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anthony cordesman

cordesman

In this interview, Anthony Cordesman, an expert in Middle East and national defense policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that the U.S. mission in Iraq was doomed from the start by a failure of prewar planning. He maintains that key policy-makers were so blinded by ideology that they disregarded the historic lessons of nation-building and adopted a false set of assumptions about Iraq and its people. "They were believers," he tells FRONTLINE. "And frankly, when it comes to a contest between ideology and reality, reality always wins." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 18, 2006.

[Tell me about prewar planning. How did it start?]

... [W]hat you had was an interagency group that began to meet early in 2002. ... It was designed to create a kind of interagency plan to both predict what was going to happen with the U.S. invasion in Iraq and deal with the aftermath. The problem, however, was that very quickly it became apparent that America had experts who could, in broad terms, provide political diagnostics; it didn't have anyone who could actually plan. …

So what you had was a group that produced all kinds of lists of problems and issues, but frankly could not provide advice on what to do. That was one of the reasons that much of this went to the Department of Defense. It was simply a matter [of], if you are going to invade, you have to be able to operate, and the interagency process simply lacked a core competence in the ability to plan and in the ability to anticipate the full range of things that were going to happen in Iraq.

Now, out of that decision came perhaps the most serious problem that emerged: Neither at the political level in the Department of Defense nor at the military [level] did anybody want to be involved in stability operations. This was not the mission, and indeed, at that point in time, the Department of Defense was trying its best to avoid nation-building and this kind of political involvement.

At a higher level, people simply believed what exiles and others were telling them: that once you got rid of Saddam, everything would be all right. Iraq was an oil-rich country, had large reserves of oil-for-food [program] money. It was really very well-educated, and the problem was simply Saddam. They ignored the Iran-Iraq War; they ignored Iraq's political history; they ignored the economic impact of war and sanctions. They wanted to believe, and that created a climate where nobody was prepared to take any kind of mission seriously.

In fairness to [Lt.] Gen. [Jay] Garner and to Ambassador [L. Paul "Jerry"] Bremer, one of the most important things to understand here is, the United States government never made a serious, integrated effort to anticipate what would happen after Saddam fell. It simply assumed everything would be all right.

A kind of overarching optimism?

Or overarching ignorance. One of the things to remember: This is a country of 27 million people. It's the size of California. It has radically different sectarian and ethnic groups with totally different cultural values and expectations from the United States. The fact that there's a Western-educated elite at the top, particularly in the exile community, which must be something on the order of one-tenth of 1 percent of the population, may sometimes give the impression that there's an identity. It doesn't exist, and we don't know what to do. The truth is, no one knows what to do. ...

I've read [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld's "Beyond Nation-Building" speech -- I think it was in February of '03 -- when he is given the Intrepid Award. … He says: "We're not interested in nation-building. This is not what we do. This is not what we're going to do." Is that a hint of what was to come? What does he mean by "We're not into nation-building"? Why do they dislike the phrase so much?

Several aspects of this are important. One, nation-building missions tend to involve years of effort. When they're serious, they are extraordinarily expensive, and they require a very deep political commitment, often for very, very low rewards. People really don't know how to do this. They claim it, but they can't point to other successes or cases. You are tying up a professional military, which is a war-fighting organization, very high-technology, very highly trained, and potentially people end up as policemen, dispersed in large numbers in foreign cities and foreign countries for indefinite periods of time -- the Balkans was a demonstration of how difficult this can be -- because you are simply consuming very large numbers of assets with no time certain as to when you leave or even a positive result. So there are good reasons to oppose nation-building.

Rumsfeld certainly was not unique. The neoconservatives often get the blame, but the U.S. military recognized all these costs and problems as well, and it had no desire to be involved in the mission. It was only after we saw what happened in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in dealing with the war on terrorism elsewhere, that it became apparent that there is no other choice if you are going to fight a symmetric conflict. You have to fight at the political and nation-building level. But that discovery was not a discovery that was accepted when we went to war in Iraq.

The United States government never made a serious, integrated effort to anticipate what would happen after Saddam fell. It simply assumed everything would be all right.

What did they think they were going to do, from what you can tell?

One thing we have to be very careful about is often we read far too much into words and into summary documents. The truth is, people were really preoccupied with the military dimension. There was, I think, a far more serious view of the Iraqi conventional forces and the risk of Iraq using weapons of mass discussion than was justified at the time, even with the intelligence mistakes we were making. People really didn't become involved in depth in looking at the economic issue, looking at the politics, looking at the sectarian or ethnic divisions.

