Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 37 October 19 - 25, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Unbuilding of Iraq
John Barry and Evan Thomas
to Alternative Reader Index
Storm: Wrongheaded assumptions. Ideological blunders. Weak intelligence,
missteps, poor coordination and bad luck. How Team Bush's reconstruction efforts
went off the rails from day one
Iraq war had yet to begin, but some nasty fighting was already going on back in
Washington between the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
February, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner was trying to put together a team of
experts to rebuild Iraq after the war was over, and his list included 20 State
Department officials. The day before he was supposed to leave for the region,
Garner got a call from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who ordered him to
cut 16 of the 20 State officials from his roster. It seems that the State
Department people were deemed to be Arabist apologists, or squishy about the
United Nations, or in some way politically incorrect to the right-wing
ideologues at the White House or the neocons in the office of the Secretary of
Defense. The vetting process "got so bad that even doctors sent to restore
medical services had to be anti-abortion," recalled one of Garner's team.
Finally, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to stand up for his troops and
stop Rumsfeld's meddling. "I can take hostages, too," Powell warned
the secretary of Defense. "How hard do you want to play this thing?"
hard. Powell lost, as he often does in the councils of the Bush war cabinet, and
Rumsfeld had his way. Only one of the 16 State officials was restored to
Garner's reconstruction team. It was a petty triumph, but emblematic of
Rumsfeld's dominating, sometimes overbearing style. Rumsfeld was not a rogue
elephant. In much of what he did, Rumsfeld himself was following orders. The
hidden hand of the White House (read: Vice President Dick Cheney) was decisive
in many of the behind-the-scenes struggles over postwar policymaking in Iraq.
But President George W. Bush put the Defense Department in charge of both
invading Iraq and rebuilding it after the war. Since 9/11, the secretary of
Defense has been a brilliant war leader. Yet when it comes to making peace, he
has been guilty of almost willful denial. His deep reluctance to use the
American military for "peacekeeping" and
"nation-building"--he scorns the very terms--threatens to wrest defeat
from the jaws of victory in Iraq.
at a Tipping Point?
(like his boss, President Bush) continues to be unapologetic. Last week, on The
Washington Post's op-ed page, he wrote of the "solid progress" being
made in Iraq--building a 56,000-man Iraqi defense force, steps toward
self-government--and suggested strongly that the critics would be proved wrong.
Maybe. But almost six months after their "liberation," the Iraqis are
still short of power (both electrical and electoral) and jobs, and the guerrilla
war continues to claim an American soldier or two on almost a daily basis.
Inside and outside the U.S. government, knowledgeable experts worry that Iraq is
nearing a tipping point--that rising terrorism and resentment of America could
bring real chaos or civil war.
did we get in this mess? NEWSWEEK interviews with top government officials
involved in the planning and execution of the reconstruction of Iraq point to a
"perfect storm" of mistakes and bad luck: wrongheaded assumptions,
ideological blinders, weak intelligence and poor coordination by White House
national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Much of the damage was done at the
outset--in the first days after the war, when political infighting and wishful
thinking prevented the United States from taking control of a bad situation that
was turning worse.
not that the Bush administration failed to plan for the reconstruction of Iraq.
In August 2002 Bush decided that Saddam had to go, by force if necessary. Soon
after Labor Day, the White House set up an elaborate network of nine teams
studying how to cope with potential humanitarian crises during and after the war
and how to remake postwar Iraq into a peaceful democracy. There was widespread
recognition of the difficulty of the task. By mid-January, President Bush was
given a sober, realistic PowerPoint presentation (made available to NEWSWEEK) on
postwar reconstruction that included a warning that Iraq's economy could
collapse, creating widespread starvation and unrest. Rumsfeld, too, circulated
"a parade of horrible" things that could go badly wrong in an invasion
Peace and Security
the swiftness of victory spared Iraq the worst of those disasters. There was no
WMD attack (if indeed Saddam had any WMD to attack with, an increasingly dubious
proposition), no massive torching of Iraq's oilfields, no refugee crisis--all of
which the Pentagon had prepared for. Some administration officials say that the
CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency predicted postwar terror and guerrilla
attacks, but other officials scoff that the intelligence services gave only pro
forma warnings and are only now trying to cover themselves. What all this
postwar planning stressed, however, was that swiftly restoring peace and a
measure of security to postwar Iraq was crucial. Without that, nothing could be
done. And "security," as those White House Viewgraphs show, was the
Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander charged with invading Iraq and securing it
afterward, did warn of "catastrophic success," of winning so quickly
and overwhelmingly that the U.S. military would arrive in Baghdad without the
forces needed to control the capital. But Franks was preoccupied with fighting
the war, not cleaning up the rubble. Organizing for peace was a low priority at
CENTCOM: the undermanned planning cell for "Phase Four" (post conflict
ops) kept losing officers to other, more urgent war-fighting missions. Rumsfeld
and his top aides, meanwhile, saw the issue of postwar security essentially as a
trade-off. Send in enough troops to control Iraq, and the United States would
risk losing the elements of surprise and speed Franks achieved by going in with
a bare-bones invasion force. Besides, military and civilians both agreed that
peacekeeping and nation-building were no job for the U.S. military.
