Sunday, October 30, 2005

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Tell me something I don't know about pre-war planning

In the Financial Times, Stephanie Kirchgaessner report on a finding that will not surprise loyal readers of

The US government had “no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines” in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a “general lack of co-ordination” between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday.

His 110-page quarterly report, delivered to Congress at the weekend, has underscored how a “reconstruction gap” is emerging that threatens to leave many projects planned by the US on the drawing board....

While the most successful post-conflict reconstruction effort in US history – the reconstruction of Japan and Germany following the second world war – began being planned in the months after the US entered the war, Mr Bowen found that “systematic planning” for the post-hostilities period in Iraq was “insufficient in both scope and implementation”.

Here's a link to Bowen's actual report.

[C'mon, you're not hiding behind the incompetence dodge, are you?--ed.] Rosenfeld and Yglesias make some provocative points but in the end are unpersuasive. As Fareed Zakaria points out in today's NYT Book Review in his review of George Packer's The Assassins' Gate:

Packer recounts the prewar discussions in the State Department's "Future of Iraq Project," which produced an enormous document outlining the political challenges in governing Iraq. He describes Drew Erdmann's memo, written for Colin Powell, analyzing previous postwar reconstructions in the 20th century. Erdmann's conclusion was that success depended on two factors, establishing security and having international support. These internal documents were mirrored by several important think-tank studies that all made similar points, specifically on the need for large-scale forces to maintain security. One would think that this Hobbesian message - that order is the first requisite of civilization - would appeal to conservatives. In fact all of this careful planning and thinking was ignored or dismissed.

Part of the problem was the brutal and debilitating struggle between the State Department and the Defense Department, producing an utterly dysfunctional policy process. The secretary of the Army, Thomas White, who was fired after the invasion, explained to Packer that with the Defense Department "the first issue was, we've got to control this thing - so everyone else was suspect." The State Department was regarded as the enemy, so what chance was there of working with other countries? The larger problem was that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (and probably Dick Cheney) doggedly believed nation-building was a bad idea, the Clinton administration has done too much of it, and the American military should stop doing it. Rumsfeld explained this view in a couple of speeches and op-ed articles that were short on facts and long on polemics. But how to square this outlook with invading Iraq? Assume away the need for nation-building. Again, White explains: "We had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation, and therefore reconstruction would be short-lived." Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, went to Kuwait in April 2003 and told the American officials waiting there that the State Department had messed up Bosnia and Kosovo and that the Bush administration intended to hand over power to Iraqis and leave within three months.

SO the Army's original battle plan for 500,000 troops got whittled down to 160,000. If Gen. Tommy Franks "hadn't offered some resistance, the number would have dropped well below 100,000," Packer says....

Was all this inevitable? Did the United States take on something impossible? That seems to be the conventional wisdom today. If so, what to make of Afghanistan? That country is deeply divided. It has not had a functioning government in three decades, some would argue three centuries, and yet it is coming together under a progressive leader. Two million Afghan refugees have voted with their feet and returned to their country (unlike Iraq, where people are leaving every day). And the reasons? The United States allied itself with forces on the ground that could keep order. It handed over the political process to the international community, preventing any stigma of a neocolonial occupation (it was the United Nations that created the loya jirga, the national assembly, and produced Hamid Karzai). It partnered with NATO for much of the routine military work. In fact the Afghan National Army is being trained by the United States - and France. And it has accepted certain facts of Afghan life, like the power of its warlords, working slowly to change them.

"The Iraq war was always winnable," Packer writes, "it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is hard to forgive."

posted by Dan on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM


Say, this reminds me of a question you might be interested in looking into, Dr. Drezner: When did the word "troops" suddenly stop meaning "groups of soldiers" and start to be used to mean individual soldiers? I'm pretty sure the armed forces would never use the word "troops" the latter way, but it seems to be standard among everyone else these days.

(The traditional meaning of the word "troops" would make "500,000 troops" be a heck of a lot more than just 500,000 soldiers, but apparently that's not what's meant here.)

posted by: CB on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

"If Gen. Tommy Franks "hadn't offered some resistance, the number would have dropped well below 100,000," Packer says."

I dont believe this. Defeating a half a million troops with 2 divisions?

"Two million Afghan refugees have voted with their feet and returned to their country"

Comparing the incomparable.


Iraq drives islamists there because it's a more central place, it's more arabic less asian, it's were the war was contested, it's also easy to put resources there and supply. If there wasnt invasion they were in Afghanistan and exploding in some world cities.

I fail to understand the argument that Defense wasnt interested in nation Building and at same time was expelling the Baathists

Iraq war was won. It was when the first bomb exploded in an Iraq Police Station.
USA didnt noticed it. Still didnt.

posted by: lucklucky on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

This reminds me of G. Allison's "bureaucratic politics" view of policy-making: the adopted policy is the result of bargaining among a group of influential officials around the president (who may or may not put their departments' interests above the nation's best interests).
Ultimately the president is held accountable by the voters for the results. The question is, how responsible is he really for a failure or success? On the one hand, bur. pols. is a given, which means suboptimal decisions are bound to be made. On the other, the president is the one who chooses his advisers and thus, he is the one who selects the person who makes the mistake.
Being the president is tough.

posted by: Kerim Can on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

CB, a "troop" still does mean a group of soldiers. Use of that word to signify an individual soldier is incorrect.

posted by: Zathras on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

I am little perplexed by the after the fact analyses of whether planning was sufficient or not. It seems that it is easy to spin arguments both ways that can't really be falsified because there are very few experiments and dozens of potentially significant variables.