They were also being told by exile groups that these problems don't matter: "We will go in. We will be the government. These people are already wealthy. They're already educated." … So you had a constant drumroll of exile reassurance, and people really lacked the experience to realize that no one in their right mind ever trusts any exile group. History is just absolutely conclusive, from the fourth century of ancient Greece to the present. They can sometimes be of use, but they have their own agendas, and they invariably live in a world of illusions. ...

As a result, the mission that was given at that point was not stability operations; it was essentially the risk that Saddam might burn the oil fields, deny this wealthy country this key source of income, or that the oil-for-food system might break down. Plans were made by CENTCOM before this war, before any of this started, that did call for a very large-scale occupation. But a lot of that was a security-oriented occupation. It was not a plan to deal with sectarian or ethnic divisions, with economic problems, with trying to hold together and create a government. There was no planning at all for the need to preserve continuity of government.

There also was a kind of shock-and-awe mentality: the idea that we would advance very quickly; that there would be no real disruption of the police or local governments. The institutions would remain intact. When we got to Baghdad, there would be large numbers of troops dealing with the siege. As we advanced, while there might be problems with government, continuity of government, there would be plenty of time to secure the city. Every one of those assumptions turned out to be wrong.

Why?

Simply because history doesn't always conform to what you want. We learned very quickly that as we advanced, we basically unleashed sectarian and ethnic divisions almost immediately. These were not simply Shiite versus Sunni, or Kurdish versus Turkmen and Arab in the north. Longstanding tensions and struggles within the Shiite community were immediately exposed in the various holy cities. The police essentially deserted. The army that we thought would be passive, deserted, went back, looted, went back again, essentially destroying installation after installation. ...

We went into Baghdad, ... but all of a sudden, less than two U.S. brigades were in isolated positions in a city of more than 5 million people, having no idea of what might come next. And in the midst of all of this, the Iraqi people started looting, attacked the ministries, basically created a series of events which didn't stop with that. ... We were totally unprepared to secure the city, to secure the surroundings. We neither anticipated the mission nor had the troops.

One dimension that influenced this was the fact we weren't able to have the troops that we had counted on to come in from Turkey. Whether that would have made a difference is something that's hard to determine, because we simply had not planned for the mission. To the extent we had any planning at all, it counted on having plenty of time to have very large-scale troop presence in the greater Baghdad area.

In fact, quite the opposite happens. The statue [of Saddam Hussein] falls [in Baghdad] on April 9, and by late April, early May, they're talking about trying to draw down troop levels in 90 to 120 days. How realistic were those assumptions, even from the beginning, and those actions from the beginning?

Well, if you accepted the political and economic analysis that the United States government went to war with, it was realistic to draw down very quickly. You wanted to avoid becoming involved. You were going to have the Iraqis determine their own destiny. In reality, of course, they ignored all the ethnic and sectarian tensions and what could happen if you basically lost the Baath structure, the civil core of the government. They ignored the economic problems. ...

If you're Jay Garner, and you arrive in early April, what are you faced with?

Well, you're faced with mission impossible, and you have no experience, individually, in carrying out the mission. Your only background is in a relief operation in the Kurdish areas. You have virtually no staff, and that staff has no experience. You have no aid money. You have no resources. You have no defined relationship with the military. There's no clear civil/military structure planned, in any case. No one knows what the embassy is going to be once Saddam falls. And you are working in an environment where you are being told, many times, not to do things like reach out to people in the local governments. How much of that today anyone wants to admit is an open question.

You make some bad choices, as do the commanders in the field. On the one hand, you don't plan on advancing with the military. Of course, your mission is relief or protecting the oil fields, and that's a military mission in any case, and not even primarily a U.S. mission because, at least in the south, it's British. You really have no capability, and I think this is the key to sort of parse out the history: What happened to ORHA [Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance] and Gen. Garner is simply unfair. They never had a chance, and they were never relevant.

I talked to so many of them, including Garner, and they believe they were making progress. They believe they were authorized to try to reconstitute the military as quickly as they could. They believe they were supposed to, as you say, reach out to local governments, that especially in the north they were making progress; they were going to quell the looting, and things were somewhat calmer. ... What do you make of their analysis of their success? You said they were not relevant. Were they kidding themselves?

