Tuesday, February 28, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Wrote William F. Buckley in his column of yesterday:

One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.

And via the CSM we find excerpts from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)‘s report that discusses the almost nonexistent planning for post-invasion Iraq.

The CSM overview points to an AP story in WaPo that notes that what should have been basic issues were not addressed:

Thanks to inadequate planning, the report said, early occupation officials lacked enough reconstruction staffers who knew what they were doing.


“Pre-war reconstruction planning assumed that Iraq’s bureaucracy would go back to work when the fighting stopped,” it said. “When it became clear that the Iraqi bureaucracy was in widespread disarray,” occupation authorities “had to find coalition personnel to perform these tasks.”

“The U.S. government workforce planning for Iraq’s reconstruction suffered from a poorly structured, ad-hoc personnel management processes,” the report said, calling hiring practices “haphazard.”

If this policy was going to work, there needed to be serious planning about what to do once the invasion was successful. At the time, I assumed that such planning had been done–it seemed an obvious and vital part of the process, and as such I thought that trained professionals at the highest levels of government would think about such things–it appears my assumptions were incorrect and my confidence in some of the key actors misplaced.

I have thought for some time now that the looting that was allowed in Baghdad severely hampered governing the country, now it is clear that the problem was even worse: the war planners seemed not to understand that getting rid of Saddam and the Baath party elites was going to cause substantial disruption to an already poorly run state.

Instead, we let that poorly run state apparatus be take apart in chaotic looting, and then did not have a plan to deal with either the bureaucracy or the infrastructural problems.

I used to think that the administration’s unwillingness to talk about a long-term commitment to Iraq was born out of political exigency, but now it would seem that they really did think that we could go in, topple Saddam, hang around for a little while, and then leave–as if the whole thing was only a military operation. Back to the CSM piece, quoting a WaTi article:

The report also quotes a senior Pentagon official as saying that “the US government was not systemically structured to execute overseas reconstruction and stabilization programs.” And pre-invasion planning was “naturally focused on military requirements.”

All well and good, but wasn’t it blatantly obvious from the beginning that conquering Iraq wasn’t the hard part, that building a viable democratic (even quasi-democratic) state was the hard part? It is one think to assume that people want to be free and self-governing, it is another to just come off the dictator and then hope that everything else comes together. Granted: we didn’t just get Saddam and leave, but how much better could the last three years have been had we actually planned for the post-war situation?

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8 Responses to “Failure in Iraq”

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    1. Gdshf Says:

      “At the time, I assumed that such planning had been done–it seemed an obvious and vital part of the process, and as such I thought that trained professionals at the highest levels of government would think about such things”

      You seem like a smart person. Why in the world would you have had this assumption as your default? Part of the democratic process is consistently questioning those in power–a la Mill. It would seem that Americans would be better served by hanging their ideological predispositions at the door and DEMAND HONEST ANSWERS from political elites before we get into such quagmires as those we currently find ourselves in.

    2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

      I would like to think that any administration, regardless of ideological persuasion, that purposefully undertakes a policy of nation building would plan for these contingencies. It has nothing to do with not demanding answers or anything of the sort. One is only going to get so much information from an administration during the hostilities.

      Given the resumes of Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Cheney, it was not too much to ask to have expected better.

    3. bg Says:

      Agreed, planning for post-invasion was poor, if not non-existent. What is overlooked in this discussion is the intelligence failure. We believed that there were weapons of mass destruction, and we believed there would be massive uprisings in the cities as we crossed the border, and we believed Iraqis would quickly rally behind the exiled leaders. The trend is that the administration made a series of bad decisions because it was fed bad information and given bad advice by their “experts”.

      If you want to get partisan, one can easily say that the intelligence apparatus that led to the invasion of Iraq was the same intelligence community that the previous administration created by cutting it’s budget by 50% over 8 years, the CIA director was appointed by Clinton, etc. No leader can be expected to make good decisions when he or she is presented with bad information.

      With all that being said, there should have been a better plan for post invasion. There is nothing wrong with questioning those in power, but it is easy to do so after the fact. Can very many people honestly say that before the invasion they were screaming, “What is the plan for after the invasion? We DEMAND HONEST ANSWERS!” If anyone failed, it would be those people.

    4. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Failure in Iraq, Redux Says:

      [...] re in Iraq, Redux
      By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:13 am

      Yesterday I wrote two posts (here and here that dealt with the SIGIR report on post-war planning for Iraq. As a point of clarific [...]

    5. akjklja Says:

      “Can very many people honestly say that before the invasion they were screaming, “What is the plan for after the invasion? We DEMAND HONEST ANSWERS!” If anyone failed, it would be those people.”


      Millions of people were asking these questions. Do you not remember the massive global protests on 15 Feb 2024? Bush discounted the arguments made by many of these critics as those of a “focus group.”

      Within the State Department these issues were brought up, but Bush and Rumsfeld summarily ignored their reports. In fact, Rumsfeld directly told Jay Garner NOT TO READ the State Department reports! This is absurd and should be grounds for Rumsfeld’s immediate dismissal–of course, he serves at the pleasure of the President and the President hasn’t got a clue.

      The “intelligence failure” argument is also a bunch of BS. Hans Blix was quite clear in saying that any WMD program in Iraq was inconsequential.

    6. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Buckley on Bush and Iraq Says:

      [...] en Taylor @ 4:58 pm

      WFB is all over Bush and the Iraq policy. First it was the “it’s a failure” column earlier this week, and now another one: NEXT STEP.


    7. Matthew Says:

      Steven, the planning WAS done. I know some scholars who were involved. The State Dept. held conference after conference with political scientists, sociologists, economists, historians, and leaders of the Iraqi exile community–and this was before there were any public declarations from Bush regarding the impending war. The conferences were all about what happens when states are dismembered, what are the lessons from Japan, Germany, and other postwar occupations, and how to rebuild a state and a government afterwards.

      The Bush administration made a specific political decision to turn the postwar process over to Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, and other political appointees attached to Defense or the White House, and sideline State and the experts in exactly what they were about to undertake.

      It was not a lack of planning. It was a political desire to ignore the planning that had been done. They did not like the results of the studies, or the costs attached to them. They were driven by an ideological agenda, and were not going to let experts, or the hard facts presented by them, to stand in the way.

    8. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:


      I am aware that Larry Diamond was involved in the inital post-war work on democratization and quit in frustration.

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