I.e. things might be considered to have been more of a success in Afghanistan and more a failure in Iraq, but no one seems to have laid out in advance exactly and only the criteria by which success will be judged in advance.

Seems like statistically it's all just noise.

posted by: Robert Bell on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

Here's how Iraq reconstruction "worked." Hemlock for Gadflies walked around his piece of the Sunni Triangle with $40,000 USD in cash, to spend as he wished, with the only stipulation being he could spend no more than $2,500 per vendor per day.

When the 40 large was exhausted, so long as he produced receipts totalling the same, he got another $40K and repeated the exercise.

Thus, accountability, direction, and top-down visibility. Oh, you rebuilt a school today? Great -- where are the receipts?

That's been the problem all along -- lots of microeconomic successes, no macroeconomic management.

From a "troop," here's the skinny on "troops" -- pretty much a one-size-fits-all term.

A "Troop" is an element of cavalry, armor, or attack aviation led by a Captain, and is the equivalent of an infantry Company or an artillery Battery. Depending upon type, anywhere from 70 to 150 soldiers.

"Hey, Troop" is a term often used when hailing a soldier one does not know personally and whose name-tag not legibile by virtue of distance or equipment.

A "Troop General" is a favorable term for a flag officer who is regarded as being very hands-on with the soldiers.

The "Commander-of-Troops" is a ceremonial position in particular Battalion and Brigade formations (usually changes-of-command).

The "Troop-Leading Procedures" is a systematic format for issuing operational plans and orders to elements under one's command.

"The troops" is a collective noun for soldiers, though it's often used to refer to any military personnel ("we support the troops").

And by the way, we're not really thrilled that you "support the troops" by displaying a magnetic ribbon on your car.

Support us by enlisting in the Army or Marine Corps and helping to suck up some of this shrap-metal with which we're constantly contending. Check the Government section of the Yellow Pages under "Recruiting" -- so long as you're under age 44, we can find a space for you.

And if you've got a Ph.D., we'll even let you enlist older than that.

Wife and kids? No problem -- $400,000 life insurance policies are available at low cost to all service-members....

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

"CB, a "troop" still does mean a group of soldiers. Use of that word to signify an individual soldier is incorrect."

It's not incorrect. It's simply the use of an old word in a new way. Language evolves. Over time words gain and lose meanings and are adapted for new purposes.

posted by: pb on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

Sorry, pb, it is incorrect. Excusing errors of this kind only excuses intellectual laziness and the manifold inadequacies of the American educations system. We should not confuse evolution with decay.

posted by: Zathras on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

Hemlock for Gadflies gives a good example of what went on. When I was there the first time, we had the mission of spending a lot of money in a very short period of time. Much of it produced benefits, some of it was utterly wasted and maybe stolen.

But everything was completely ad-hoc. There was no policy direction or assistance from the palace, no "vison," other than bromides about democracy.

posted by: Participant on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

At, I was pointing out problems as they occurred, such as our failure to secure al Tuwaitha (thus potentially spreading nuke waste), shut down Iraqi TV (thus continuing Iraq spreading propaganda), etc.

In addition to other reasons, I believe the general lack of a rebuilding plan reflects on the Bush administration's view of a "free" market. They think they can disband the Iraqi Army, put thousands of people on the streets with nothing to do, and then the invisible hand will just make everything hunky-dory.

One can see that same "vision" of a "free" market at work in New Orleans right now.

If Bush is going to spend like a drunken Dem, he might want to consider other Dem ideas like the WPA, something that would have helped maintain stability in Iraq, and something that would even help in New Orleans right now.

posted by: Illegal immigration news on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

Mismanagement and spectacular waste is nothing new in war.

Read Catch22 to get the flavor.

If there was relatively little waste I'd say they were not moving fast enough.

Excellence, economy, speed. Choose two.

posted by: M. Simon on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

The thing is, it was pretty obvious before the fact that the Iraq war was going to be a neocolonialist power grab. The tipoff was the total contempt and hostility toward international institutions and rules, toward recognized and sovereign regional powers like Iran and Syria, toward the world community as a whole. If you were taking seriously the challenge of nation building on the vast scale required in Iraq, you would pay *more* attention to the legitimacy of your efforts and to your structure of supportive alliances, not less. You would go in with far more troops than you needed for the military phase, and you would make every effort to involve a wide range of experts in the region (which includes surrounding nations) and experts in civil reconstruction (at international agencies and non-profits). There were a lot of tipoffs to the real agenda and what was going to happen. The "responsible pro-war" types did not pay attention to those.

posted by: Marcus Stanley on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

"so long as you're under age 44,"

The age was lower in September 2001. I know, i checked it out.

But dont worry. I live in a major US city, so Im on the line anyway, in a different way.

posted by: liberalhawk on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

zathras, PB IS correct - language DOES change over time, and words that have a formal meaning in one institutional context come to have different meanings in other contexts.

I suspect the use of "troop" for individual soldier became the predominant use when horse cavalry went out of fashion. I understand its still used by the Armored Cav units, but most folks here about armored cav and think oxymoron. Do regular armored units really call a group of tanks a troop?

posted by: liberalhawk on 10.30.05 at 11:35 PM [permalink]

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