They were, yes. First, Iraq was in a state of shock. It was not hostile on a day-to-day basis to Americans or the West. The insurgency was not organized, even [among] former regime loyalists, yet. They were not acting. People had really no immediate economic, political crisis. No one really was counting on there being an aftermath at that point. They were dealing with the immediate impact of the invasion.

But I think one question you have to ask is, how many people were in ORHA? What funds did they have? What were the transportation assets they were given? Again, 27 million people, a country the size of California, an economy now in total destruction. ... [A]lmost immediately, you began to see struggles between [rival Shiite groups led by Moqtada al-]Sadr, the al-Khoei family, [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani in the south. You see exposed at an internal level tensions among the Shiites. We're beginning to see tension between Shiites and Sunnis. The Kurds have moved down from the north, and they have a very clear set of objectives, which include the northern oil fields, Kirkuk and the surrounding areas. And yes, as long as the troops are there, you can have a kind of peace for a while, but this isn't unusual. …

I think one thing that has to be remembered is that ... Ambassador Garner came to the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] with basically no aid funds and no clearly defined mission. People were talking in Washington, regardless of what was happening in the field in ORHA, about privatizing Iraq's oil fields, which would have almost immediately started broad-scale nationalist uprisings against the United States. People were going back, as they often do, talking about: "Well, we'll introduce capitalism in two years. Everything will be a modern economy in Iraq." There was just one set of ideas after another, most of them based on the fact of the secular nationalist population, and almost all of it consisting of people who had never been in the country, and in many cases had never been in the Middle East outside of Israel. And [Iraq] is a very different place.

Then enters L. Paul Bremer III. Why?

That's a question you'd have to ask him and the president. I don't have the faintest idea why he was chosen or why CPA was created in the way it was. ...

The idea was, we would go in; we would transform Iraq in a year or two. One of the preludes to the war, at least among neoconservatives, was the idea that if you had a democratic Iraq, this example would be so dramatic that it would transform the entire Middle East; that basically what the people of the Middle East wanted was not to be Islamic or their own culture, but to be secular democrats, and it was only corrupt, oppressive regimes sitting on them that prevented them from becoming Americans. ...

I think that the preparation to this was almost immediately [thwarted]. We suddenly realized we weren't going to get the U.S. troops out quickly. There were all kinds of low-level security problems building. We were beginning to see in the west and in urban areas what we called "die-hards": former regime loyalists -- FRLs -- or former regime enthusiasts -- FREs -- or what ordinary troops used to call POIs, which stood for pissed-off Iraqis. It was not acceptance; it was tolerance. We thought that we could transform Iraq relatively easily, that these problems were building up, that the government really wasn't there. The military had deserted; the police had deserted; something had to be done. There was an immense vacuum. The ministries simply weren't even occupied, and there's no way to occupy them as buildings.

So from that idea, in comes the Coalition Provisional Authority and almost immediately strips, at least in legal terms, Iraq down to the barest minimum in the following sense: Order No. 1, de-Baathification; Order No. 2, demobilization of the military; and Bremer's idea that Iraq will now go slowly toward democracy, much slower than we had talked about. Where's the impulse for that notion? Because I think Garner and those guys believed that, in fact, they were authorized to do quite the opposite.

Memories change. Records are unclear. Part of the problem that really came up here was the advice, again and again, from the exiles, from the neoconservative community, that you have to get rid of the Baath[ists]. They are essentially evil. ...You must reshape the politics, eliminate Sunni domination, eliminate Baath domination.

You had plenty of exiles who wanted exactly the same thing. Exiles always want power for a variety of reasons: some [for] crude, selfish ambition, people like [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi; others for religions reasons; people who had just really bad experiences with the Baath [Party], who were the victims of torture in political prisons, and who were scarcely people who could be counted on to provide perspective and amnesty. So you had an unfortunate alliance between neoconservatives and these exiles.

You also had people with absolutely no experience. Remember, you look down the structure of who went into the CPA, and you ask yourself, who had any experience with Iraq? ... Instead, here you bring people in with no background, with no prior effort to recruit. You had litmus tests: A lot of people were simply excluded because they were seen as being potentially resistant to creating this new, transforming Iraq. People with language and area skills actually were denied the opportunity to come. People with résumés that simply showed they were politically correct were accepted. And people were recruited in very large numbers, very quickly, without any organization in the CPA. Many of them had no State Department or foreign-area experience. ... You gave Ambassador Bremer essentially an impossible job. ...

