A Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, Thomas Ricks is the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. He is harshly critical of the war plan and lack of a postwar plan for Iraq, calling it "the worst war plan in American history." Here he details the mistakes the U.S. made that fueled the insurgency; explains why unity of civilian/military command in Baghdad was critical; and argues that the battle for Baghdad and the future of the country is occurring now, in 2006. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on June 28, 2006.
[What were the lessons of the war in Afghanistan?]
Afghanistan is important to look at for a couple of reasons, first because [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was clearly unhappy and impatient with the U.S. military's performance. ... He kept on hearing "can't" rather than "Here's how we might do it." So for Rumsfeld, it was a bit of a triumph to say, "See, we could do it differently, more nimbly, more agily." ...
I think Rumsfeld comes away thinking: "Jeez, these military guys might not be quite as authoritative in their pronouncements as they pretend to be. I'm going to be a little bit more skeptical here." And also, "We can do this stuff much smaller than they think." ...
Almost immediately upon the fall of Kabul in November 2001, the military is told, "Give us a plan for Iraq." Part of the message was: "Don't let it be one of these slow, stumblebum plans like you guys cooked up for Afghanistan. We want something that's nimble and agile and that reflects what we learned [in] Afghanistan."
And the extent to which that informs postwar planning is what?
There's a feeling that you kind of make it up on the fly, as the United States did with [President Hamid] Karzai in Afghanistan. You take the enemy capital, install a new guy; [he] gets up and running. In both cases, [then-CENTCOM Commander Gen.] Tommy Franks had an extraordinarily conventional view, which is take the enemy capital -- Kabul, Baghdad -- and that's it. ...
So in Iraq, you could take Baghdad, but it led the U.S. to believe that it had won in Iraq, when really the real war in Iraq began on Aug. 7, 2003, four months after the fall of Baghdad. That was the real war for the future of Iraq that begins with the detonation at the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7, then followed a few days later by the bombing of the U.N. headquarters, and then in quick order the [Red Cross] and police stations. It really was a striking campaign to isolate the Americans from their allies. The message the insurgency sent as it rose in August, September, October 2003 was the most dangerous place in Iraq to be is standing next to an American.
[In the summer of 2002, what is the debate at the Pentagon centered on? Troop size? Operational plans?] ... Why are we going to do this? Is it democracy? Is it weapons of mass destruction?
Well, the real debate inside of the Pentagon in summer and even into the fall of '02 is whether or not to do it. ... When the word went out in November '02, "OK, now let's plan for invading Iraq," a lot of resistance came back, especially from some key guys out of the combatant commands. ... Real strong pushback comes back until finally George Casey, at that point a senior officer on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, now the commander out in Iraq, sends out a notice: "You will consider an invasion of Iraq to be part of the war on terror."
Now, that's never been publicly disclosed, that order, but it was really striking. It was a very political order to send out, which is, we don't want to allow any more debate about this Iraq thing. Essentially, it's going to happen, and you will consider it part of the war on terror. ...
[What was the debate about the number of troops we should send?]
The basic argument among people who wanted a relatively large force was, look, getting to Baghdad is the easy part; the hard part is what you do after you get there. This was rejected, though, because it was seen as a form of resistance. ...
But what the troop numbers tended to be based on was past experience, which was: "This is the ratio of peacekeepers to people we needed in Bosnia or in Kosovo. This is the ratio we've seen in other counterinsurgency campaigns by other countries, whether it's the French in Algeria, the British in Malaya and other experiences." So there were real numbers that said this is what you need to do to bring security, but the Bush administration response was: "Well, look, we didn't do that in Afghanistan. We're going to be viewed as liberators. We'll install an Iraqi government, and everybody will like us." ...
[Were there constraints forced on Tommy Franks that he absolutely disagreed with?]
Franks is a puzzlement to me. The only thing I can tell is he's kind of like a hole in the donut. At the center of a good general there needs to be strategic thinking, and I've never seen any of it in Franks. I think basically he became a taxi driver, and he said: "OK, they've given me the address -- Baghdad. I'll get there as fast as I can." And when you get there, you say, "Well, it's kind of the wrong address," and he says, "I don't care; I got you here fast."
