The latest Iraq autopsy
Larry Diamond was a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to April of this year. A few months ago I blogged about his dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of the post-war occupation of Iraq. Diamond has articulated that dissatisfaction into a lengthy essay in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs ...
Larry Diamond was a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to April of this year. A few months ago I blogged about his dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the post-war occupation of Iraq. Diamond has articulated that dissatisfaction into a lengthy essay in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "What Went Wrong in Iraq," that expands on this criticism at length. It's sobering reading. Here's how it starts:
Larry Diamond was a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to April of this year. A few months ago I blogged about his dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of the post-war occupation of Iraq. Diamond has articulated that dissatisfaction into a lengthy essay in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “What Went Wrong in Iraq,” that expands on this criticism at length. It’s sobering reading. Here’s how it starts:
With the transfer of power to a new interim Iraqi government on June 28, the political phase of U.S. occupation came to an abrupt end. The transfer marked an urgently needed, and in some ways hopeful, new departure for Iraq. But it did not erase, or even much ease at first, the most pressing problems confronting that beleaguered country: endemic violence, a shattered state, a nonfunctioning economy, and a decimated society. Some of these problems may have been inevitable consequences of the war to topple Saddam Hussein. But Iraq today falls far short of what the Bush administration promised. As a result of a long chain of U.S. miscalculations, the coalition occupation has left Iraq in far worse shape than it need have and has diminished the long-term prospects of democracy there. Iraqis, Americans, and other foreigners continue to be killed. What went wrong? Many of the original miscalculations made by the Bush administration are well known. But the early blunders have had diffuse, profound, and lasting consequences-some of which are only now becoming clear. The first and foremost of these errors concerned security: the Bush administration was never willing to commit anything like the forces necessary to ensure order in postwar Iraq. From the beginning, military experts warned Washington that the task would require, as Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress in February 2003, “hundreds of thousands” of troops. For the United States to deploy forces in Iraq at the same ratio to population as NATO had in Bosnia would have required half a million troops. Yet the coalition force level never reached even a third of that figure. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior civilian deputies rejected every call for a much larger commitment and made it very clear, despite their disingenuous promises to give the military “everything” it asked for, that such requests would not be welcome. No officer missed the lesson of General Shinseki, whom the Pentagon rewarded for his public candor by announcing his replacement a year early, making him a lame-duck leader long before his term expired. Officers and soldiers in Iraq were forced to keep their complaints about insufficient manpower and equipment private, even as top political officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) insisted publicly that greater military action was necessary to secure the country. In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons. But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department’s regional experts who were seen as too “soft” to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its “Future of Iraq” project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators. With Saddam’s military and security apparatus destroyed, the thinking went, Washington could capitalize on the goodwill by handing the country over to Iraqi expatriates such as Ahmed Chalabi, who would quickly create a new democratic state. Not only would fewer U.S. troops be needed at first, but within a year, the troop levels could drop to a few tens of thousands. Of course, these naive assumptions quickly collapsed, along with overall security, in the immediate aftermath of the war. U.S. troops stood by helplessly, outnumbered and unprepared, as much of Iraq’s remaining physical, economic, and institutional infrastructure was systematically looted and sabotaged. And even once it became obvious that the looting was not a one-time breakdown of social order but an elaborately organized, armed, and financed resistance to the U.S. occupation, the Bush administration compounded its initial mistakes by stubbornly refusing to send in more troops. Administration officials repeatedly deluded themselves into believing that the defeat of the insurgency was just around the corner-just as soon as the long, hot summer of 2003 ended, or reconstruction dollars started flowing in and jobs were created, or the political transition began, or Saddam Hussein was captured, or the interim government was inaugurated. As in Vietnam, a turning point always seemed imminent, and Washington refused to grasp the depth of popular disaffection. Under its chief administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the CPA (which ruled Iraq from May 2003 until June 2004) worked hard and creatively to craft a transition to a legitimate, viable, and democratic system of government while rebuilding the overall economy and society. As I saw during my brief tenure as a senior CPA adviser on governance earlier this year, the U.S. administration got a number of things right. But one cannot review the political record without underscoring the pervasive security deficit, which undermined everything else the coalition sought to achieve.
Read the whole thing. And here’s a link to the rest of Diamond’s writings on Iraq.
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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