The shelves in American bookstores relating to politics over the last few years have become dominated by titles such “How to kill a liberal and get away with it”, or “How to dice a conservative and serve them for dinner without wasting pepper”. I often think when faced with all these sensationalist titles that the political section needs to be broken into extremist and moderate so I can avoid the rubbish.
I picked up the book Fiasco by Thomas Ricks recently. Despite its emotive title it is a scholarly work from a journalistic point of view, building its argument from interviews rather than appeals to academic, philosophical or doctrinal works. It could as easily have been titled; Errors of omission and commission in strategy and policy during the Iraq War.
The book focuses heavily on strategy and policy though not above the departments intimately involved in the Iraq War. For instance the President and Vice President rarely appear in the book, and even Donald Rumsfield only appears in as much as his interaction with the CPA, US Army and pre-war planning.
The book is not a hatchet job either despite being critical of both the military and civil leadership in terms of the absence of any strategy, the organisational mis-management and the lack of post-tactical planning. All those who declined to be interviewed were given the right of reply after the relevant chapter was finished. It seems in General Odierno’s case his reply was published in the book.
Ricks’ discussion of the insurgency is interesting, he writes;
Every insurgency faces three basic challenges as it begins: arming, financing, and recruiting. A peculiarity of the war in Iraq is that the Iraqi insurgency appears to have had little difficulty in any of those areas, in part because of US policy blunders.
The missteps made in 2003 appear to be a major reason that the anti-US forces burgeoned despite their narrow appeal, both geographically and ideologically.
The US Military found conventional arms dumps everywhere in Iraq, and Hussein’s response to US military dominance prior to the war seems to suggest that these dumps were set up for Baathists to conduct a resistance movement. The US commanders that found these dumps of rifles, RPGs, explosives and ammunition did not blow them up as is their normal practice. They were wary that there were chemical and biological weapons in the arms caches and didn’t want to expose their troops to them.
Early on in the lead-up to the Iraq War the Bush Administration set their policy and then used intelligence to support that policy. It appears that many lower level intelligence officers, seeing the likes of Cheney, Rumsfield and Powell state so authoritatively that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, assumed that the Executive Cabinet had access to intelligence information that they did not. It seems that as the intelligence reports went through filter after filter – ending with George Tenet – any language of uncertainty was removed.
It is likely that the US Army, if it had known that there was little risk from chemical and biological weapons – as was the case – then each arms cache would have been blown sky high as soon as it was found. This would have hampered the insurgency’s ability to arm itself.
A second concern was that Rumsfield’s small force doctrine and Franks’ “speed kills” doctrine left no forces behind to guard those dumps. Ricks also points out that one of the tasks a defeated Iraqi Army could have been put to in the immediate aftermath would have been to guard those dumps from looting.
Ricks cautiously points out that the finance part of the insurgency equation is a ‘murky’ area, but mentions that several convoys seen leaving Iraq contained high level Baathists with “cash, gold and other valuables”. The other issue was that no serious attempt to contain the Iraqi borders was made until twelve months after the defeat of Hussein’s forces and the US taking of Baghdad.
On the issue of where the insurgency got its recruitment from Ricks’ writes;
But it was in the third area, recruiting, that the US effort inadvertently gave the insurgency its biggest boost. Finding new members is usually the most difficult of tasks for the insurgent cause, especially in its first growth, because it requires its members to expose themselves somewhat to the public and to the police.
US policies – both military and civilian – helped solve this problem. The de-Baathification order created a class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders. … But those leaders still need rank-and-file members. The dissolution of the army gave them a manpower pool of tens of thousands of angry, unemployed soldiers.
It appears that both of these policies where Paul Bremer’s and went against the policies of Jay Garner – the previous CPA commander – and the US Army. It also does not seem that these decisions were approved by Rumsfield even though Bremer claimed they were.
I get the feeling from Ricks’ writing that he believes the project to remake Iraq, and settle it down to a secure and democratic nation, was possible with the right strategy, leadership and force structure. Three things that the CPA and US Army were missing in Iraq.