It's striking to me also that he retires very quickly after the fall of Baghdad. There's a lot of resentment about that inside the military, that "Franks put down his rucksack," as one guy said to me; that Franks couldn't be found. There's a kind of suspicion inside the military: Did Franks know this thing was going to head south, and he wanted out of here?
In your book, you say "Speed kills" ... was Franks phrase. Did speed kill?
No, speed bypassed, as it turned out. Speed did not kill. Speed helped create the conditions that followed, because it didn't have the tactical patience to address the situation. Tactical patience is a great military characteristic and one that's in short supply in the U.S. military, and in also the U.S. political system. ...
What you've seen actually is almost in response to the invasion plan with its focus on speed. Over the last three years, the U.S. military has said, "No, let's actually slow down here; let's be more careful, more cautious," because sometimes slowness is the decisive factor. Slowness is what leads to victory. It's been a difficult lesson to learn. ...
... Was there robust debate in this administration about this war? And what about [then-National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice's role in all of that?
There was a robust debate about Iraq before the invasion, but it had a perverse effect, which is there are so many experts inside the U.S. government who thought this was crazy to invade Iraq, [that] it was the wrong thing to do at that point on the war on terror, that the Bush administration began to feel kind of beleaguered. Every time they asked an expert for advice, they said, "Don't do it; this is crazy."
You had the opposite of what you historically have had in this country in wartime, which is a narrowing of support, a narrowing of the base and a narrowing of expertise. Every time somebody said in a meeting, "That's kind of wrong," or, "That's not really what the experts think," that person was not invited back to the next meeting. ...
Also, the Bush administration knows that this is not going to be a real popular war, so in order to carry out the invasion, simply to get the invasion in place, carried out, they have to really carry out an act of intellectual acrobatics. They have to exaggerate the threat presented by Iraq, by the so-called weapons of mass destruction, while minimizing the difficulty of invading and occupying Iraq.
You can really only carry out that feat of intellectual acrobatics if you ignore the experts, because the experts are saying, "There ain't that WMD, and invading Iraq is more difficult than you think." ...
[And what do you think Condoleezza Rice's role was?]
... The national security adviser -- I think you really need to bust heads together if you're going to be an independent power, and she never appeared as an independent power. She more was just somebody who was there helping run the trains, really I think in the role of Bush's daughter. ...
[Why did the administration bring in Jay Garner for the postwar?]
Jay Garner is a retired army general, well liked, and is seen as somebody who has done this sort of thing in Iraq already once. Garner had been the commanding general in Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq in the spring and summer of 1991. It was seen as a very small, efficient operation. It took care of the Kurds who were being attacked by Saddam Hussein; it stopped the attacks. It provided a solution that was actually quite good with Kurds. Then he got out very quickly. That was going to be the model for what we did in Iraq in the summer of '03. ...
Unfortunately, Baghdad in the summer of '03 was a very different situation from northern Iraq in the spring of '91. We had gone into the capital of Iraq, a deeply divided country, and we were the occupier under international law; we were the occupier, and we had to take care of the nation. [Former Secretary of State] Colin Powell's prediction, the Pottery Barn rule -- you break it, you own it -- came true, and the United States government was not prepared for that.
You tell a story in the book about Garner chairing a meeting where a lot of people are there, and it's kind of out of control. … He looks over and he sees [former head of the State Department's Future of Iraq Project] Tom Warrick, and he's got it all organized. ...
I think it's February 2002; there's a meeting at the National Defense University. It was the first time -- and this is really tragic -- it's the first time that everybody in the U.S. government who is thinking about the future of Iraq is brought together. This is really just about six weeks before the invasion. It really is kind of a chaotic meeting. There's people standing in the aisles, sitting on the sides of the room. Garner, who has just been told he's going to be in charge of postwar Iraq, is trying to figure this out. And there's one guy, again and again, who has the answers. He's got all these notebooks, and he's got tabs and appendices. When people are flailing around, trying to [figure out], "Well, where is the oil industry? And how much electricity?," the guy has the answers in front of him.