So Order No. 1: I think, frankly, there wasn't a single person in the CPA who understood what Order No. 1 meant. Nobody made any effort to survey how many people would be excluded or affected by issuing the order in that form, and it went down to far too low a level, in far too many areas. It created a climate where people could be expelled as university teachers or grade school teachers, not simply people who had some kind of tie to the senior structure. That suited some of the Shiite and Kurdish groups; it didn't suit most of the Sunni exiles. It created an almost hopeless problem, because it removed the secular core from the government of Iraq, and it crippled it economically.

Order No. 2 is more a matter of question. Having flown over a lot of the Iraqi military installations and having looked at wartime satellite photography and coverage, I don't think Order 2 did disband the Iraqi military. There's very hard physical evidence that the military was gone, with the exception of elements of one corps, long before that order was issued. The problem with Order No. 2 was it did absolutely nothing to deal with all of these Iraqi young men who had suddenly been thrown out not only of the military, but Iraq's military- and security-related industries, which were some of the few industries which had been fully funded by Saddam Hussein.

After the Gulf [War], no effort was made to really restructure or sustain the economy, or to bring the many Sunnis who were the core of these groups into some kind of part of this new order and new government structure. More than that, one of the greatest problems was that people [saw] the army as a threat. They never saw it as a need for counterinsurgency, and more than that, they almost forgot the importance of the police, of courts, of the government presence at the local level.

Iraqis, in some ways, are exactly the same as Americans. If you can't send your child to school safely, if you can't stop yourself from being extorted when you run your business, if you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow, you are not going to feel safe, and you are going to turn to virtually anyone who can give you that safety and security. The police had collapsed; the courts had collapsed; local governance had collapsed. The CPA was, I think in many ways, far more concerned [with] creating a new political system than with creating a functioning Iraq.

The feeling of insecurity, if you will, must have been palpable to everyone else -- [the CPA, the Bush administration, the military] -- as well.

Understand, this built up on a very, very slow slope. In the summer of 2003, you couldn't see it yet. In the fall, you were talking about very limited areas in the west as being the areas where you were seeing terrorists or insurgents playing a major role. You weren't talking about the country. And frankly, you didn't have that many people out in the field. If you actually ask what the numbers were, who they were, this was an extraordinarily centralized structure in the Green Zone. As it became more and more the subject of attacks, mortars and bombs and so on, instead of having more and more people put into protective facilities outside, you made this fortress complex. More and more people stayed inside, tripping over each other, frankly, at the political level.

Another great problem was that, again, military and civil relations were so poor that under the CPA, it was simply hard for people on the civilian side to move. Helicopters would get cancelled. There would be real reluctance to provide military security. Part of the reason we ended up with so many civil hired guns or mercenaries providing these security detachments was that no one ever seemed to understand that if the military didn't provide security, that if the military wouldn't secure transportation for CPA, you had a major problem.

It was compounded in a lot of ways by the fact that the non-governmental organizations [NGOs] in the U.N. had the illusion that somehow their neutrality would protect them. Instead, their vulnerability made them ideal targets.

So that by August, when the Jordanian Embassy goes, the U.N. mission goes, a series of mosques go, does it begin to feel like there's a kind of coherence to the insurgency?

What you saw was still the idea that you had a handful of die-hards tied to Saddam Hussein and Baath. You weren't seeing this as a broader Sunni problem. You weren't seeing that there were very significant numbers of Shiites. We saw this in embassy polling: [There were those] very, very hostile to the coalition. You're talking about die-hards, former regime loyalists, people who you could say, "Well, this is the Baath having a few isolated attacks against soft targets."

People were still in 2004 denying that they were dealing with broad, popular currents and serious internal tensions. Whether they should have understood quickly on is a question. I remember what people were saying back then, [that] the Iraqis are nationalist and they're unified, and every time you'd say they're not … you were just drowned out by the idea that here was this small, easily targetable group, basically led by the deck of cards.

I remember when [CENTCOM Commander Lt. Gen. John] Abizaid said, "This is a guerrilla war," when he first came in, and everybody said, "What are you talking about?" I think Rumsfeld was actually angry at him, and it took months for Rumsfeld to call it an insurgency.