(National-security adviser Rice hoped that other countries would provide an
international constabulary force.) Franks passed down the word at a postinvasion
briefing for his field commanders. The first slide began: TAKE AS MUCH RISK
COMING OUT AS YOU TOOK GOING IN.
White House wanted to believe that it could get away with a relatively quick
in-and-out operation because American soldiers, Vice President Cheney predicted,
"will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." The bad guys--the worst of
Saddam's Baathist Party--would flee or surrender, but a large middle-class
"Mesopotamian bureaucracy" would remain in place to run the country.
This notion was pushed by a band of Iraqi exiles, most notably Ahmad Chalabi,
who have close ties to the Pentagon neocons--and who stood ready to step in and
fill the leadership void. Within a few months, it was hoped, American forces
could be drawn down to no more than 50,000 troops.
Vanishing Army and Missing Ministries
was a convenient scenario but, as it turned out, highly unrealistic. The Iraqi
Army did not surrender, so it could not be stripped of its officers and
reconstituted as "labor battalions" to repair damaged facilities and
guard power plants and oil fields. The Army simply vanished. The Iraqi police
force turned out to be hapless and corrupt, and it disappeared, too. The
Pentagon hadn't counted on criminal gangs' systematically tearing apart Iraq's
crumbling infrastructure and smuggling it out to sell abroad. (Saddam had
helpfully emptied his jails before the invasion.) U.S. intelligence about Iraq
was a little shaky. American officials were even unable to locate some Baghdad
ministries. They had the wrong addresses.
was considerable confusion over who was supposed to be in charge of post-Saddam
Iraq. "What do we mean by 'regime change' anyway?" General Franks
queried Secretary Rumsfeld in the middle of the war. Many CIA and State
Department officials were skeptical about Chalabi and the Iraq exiles, insisting
(correctly) that they had no popular base of support. The infighting over
Chalabi created paralysis, with the White House unwilling to play referee. At
the State Department, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, Powell's number two,
fought bitterly with the Defense Department neocons, Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's third-ranking civilian.
Armitage was convinced that the Defense neocons had spies at the State
Department. "Bats, we call them. Bats," said Armitage, in a colorful
private harangue reported to NEWSWEEK. "Because they hang upside down all
day, with their wings over their eyes, pretending they don't see anything. But
at night they spread their wings and fly off to whisper, whisper, whisper."
ideological intrigue reached into the upper levels of the Bush administration.
Rumsfeld ordered General Garner to drop a State Department official named Thomas
Warrick from his reconstruction team. Garner protested, his aides recall; he
needed Warrick, who had been the author of a $5 million, yearlong study called
"The Future of Iraq." Rumsfeld's reply, as relayed by Garner to his
aides, was: "I'm sorry, but I just got off a phone call from a level that
is sufficiently high that I can't argue with him." Sources tell NEWSWEEK
that Rumsfeld was taking his orders from Vice President Cheney. Administration
officials say that Warrick was vetoed because he did not get on with Iraqi exile
was a relatively small fry caught between clashing giants. The retired general,
who had been chosen because he had ably handled a refugee crisis in the Kurdish
north of Iraq after the 1991 gulf war, understood the importance of moving fast
after Saddam collapsed. But when he queried Franks on a timetable for putting
his team in place, he was told 60 to 90 days. Too slow, Garner argued, but as it
was, his team did not reach Baghdad until 12 days after Saddam fled. Lacking
phones and cars, they were isolated and largely helpless.
