If you listen to the latest howls from the left, we are in another quagmire, and incompetent to deal with it. Sound familiar? It should. During the Iraq campaign, when Gen. William Wallace famously asserted we were in an “operational pause” many on the left instantly became hysterical in their rush to proclaim the war plan a failure. We were stuck, beaten, and out of everything we needed to win. We’d take thousands of casualties if we even tried to enter Baghdad. These same people now insist that the fighting and dying continue long after the President’s assertion that major combat operations were over is proof positive that our plan for post-war Iraq is a failure. Prepare for shouts of glee that the Pentagon agrees with them.
But that’s not what Rowan Scarborough’s report in the Washington Times said. Scarborough reported that the draft Pentagon study entitled “Operation Iraqi Freedom Strategic Lessons Learned” says the Pentagon believes we rushed the planning for the post-war governance of Iraq and put too many demands on our forces to do too many things at once. Along with this news comes the newest Zogby poll which puts Mr. Bush’s approval/disapproval numbers at their worst so far, with 45% positive and 54% negative. From these reports, Mr. Bush’s foes claim that the lessons learned are those being preached by the Deanieboppers. That is wrong. But we made — and are making — mistakes as we learn the business of nation-building.
The first and probably biggest mistake — which is outside of the scope of the DoD study — is not that we didn’t plan well enough for post-war Iraq, but that we chose the wrong plan.
The critics who first said the war plan was wrong now say the plan for peace was amateurish. They suffer from short-term memory loss. In fact, we planned very well — maybe over-planned — for post-Saddam Iraq. In fact, the President was presented with two conflicting plans, and he decided on the wrong one. Several of us were advocating — long, hard, and continuously — that before Baghdad fell there should be established an Iraqi provisional government comprising the more than 60 groups that had met in London late last year. Among them were the people who could have taken control of government ministries, established a security force, and begun the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy. There was a DoD plan to do just that, and it was the subject of an intense battle in the White House.
Opposing the DoD plan were the State Department and the CIA. Their opposition was largely based on their dislike of Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group that rallied most of the free Iraqi nationalist groups under one banner. Chalabi and his INC managed to get the Kurds, Shia (the non-clerical Shia, which posed a major deficiency in the INC) and the Sunni to agree on a framework for setting up a provisional government. They were working closely with DoD to ready the implementation of the plan right up to the time Baghdad fell. But State and CIA had been at war with Chalabi for years, distrusting him and everything to which he was attached. State went so far as to withhold millions of dollars for the INC that Congress had directed to help the free Iraqis prepare for what was coming.
The State/CIA plan was to put DoD in charge of Iraq, in a military occupation for an extended period while the newly-freed Iraqis choose and develop a government from among themselves, under American guard and tutelage. This may succeed eventually, but this plan extends America’s role in Iraq by years, and frankly costs more American lives. Because Mr. Bush inherently trusts the military, he chose to have it run Iraq even though Big Dog and the military didn’t want to.
If the DoD plan had been implemented and a provisional government declared before the campaign began — or even during it — Iraqis could now be governing Iraq, subject to some small level of Coalition control. They could have done months ago what we are doing now: creating the Iraqi security forces to take over basic security that our troops are now compelled to do.
The second mistake is that we planned on rebuilding, not building. When Gen. Jay Garner took over as the first American governor of the freed Iraq, he found something he was completely unprepared for: an Iraqi infrastructure that wasn’t severely damaged by war and in need of reconstruction. There simply was very little infrastructure at all.
When the lights went out in Baghdad, Gen. Myers took to the podium to say that we hadn’t put them out. Like the water systems, the electrical system in Iraq is little different from the 1960s when it was built. So the infrastructure is being built almost from scratch. Which takes much more time and vastly more money.
The third mistake was in the assessment of the foreign terrorist fighters coming into Iraq. As we heard time and again from the front-line reporters such as Ollie North, hundreds of them were coming in from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Sudan, and a dozen other places. Neither DoD nor CIA apparently took this invasion of what amounts to a second army of opposition seriously enough. Neither predicted the guerrilla war the terrorists — apparently now in alliance with the remaining Ba’athists loyal to Saddam — are conducting. Now Amb. Bremer and Big Dog are left to rattle sabers in the direction of Iran and Syria (the two principal sources) without result. So the terrorists still come to a nation that is one big arms depot. There are huge stashes of weapons and explosives still almost unguarded, like the “RPG farm” found last weekend.
Though our military has done a superb job, and we now appear ready to turn more authority over to Iraqis, we are — like it or not — in the nation-building business. We need to free our troops to hunt Saddam and his remnant forces, search for the WMD, and turn the local governance and security over to Iraqis. A military government of Christians in a Muslim country, with troops who don’t speak the language or know the culture, will be an irritant not a salve.
To the unserious — such as Howard Fonda McGovern Dean — the growing cost in blood and treasure means we should never go to war without the help and backing of the U.N. He — like Lil’ Billy — is dedicated to the idea that our national security should be entrusted to those who mean us harm. He and the rest are very impressed with the U.N.’s successes in nation-building in places such as Somalia. For the serious — those who fought and are still fighting the Iraq campaign and will have to fight the next one — it is a matter of learning the job of nation-building, and assigning that task where it belongs, which is not the Defense Department.
We are — make no mistake — in the nation-building business in Iraq. It is likely that we will have to be in several other places, such as Syria and Iran, and possibly even in Saudi Arabia. We are not colonialists. We’ve never been a nation that seizes others for our own profit. We have gone to war to protect our interests, and to free others from the slavery of tyrants. But this is different, and it requires different skills. If the State Department isn’t up to the job — and for the money it absorbs it damned well ought to be — it should be transformed into an agency that is.