One great question is, who was it in Washington that was a competent policy-maker? Who, leading any aspect of the Bush administration, was qualified to deal with these issues? Quite frankly, some of the most critical ones seemed to live in a state of denial. People focus on Bremer and Garner. I think you really need to focus on [Vice President Dick] Cheney and Rumsfeld. You had a secretary of state, Colin Powell, who was remarkably passive, that I suspect did understand the situation much better. You had a secretary of state in Condoleezza Rice who has since become far more realistic, but again, had absolutely no area experience whatsoever. If you look at the senior people advising them, these weren't realists in the sense of people with area expertise or background; they were believers. And frankly, when it comes to a contest between ideology and reality, reality always wins.

Help me understand Cheney and Rumsfeld in this.

I really can't. I have absolutely no idea how Cheney emerged. You can certainly trace the people who advised him, who surrounded him. Almost all of these were doctrinaire neoconservatives with a remarkable lack of practical experience. They were people who had led similar efforts to some extent in places like Latin America. They weren't people who had really operated or worked in this area. They were people who not only believed in democracy and the universal, major American values; they also believed in an approach to economics which depended on almost the instant success of capitalism. They were people who saw America as a nation that had to lead a reluctant world, which by leading would create the conditions that America wanted, and people would see the justice and the wisdom in American leadership. You did not have to create consensus.

All of these factors seemed to combine, but to try to figure out exactly how they weighed on Vice President Cheney is very difficult. What you can say is he was the first vice president to create a large foreign policy staff, and it was the most ideologically rigid and biased staff possible. You can't find one name there that was not part of this neoconservative structure.

From Rumsfeld's viewpoint, it was really different. He was interested in force transformation; he was interested in high-technology forces. He did not really see this as a post-conventional war struggle that was the mission of the Department of Defense. Throughout he has been remarkably reluctant to admit just how complex and difficult the challenges are, how enduring they are, and how many assets are needed. This problem has been just as serious, in a different form, in Afghanistan as it has been in Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice -- what was her role in all of this?

One has to be careful here. First, I think that Condoleezza Rice has very consistently advocated neoconservative policies and particularly the idea that democracy has a transforming impact. She really does believe this. The other thing is that she came to this position with a remarkably strong outside group of leaders: Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney. I don't think there have been many national security advisers in recent memory who had so many countervailing leading forces. Her background was in Soviet and Russian studies, not in this region.

The other difficulty we have is we went into this gradually, not knowing [that it would become] the massive exercise of nation-building that we now have under way. Look back. People point to Japan and Germany as the only examples of this. There wasn't a single living staff member, adviser or expert still serving who had any practical experience in these activities. The illusion grew up.

Germany was a disastrous mess after the collapse of Hitler. It took more than a year to get food, medicine, basic services in. It took the end of the Marshall Plan to begin German recovery. Japan did not recover under Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur until a vast flood of money came in because of U.S. operations during the Korean War. These were much more similar societies and cultures in terms of values, economy and just social cohesion, than Iraq. Why should we have had any competence to do this, regardless of who was in the United States government? We wandered inadvertently into a vast adventure for which we had no core competence or expertise.

In the fall of 2003, Bremer writes an op-ed piece that says there will be seven steps or stages to democracy, and it will take three years. My sense is he gets kind of reeled back in. The fall seems to be spent with this kind of realization that we've got to get out of there; we've got to hand this government over. Is that the way you see what happened in that time period?

… What the dynamics were between Ambassador Bremer, the president, the vice president, Cabinet officials -- that's something of which I don't know the history or the facts. What I can say is that very few people thought we ever had three years, or even a year, or that we ever should have tried to completely restructure Iraq's political system, who had any background.

Some things seemed to be remarkably foolish. The minute you opened up the Iraqi constitution, you created the kind of ethnic and sectarian conflicts and rivalries that made it almost impossible to move forward. The moment you divided up the government by ethnicity and sect, rather than looking for competence, you created a climate of division. The moment you rushed forward to democracy at the national level, rather than building it up from the local or regional level, you virtually ensure that people who had lost security and identity would vote by sect or ethnicity, particularly because there were no national political parties. There was nothing to vote for other than a label. So the constitution and the rush toward this kind of democracy, what Bremer was attempting, created the very conditions which undermined the ability to stay and helped create the ethnic and sectarian divisions which exist today.

But as a larger example of the disconnect, what was actually happening [outside of the Green Zone]? ... Now we're talking about through the fall of 2004, leading up to Fallujah and Sadr City. What was actually going on?