Should Have Been Done
hindsight, General Franks should have immediately declared martial law. But
after combat, his men were loath to open fire on civilians running down the
street carrying TV sets. And reinforcements of infantry should have been flown
in fast. As Franks had foreseen, his troops were largely the wrong kind for
occupation duty: armored battalions driving tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles,
not light infantry patrolling on foot. But only six companies of military police
(less than 2,000 GIs) were provided, and they were slow in arriving. Iraqis were
indignant that the Americans could not control what one senior defense official
described as "industrial-strength looting."
in Washington, administration officials watched the chaotic images on TV and
blamed General Garner. White House officials muttered about "Occupation
Lite" and decided that Garner, who was seen strolling about in shirt
sleeves and genially chatting with the locals, was a little too chummy with the
vanquished. A stronger, tougher proconsul was called for, one who could assert
control by purging the government of Saddam's henchmen. The administration's man
for the job was Paul Bremer, a former aide to Henry Kissinger and a counter
terror expert admired by Rumsfeld and other Bushies.
May 16, five days after he arrived in Baghdad, Bremer assembled the top American
officials in Baghdad and announced that all ministries would be "de-Baath-ized"
by removing roughly the top six layers of bureaucracy. The CIA's Baghdad station
chief demurred. "We'll, that's 30,000 to 50,000 pissed-off Baathists you're
driving underground," said the senior spook. Bremer went on: the Army would
be formally disbanded and not paid. "That's another 350,000 Iraqis you're
pissing off, and they've got guns," said the CIA man. Said Bremer:
"Those are my instructions."
an interview with NEWSWEEK last week, Bremer maintained that "the de-Baathification
decree is the single most popular thing I've done since I've been in Iraq."
But it was widely recognized, even by Bremer, that not paying the soldiers was a
mistake. Bremer quickly changed course and began cash handouts while trying to
reconstitute the Iraqi Army and police. But the damage was done. Particularly in
old Baathist strongholds around Baghdad and Tikrit, Saddam's hometown,
guerrillas have been killing American soldiers in ambushes with rocket-propelled
grenades and crude but effective homemade explosives.
time, the Americans will probably crush or at least contain the last of the
Baathist holdouts. Using cash incentives, American Special Forces have located
and flushed out many of the Baathist hide-holes and safe houses. Religious
terrorists are another matter. Intelligence officials believe that Islamic
jihadists are gaining strength in Iraq, operating out of mosques and
communicating in ways that cannot be traced by electronic eavesdropping devices.
is justifiably popular for his show of resolve since 9/11. But he could stand to
show more steel dealing with his warring subordinates. Too often, State and
Defense officials refuse to even talk to each other. Rumsfeld has expressed
surprise at the poor condition of the Iraqi power grid. It was hardly news,
however, to State Department bureaucrats, who had been listening to their
counterparts in the United Nations. For years, U.N. officials have been running
the Oil-for-Food Program inside Iraq and knew that Iraq's infrastructure had
crumbled badly under Saddam. But because of ideological rivalries between State
and Defense and the scorn of the neocons and hard-line conservatives for the
United Nations, this information was not shared in the right places. As a
result, the Bush administration grossly underestimated the cost of rebuilding
Iraq and overestimated the ability of the Iraqis to foot some of the bill
through oil revenues.
is to blame for the missed signals and too-rosy scenarios? The person charged
with coordinating U.S. foreign policy is the president's national-security
adviser, Condoleezza Rice. She likes to say that her national-security staff is
not "operational," meaning that it advises on policy and leaves the
implementation to government agencies. White House staffers are now surprisingly
willing to dump on the Defense Department for bungling postwar security in Iraq.
But for too long, White House staffers kept any qualms private. It is also true
that the White House, including the president, signed off on the basic war plan
and reconstruction effort.
the ground, the Coalition Provisional Authority, charged with actually running
Iraq until the Iraqis can take over, is the source of increasing ridicule.
"CPA stands for the Condescending and Patronizing Americans," a
Baghdad diplomat told a NEWSWEEK reporter. "So there they are, sitting in
their palace: 800 people, 17 of whom speak Arabic, one is an expert on Iraq.
Living in this cocoon. Writing papers. It's absurd," says one dissident
Pentagon official. He exaggerates, but not by much. Most of the senior civilian
staff are not technical experts but diplomats, Republican appointees, White
House staffers and the like.
astute foreign observers think that time is running out. "We are losing the
consent of the Iraqi people," warned John Sawers, British Prime Minister
Tony Blair's emissary in Baghdad. "We have until Ramadan [Oct. 27-Nov. 25]
to turn it around," Sawers told American officials in Washington two weeks
ago. "After that it will be too late." At least one old Middle East
hand is a pessimist. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently passed a
message to Rumsfeld. It ran roughly: "There's a 5 percent chance you get
Saddam tomorrow, the energy goes out of the resistance and things get
dramatically better. There's a 5 percent chance a car bomb takes out the entire
Governing Council, and things go to hell. In between those, it will get better
over time, or worse over time. Right now, I say it's twice as likely that it
gets worse." It's not known how Rumsfeld responded.
