Monday, February 11, 2008

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Pssst..... wanna read a precis of that RAND report?

The New York Times' Michael Gordon reported today on the Army's efforts to keep a critical RAND analysis of the planning process on Iraq very hush-hush:

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key....

A team of RAND researchers led by Nora Bensahel interviewed more than 50 civilian and military officials. As it became clear that decisions made by civilian officials had contributed to the Army’s difficulties in Iraq, researchers delved into those policies as well....

As the RAND study went through drafts, a chapter was written to emphasize the implications for the Army. An unclassified version was produced with numerous references to newspaper articles and books, an approach that was intended to facilitate publication.

Senior Army officials were not happy with the results, and questioned whether all of the information in the study was truly unclassified and its use of newspaper reports. RAND researchers sent a rebuttal. That failed to persuade the Army to allow publication of the unclassified report, and the classified version was not widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon.

The Army's stonewalling on this has led to a predictable and understandable hue and cry about cover-up.

Of course, this being the government, the attempt to cover things up would be more effective if excerpts of the report hadn't already made their way into published journals. Like, say, Nora Bensahel, "Mission Not Accomplished: What Went Wrong With the Iraqi Reconstruction," Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 29, No. 3 (June 2006): 453 – 473. The abstract:

This article argues that the prewar planning process for postwar Iraq was plagued by myriad problems, including a dysfunctional interagency process, overly optimistic assumptions, and a lack of contingency planning for alternative outcomes. These problems were compounded by a lack of civilian capacity during the occupation period, which led to a complicated and often uncoordinated relationship with the military authorities who found themselves taking the lead in many reconstruction activities. Taken together, these mistakes meant that US success on the battlefield was merely a prelude to a postwar insurgency whose outcome remains very much in doubt more than three years later.
To access the paper, click here, then enter "Bensahel" in the "Quick Search" box on the left, and then click on "author" right below it, and then click "Go".

It seems worth pointing out that much of this ground has also been plowed by the Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight:

Coincidentally both Bensahel and No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson have Ph.D.s in political science.

posted by Dan on 02.11.08 at 10:41 PM


I think it must be pretty easy to be able to sit on the outside and explain to all those who have to actually do the tough work how they did it all wrong. And of course, when those you criticize fail to understand your genius, you claim they are engaged in a "cover-up." And I am certain neither Bensahel nor Ferguson (not to mention the Rand Corp.) have any personal agendas.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 02.11.08 at 10:41 PM [permalink]

It's also interesting how only those at the top have blame directed at them. For every bad decision and dumb idea at the top, there were about 50 at the battalion and brigade level. This went far beyond making quick decisions on minimal information - these were fundamentally dumb ideas hatched up by field grade officers who opted to command from their command posts rather than from the ground that their units were patrolling.

posted by: Joseph Sixpack on 02.11.08 at 10:41 PM [permalink]

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