diet coke for breakfast

Monday, December 01, 2003

Posted by Jake :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Your weekend reading on what's going on in Iraq

Drezner links to a New Yorker piece by George Packer looking at how bureaucratic issues complicated post-war planning. This part is excerpted and is worth reading in its entirety:

In the summer of 2002, when the Administration began leaning toward an invasion of Iraq, [director of policy planning at the State Department Richard N.] Haass asked [Drew] Erdmann to analyze twentieth-century postwar reconstructions. In fifteen single-spaced classified pages -- epic length for a State Department memo -- Erdmann applied the ideas in his dissertation to a series of case studies from the two world wars through more recent conflicts such as Bosnia and Kosovo. One of Erdmann's fundamental conclusions was that long-term success depended on international support. In the short run, he explained to me one evening, the foundation of everything is security, which partly depended on having sufficient numbers of troops. "You don't have to look too far to see that isn't the case here. And I don't fault the people who are here. There's no way any fault should be put on the kids in the 3rd I.D. or the brigade commanders. The question is, why weren't more people put in? That was the concern of my project -- were we prepared to do what it took in the postwar phase?"

Last fall, Secretary of State Colin Powell circulated Erdmann's memo to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. "Maybe it wasn't read," Erdmann said.

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, coordinated 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 coordinate 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."

I would make a couple of points about this post:

1. Given how closed the Bush administration usually is about its internal workings it is really difficult to know whether this stuff is true. I haven't read the whole article posted (yet), but it worth considering how we know this.

2. I agreed with the Pentagon's interest in making the case for war. The last thing that we needed last year was a bunch of bureaucratic infighting. Since we got that, we had to settle for the bureaucratic infighting not spilling onto the cover of the NYTimes.

3. Bureaucratic infighting -- not having everyone on the same team working towards the same goal -- has consequences. One of those consequences is that smart people who had good things to say about how the post-war reconstruction should go were not listened to.

4. We need to think on our feet if we are going to do this right. We have to honestly look at where we have gone wrong -- recognizing the things that we have done right -- so that we can improve. I have a lot of confidence in our public figures overall. Look how well the war itself went. If we get our smart people together, we can make this happen. We just have to listen to them.

5. Drezner makes this point elsewhere in the post, but I really agree with it: There is no coherent narrative for what is happening on the ground in Iraq. In some places we are doing a fantastic job, and we are the models of liberators. In some places the Baathists are reforming to fight the imperialists. We shouldn't be disheartened by that because reality is a complicated thing. We should also be skeptical of news articles seeking to generalize what is happening on the ground.

The war isn't lost, but it also isn't won. Not only do we need the resolve to see this to the end, we also need the intellectual honesty to see how things are really going.


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