Well, first we have to remember we had a very strange mix. We had international units to the south of Baghdad. We had British around Basra. We tended to exclude both groups from the CPA's operations. There was liaison, but if you talk to the people, you find they are anything but impressed by America's ability to listen, at least as it existed in the CPA. You had the Kurdish enclave, and the Kurdish enclave was operating on its own. You had created five command zones. Now, within these, each one tended to approach the subject somewhat differently.

The British took the viewpoint that this was essentially Northern Ireland, so their lack of direct interference initially helped. But it also allowed Shiite extremists to take over Basra and created a climate where they lost control of the area where they were operating.

The international division frankly didn't know what to do. Some of its elements, particularly some of the Eastern European troops, went out and created massive problems with the local population that could have been avoided.

You [did] have people who had an instinctive capability to deal with Iraqis and understood the need. Gen. [David] Petraeus is a very good example. What you did not see was his sort of civil/military split extending out into the field in every case. There were many, many military people who reached out and worked closely with their State Department counterparts. There were people in the State, contract and foreign service officers, who deliberately went out into the field and did work closely with the military. The problem really lay at the fact [that] you had these five different command levels, and very serious tension at the top between [Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq] Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez, who saw this in purely military terms, and Ambassador Bremer, who I think had this dream of transforming Iraq that just fell apart by first the month to the point where the transfer had to be rushed forward to have any hope of not creating a hostile population. ...

That's the other dimension here. It's not simply the insurgents or the attacks. If you think back, we really came close to losing Sistani and the Shiites that were quietest, much less Sadr. Had we done that, we would have been in far worse circumstances than we are now. ...

Help me understand what happened in the spring of 2004 with Fallujah and then Sadr City?

By the end of 2003, regardless of what people may have thought at CPA, it was clear you were dealing with a serious insurgency, and you were dealing with really a high risk of losing Shiite support. ... [W]hat you also saw were the rise in the west of very organized insurgent efforts which were taking control of cities. This was a red flag. It had gone from steadily mounting numbers of attacks to actual control, at least in de facto terms, and particularly at night or when the military wasn't present.

Unfortunately, at that point, the only response we really could have was to use regular American troops to conduct urban warfare. We didn't have any Iraqi forces. There's one battalion in June of 2004 where the Iraqi army was operational. You were just forming Iraqi security in the Ministry of Interior, and they were concentrating on Baghdad and local missions. And you couldn't trust the local police anywhere in the country.

That helped make things much worse, because while we talked about aid, about reconstruction, the fact is, we went in, defeated the insurgents, drove them out, in general where they dispersed. In the process, we created hostile cities, the image of America basically conducting urban warfare against a largely civilian population.

By then, I suppose, we had demonstrated to ourselves that whatever we had been trying to do hadn't worked, and it was time to hand off the government and get out of town. What do you see?

Well, we handed off, but the problem is, again, that this is something that we are going to have to have explained by history in great detail. We all of a sudden transferred the CPA's responsibilities to a structure with no experience, which by and large didn't exist, while the Green Zone and the embassy and the U.S. military command went on as if the transfer of sovereignty had by and large not taken place.

We left a map: a constitutional drafting exercise and referendum that certainly made things much worse, not better; a schedule for elections, which meant there had to be at least two major elections in the course of the year. We did not transfer something to something. We came perilously close to transferring nothing to nothing. ...

[Could it have been different?]

We can't be sure what would have happened if we had gone into Iraq with a clear plan to deal with the economic dimension, unemployment, the immediate needs of the Iraqi people, some fantasy of rebuilding Iraq's economy or the entire infrastructure, or somehow dealing with the oil industry's future rather than its present. We can't be sure what would have happened if we'd created or sustained the core of the Iraqi military that we could use; if we'd been prepared to really provide the level of aid to the police that was needed, to the court system, to local government presence. We can't be certain what would have happened if we had gone in and we had known we had to prevent the militias from taking over in many areas, which we easily could have done initially.

We don't know what would have happened if we had relied on Iraqi political leaders from the start and kept the center, the Baath core, the secular structure of Iraqi society in the political system as well as offering opportunities to exiles. We can't say what would have happened if the president of the United States had clearly said to the Iraqis: "No permanent bases. We will not in any way exploit this situation to take the oil. We are not there in any way to try to dictate your future." But at all of those dimensions -- economic, security, political and ideological -- we failed. Every one of those actions helped create insurgency, division and resistance.

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