Finally at noon, as they're sitting down to lunch, Garner turns to this guy and says: "Who are you? Why have you got all of the answers?" The guy says: "Well, I'm Tom Warrick. I'm from the State Department, and I've been working on this Future of Iraq Project for over a year now." Garner says, "Well, as of Monday, you come to work for me." "OK," says Warrick. Finally somebody wants to know this stuff. Then, unfortunately, Garner runs into a bus. He's told not long afterward by Donald Rumsfeld, "By the way, you need to get rid of this Tom Warrick guy, and also that [Deputy National Security Adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan] Meghan O'Sullivan woman." Garner is deeply puzzled by this: "Wait a second. I need these people. I finally am finding the experts I need."
This goes back to the issue of the Bush administration not wanting expertise, because it was getting in the way; it was asking difficult questions. It was very shadowy to Garner. But his conclusion was that it was Vice President Cheney's office vetting people, really on their politics, and saying, "We don't like that Warrick guy; we don't like that Meghan O'Sullivan person," and telling Rumsfeld, "Get rid of those people."
What would it have been about them that they wouldn't have liked? ...
... I think they were more seen as [George H.W. Bush's National Security Adviser Brent] Scowcroftian realists. Remember, for the Bush administration, stability was not the goal in the region; it was the enemy. And these were people who thought stability was the be all and end all of U.S. policy.
So there were people who were raising difficult questions and saying, "No, you need more of this and more of that," and fundamentally, "No, this is going to be more difficult than you think." That was the one answer, I think, that was unacceptable in the Bush administration. ...
Why and when did the postwar begin to reside with Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon instead of Colin Powell and the State Department? Wouldn't you want to assume that an occupation would be handled ... out of the diplomatic side of the administration?
Yeah. It's a real problem here in that it seems to all migrate to Rumsfeld in the fall of '02 and the winter of '02/'03. The key here, I think, is the appointment of Garner to run this postwar humanitarian operation. ...
The problem is it really is a misunderstanding of what the task at hand is going to be in Iraq. It's occupying the country; it's not making sure that a few people are fed, a few people are housed, and then we're out of here. It's OK, you now are trying to create a new Iraq. So there's a fundamental disconnect between U.S. strategy, which is "We want to change the region," and how the United States government, especially the Pentagon, is thinking about it. ...
Also, they've kind of elbowed aside Powell and the State Department. They don't trust them; they don't think they're really in a team. Cheney's office seems especially suspicious [of] the State Department. One of their goals is [to] get the State Department out of this as much as possible. Garner is told again and again: "Get these State people off the team. Get Pentagon people -- that is, loyalists -- on your team." ...
It also is a huge problem as the insurgency arises, because one of the lessons of counterinsurgency campaigns again and again is you have to have a political person running the whole operation, because the nature of a counterinsurgency campaign is it's fundamentally political. It must be judged in political terms, not in military terms. ...
We didn't even have a military person on top in Iraq; we had two different chains of command with nobody in charge of Iraq. The person running it on the other side of the planet is Donald Rumsfeld, 7,000 miles away.
Donald Rumsfeld -- what is his overarching attitude toward that problem?
Rumsfeld is an interesting player throughout this. But I think the most crucial point about Rumsfeld is not his role in the war plan that people are focused on; it's the summer of '03, when Rumsfeld refuses repeatedly to say that we're in a war in Iraq. ...
It's Rumsfeld's failure to adjust at that point that really ... undercuts the whole operation, because when the guy at the top says you're not in a war, and especially in a military hierarchy, everybody says, "OK, we're not in a war." ...
Is he in denial?
I don't know. I've never had a conversation with Donald Rumsfeld about what he was thinking at this time. But he was failing to adjust. Whatever his psychological state was, he wasn't recognizing the realities on the ground in Iraq and adjusting and helping his people below him adjust. ...
Commanders are kind of flailing around, trying to figure out how to do this, and it's especially difficult after being told, "Well, it's not really a war." The tactics they use, as it turns out, are extremely counterproductive and help spur the growth of the insurgency.
The biggest single tactical mistake probably in the fall of 2003 was the big cordon-and-sweep operations: Go out and round up all the military-age males in this area and ship them out of here, and send them down to Abu Ghraib, and stuff Abu Ghraib with tens of thousands of Iraqis who may have been neutral about the Americans when they went in but weren't when they came out.
