Tipping towards one side of the fence
A few days ago I asked: Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process? Phil Carter has a lengthy and compelling post that looks at the Tommy Franks book, American Soldier, and ...
Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?
Phil Carter has a lengthy and compelling post that looks at the Tommy Franks book, American Soldier, and highlights highlights just how f#$&ed up the policy process leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom really was (link via Kevin Drum). Some of the disturbing parts:
Gen. Franks briefed the President and the NSC principals that Phase IV entailed significant strategic and operational risk, and that there was no good solution yet for Phase IV. Yet, the discussion afterwards focused entirely on WMD, Scuds, issues with allies, and other issues focused on Phase III. No one asked Gen. Franks about Phase IV; it seemed like an afterthought. That makes sense because the White House and Pentagon leaders saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as Desert Storm II in many ways — where we dodged the post-war issue by limiting our objectives and pulling out rapidly. This passage implies that Gen. Franks was aware of the problem, but his bosses weren’t — and he didn’t pop a starcluster to let them know of the problem…. On page 393, Gen. Franks tells of another briefing to President Bush and the NSC principals — this time in Aug. 2002, in the White House. Here again, Gen. Franks discussed the post-war issues, but apparently in a brief and optimistic way:
My final chart was potentially the most important: PHASE IV STABILITY OPERATIONS. “The Generated and Running Starts,” I explained, “and the Hybrid Concept all project Phase III ending with a maximum of two hundred and fifty thousand troops in Iraq. We will have to stand up a new Iraqi army, and create a constabulary that includes a representative tribal, religious and ethnic mix. It will take time. “And well-designed and well-funded reconstruction projects that put large numbers of Iraqis to work and quickly meet community needs — and expectations — will be the keys to our success in Phase IV.” “We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as possible,” Don Rumsfeld said. On hearing his words, heads nodded around the table. “At some point,” I said, “we can begin drawing down our force. We’ll want to retain a core strength of at least fifty thousand men, and our troop reductions should parallel deployment of representative, professional Iraqi security forces. Our exit strategy will be tied to effective governance by Iraqis, not to a timeline.” I saw further nods around the table. And then Condi Rice tapped her watch; we were out of time.
Analysis: Wow… the “group think” is so thick in this briefing that you can taste it. Heads nodding… eyes indicating assent without question… this is not an OPLAN briefing, this is a love-fest. Seriously, one can start adding up all of the implicit assumptions in these statements by Gen. Franks, and figure out exactly why the Phase IV plan went so poorly. For starters, there’s no discussion of initial security needs, or initial needs for law and order. Second, there’s no discussion of institutional responsibility for the key reconstruction projects described as being so essential — something we know now well in the crack between State/USAID and Defense. Third, we have an incredibly optimistic troop redeployment estimate by Gen. Franks that reflects the best case scenario for post-war stability and reconstruction efforts. I don’t know whether less optimistic scenarios were presented to the President or not, but it’s clear from Franks’ book that he certainly didn’t give him any. And so, President Bush decided to go to war on the basis of this best case scenario, without the expectation that we could get bogged down in Phase IV.
Fareed Zakaria also highlighted the process problem in yesterday’s Washington Post:
Bush’s position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department’s postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction — and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein? Perhaps Iraq would have been a disaster no matter what. But there’s a thinly veiled racism behind such views, implying that Iraqis are savages genetically disposed to produce chaos and anarchy. In fact, other nation-building efforts over the past decade have gone reasonably well, when well planned and executed. “Strategy is execution,” Louis Gerstner, former chief executive of IBM, American Express and RJR Nabisco, has often remarked. In fact, it’s widely understood in the business world that having a good objective means nothing if you implement it badly. “Unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they’re pointless,” writes Larry Bossidy, former chief executive of Honeywell.
I don’t agree the sentence about “junking the UN process,” — Germany gets the first-mover prize in that regard — but beyond that Zakaria makes a powerful case about the primacy of process. But what about the objectives? Matthew Yglesias responds to my previous post in this way:
[T]he complaint against Kerry is that his strategy is (allegedly) vague, shapeless, and possibly nonexistent. Insofar as that’s true, it’s not a good thing, but it leaves open the possibility that a good strategy will be formulated, or, perhaps more likely, that drift will be well-managed. I wouldn’t call that a really strong case for Kerry, but compared to the alternative of guaranteed failure, it seems clearly preferable.
Carter, Zakaria, and Yglesias are persuasive — very persuasive. Persuasive enough to reduce my probability of voting for Bush down to 0.4.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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