advice led policymakers to assume that Iraqi soldiers and policemen would happily transfer their loyalty to the Americans, providing a ready-made security force. “There was a mistaken notion in certain circles in Washington that the Iraqi civil service would remain intact,” Barham Salih, the Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdish administration and a strong advocate for the overthrow of Saddam, said. A week before the war, he discussed the problem of law and order with a senior member of the Administration. “They were expecting the police to work after liberation,” Salih told me. “I said, ‘This is not the N.Y.P.D. It’s the Iraqi police. The minute the first cruise missile arrives in Baghdad, the police force degenerates and everybody goes home.’”

In the Pentagon’s scenario, the responsibility of managing Iraq would quickly be handed off to exiles, led by Chalabi—allowing the U.S. to retain control without having to commit more troops and invest a lot of money. “There was a desire by some in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it,” a senior Administration official told me. “The idea was to put our guy in there and he was going to be so compliant that he’d recognize Israel and all the problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad. Everything would be hunky-dory.” The planning was so wishful that it bordered on self-deception. “It isn’t pragmatism, it isn’t Realpolitik, it isn’t conservatism, it isn’t liberalism,” the official said. “It’s theology.”

On January 20th, President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive No. 24, which gave control of postwar Iraq to the Department of Defense. At the end of the month, the Pentagon threw together a team of soldiers and civilians, under the leadership of retired General Jay Garner, in the newly christened Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. orha would administer Iraq after the end of hostilities. The war was only seven weeks away.

In 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, Garner had led the largely successful effort to save Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq. Garner and his inner circle of generals and ambassadors essentially used the same template for the war in Iraq. orha was divided into three “pillars,” as Garner called them: humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and civil administration. Garner’s experience in northern Iraq led him to focus on the potential for a humanitarian disaster: displaced populations, starvation, outbreaks of disease, prisoners of war, and, above all, chemical-weapons attacks. The U.N. was warning of the possibility of half a million deaths. orha thoroughly prepared for each of these nightmares—and if any one of them had come to pass Garner’s foresight would have been applauded.

But in concentrating on possible emergencies he failed to consider the long view. On February 21st and 22nd, some two hundred officials gathered in an auditorium at the National Defense University, in Washington, for a “rock drill”—a detailed vetting of the plans that had been made so far. The drill struck some participants as ominous.

“I got the sense that the humanitarian stuff was pretty well in place, but the rest of it was flying blind,” one orha member recalled. “A lot of it was after hearing from Jay Garner, ‘We don’t have any resources to do this.’” Plans for running the country’s ministries were rudimentary; orha had done little research. At Douglas Feith’s insistence, his former law partner Michael Mobbs was named the head of the civil-administration team. According to Garner and others, Mobbs never gelled with his new colleagues. Yet this “pillar” would turn out to be the one that mattered most.

During the rock drill, Gordon W. Rudd, a professor from the Marine Corps’s Command and Staff College, who had been assigned to Garner’s team as a historian, noticed that a man sitting four rows in front of him kept interjecting comments during other people’s presentations. “At first, he annoyed me,” Rudd said. “Then I realized he was better informed than we were. He had worked the topics, while the guy onstage was a rookie.”

It was Tom Warrick, the coördinator of the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, and his frustrations had just begun. Two weeks after the rock drill, after a meeting at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld asked Garner, “Do you have a guy named Warrick on your team?” Rumsfeld ordered Garner to remove Warrick from orha, adding, “This came from such a high level I can’t say no.” Warrick, who had done as much thinking about postwar Iraq as any other American official, never went to Baghdad.

The war between State and Defense continues: For months, Feith’s office has held up the appointment of other senior State Department officials to the C.P.A., even as the organization remains fifty per cent understaffed. The reports of the Future of Iraq Project were archived. In Baghdad, I met an Iraqi-American lawyer named Sermid Al-Sarraf, who had served on the project’s transitional-justice working group. He was carrying a copy of its two-hundred-and-fifty-page report, trying to interest C.P.A. officials. Nobody seemed to have read it.

The Administration was remarkably adept at muffling its own internal tensions. On only two occasions did dissenting views become public. The first was on the subject of money: a reporter from the Wall Street Journal quoted Lawrence Lindsey, the President’s chief economic adviser, floating a figure of up to two hundred billion dollars for the war and the reconstruction. This was at odds with the Administration’s projection—stated publicly by Vice-President Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—that the cost of reconstruction would be largely covered by Iraqi oil revenue. By April, the White House had requested only $2.4 billion for postwar rebuilding.

The second rift was over troop deployment. In February, General Eric Shinseki, the Army’s chief of staff, testified before the Senate that the occupation of Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops. This prediction prompted Wolfowitz to get on the phone with Thomas White, the Army Secretary. “He was agitated that we in the Army didn’t get it,” White recalled. “He didn’t give arguments or reasons. Their view was that it was going to go the way they said it was going to go.” Two days later, Wolfowitz appeared before the House Budget Committee and said that so high an estimate was “wildly off the mark.” He explained, “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his Army. Hard to imagine.”



[Added to the Iraq Chronicle]

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