October 1, 2003
it comes to Iraq, the Bush administration's attitude toward the world seems
though America's armed forces are strained beyond their limits, the bill for
reconstruction is astronomical and a naked occupation is likely to produce
anti-American feelings, Washington still is not much interested in genuine
internationalization. Now Donald Rumsfeld, with his characteristic frankness,
has explained why. In an op-ed published last week in The Post ["Beyond
'Nation-Building,' " Sept. 25], Rumsfeld vigorously denounces the kind of
nation-building that the United Nations has engaged in. Were others involved in
the Iraq occupation (the United Nations, the State Department), they would mess
might expect the secretary of defense to engage this crucial subject seriously.
There have been several careful studies on nation-building efforts, most
recently an excellent one by the Rand Corp. But Rumsfeld refers to none of them,
basing his views on a handful of misleading factoids and anecdotes.
heart of the article is a rehash of a speech Rumsfeld gave in February in which
he argued that the United Nations has encouraged places such as East Timor and
Kosovo to become politically and economically dependent on it.
proof of this, Rumsfeld points out that "four years after the war, the
United Nations still runs Kosovo by executive fiat, issues postage stamps,
passports and driver's licenses." This is shockingly ill informed. Rumsfeld
must know that the United Nations still issues postage stamps and passports in
Kosovo because the United States and Europe have not yet decided whether the
place is a province of Yugoslavia or an independent country. If local
authorities were to issue passports, that would settle things on the ground. It
is not U.N. bureaucracy that has kept Kosovo in limbo but a political dilemma
that Washington has not resolved.
other criticism is that these international administrations have produced
distortions in the economy. In East Timor, he notes, international workers are
paid 200 times the average local wage. In Kosovo, a driver for aid officials
makes 10 times the salary of a university professor and the United Nations pays
its local staff between four and 10 times the salary of doctors and nurses.
should get out more. Were he to travel most anywhere in Asia or Africa, he would
notice that people who work for Western corporations or nonprofits make vastly
more money than locals. This is because of the enormous difference in wages
between the West and the developing world, and because Western firms pay their
employees abroad on a Western scale.
problem, it would seem, is not with international organizations but with global
can see this phenomenon vividly in one country these days -- Iraq. A senior
international administrator -- that is, a high-ranking civilian in the Coalition
Provisional Authority or a one-star American general -- makes around $10,000 a
month, including housing allowances. The Pentagon estimates that doctors in Iraq
made $20 a month last year. To be fair, local wages have risen now, but a
university professor in Baghdad today makes at most $200 to $300 a month. In
other words, a coalition official is probably earning 50 times the salary of a
local professor. Iraq makes Kosovo and East Timor look like Swedish-style
is right to warn of the danger of a heavy hand creating dependency.
there is actually much greater danger of a light hand. Turning weak institutions
over too quickly to locals would return the country to traditional structures of
authority that are often feudal and corrupt. In Afghanistan, for example,
Rumsfeld's light touch has resulted in the return of warlord rule, a dangerously
weak central government and the resurgence of the Taliban. By Rumsfeld's logic,
America's light rule and quick exit from Haiti in the 1990s should have created
a vibrant democracy, while its almost decade-long, heavy-handed occupations of
Germany and Japan should have produced deformed societies. In fact, the opposite
United States might well succeed in Iraq but only because it is not following
Rumsfeld's rhetoric. If it were worried about creating a dependent society, it
would not be pouring $20 billion into the country in one year -- which equals
half the Iraqi GDP. This is almost twice the total spending on Kosovo over four
is Paul Bremer giving Iraqis the authority to spend that money without tight
supervision. Were the United States to empower local Iraqis in the next few
months, the result would be a sham democracy and a petro-state.
the coalition can stay the course and lay the groundwork for a slow and orderly
transition, Iraq will be a better place for it. But I will make a bet with
Rumsfeld. When America does leave Iraq, and the administration proclaims it a
case study in effective nation-building, American officials posted there will
still be earning much more than local professors.
Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and a columnist for Newsweek. September 30, 2003
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