That also swamps the intelligence apparatus. The purpose of a lot of this operation was to get better intelligence: Who was the insurgent? When you go out and you attack friend and foe and neutral by sweeping them all up, you send a signal: We don't even know who our friends and our enemies are. Then when they get to Abu Ghraib, the interrogators were so overwhelmed by this flood of people coming in that even hard-core people weren't interviewed for 90 days after they were captured. The rule of thumb on counterinsurgency is you must conduct your interrogations within 24 hours of capture; otherwise the information goes stale and is useless. And we weren't [interrogating] them for 90 days.
As you say, an insurgency training ground.
What a great opportunity. You've got a bunch of guys who aren't happy with the situation, who have been captured by the Americans, put bags on their heads, might have been beaten, might have had their dignity offended in a country where dignity is a core value. They've got nothing to do, and they're sitting on their hands. Here's an Al Qaeda guy, and here's 1,000 Iraqis sitting here with nothing to do. But what an opportunity we gave them.
As far as I know, even now we don't segregate prisoners by hard-core Al Qaeda, probable insurgent, probably neutral. We have them all intermingled. It's professionally inattentive in a way that is bothersome, because this is a clear lesson from other insurgencies. You have to first of all treat your prisoners well -- a key lesson in insurgencies. But also, you need to pay attention to the politics of your prisoners. ...
You say in the book that Rumsfeld ... seems to freeze at that moment. What do you mean?
There's a key moment in the summer of 2003 where Rumsfeld really could have played a really beneficial role. ... Rumsfeld, for better or worse, has great forcefulness. Had he thrown in that forceful personality [to] say, "Time out. Let's adjust here. Let's really reconsider the situation. Mr. President, we have some real problems here, and we need to adjust them. We need to have a unified chain of command; we need to think about operating differently; we need to reconsider whether we want big conventional forces or whether we want smaller, more special operations-type operations in Iraq." There's a series of adjustments that Rumsfeld could have made. Instead he spends several weeks saying, "This isn't a war," and then seems to almost withdraw from Iraq. At one point later that year, I'm told there's a conversation in which he turns to Condi Rice and says: "Well, you talked to [Ambassador L. Paul "Jerry"] Bremer. He reports to you." And Rice says, "No, he doesn't." But, you know, Rumsfeld seems to withdraw a bit. Bremer actually talks about this in his book, where Rumsfeld came out in the fall of '03 and said to Bremer: "Well, I'm kind of not involved in Iraq now. Talk to Rice about it." ...
Let's back up just before the war, where they're still planning. ... How do we arrive at the idea that the postwar model is Germany in 1945, not Bosnia in 1995?
... It's really more than anything else I think an excuse. They didn't really study, as best I can tell, the occupation of Germany and the lessons of it. For example, the United States military began preparing for the occupation of Germany several years before the end of World War II, not with a hasty couple of months of planning that was really disorganized, as was the case with Iraq.
Even de-Baathification didn't really pay attention to the lessons of de-Nazification. The Army War College actually had studied this in the fall of '02 and made the point in a study that de-Nazification was very carefully done from the very bottom up. They went into each village, and they talked to anti-Nazi people about who the Nazis had been, and they compiled information at the village level.
Bremer did the opposite. He comes in at the very top and issues a sweeping rule that really doesn't even have information about who are Baathists, why they were Baathists, and who wasn't a Baathist. It's really just almost a casual imposition on the society that's not particularly informed about the nature of Iraqi society. I think the occupation of Germany was much more an excuse than real analogy.
[Did the U.S. lose the initiative almost immediately after the Saddam statue came down?]
I would basically agree with that. In late April and May of 2003, the U.S. effort in Iraq did lose the initiative for a variety of reasons. It wasn't just that people were told to stand down or we figure this out. It was the U.S. military was fundamentally unprepared to carry out the mission. They really didn't have an occupation plan at hand. "I'll do this, and you do that." They were making them up as they go along. The really tragic thing is at the very lowest levels, you have soldiers who were well intentioned, who were kind of making up tactics as they go along, sometimes with really horrible results.
I remember in Baghdad in the summer of 2003, there were soldiers who decide the way to deter looters is to make them cry. This is nowhere in any doctrine or training, but they'd never been taught how do you deal with looters, so this one unit decides the way you do it is to threaten them. So you have the instance of, I think, in the 1st Armored Division, of saying, OK, what we do is we'll tell the father we're going to shoot his children in front of him, and that will make them cry, and then they'll be deterred. ...
Inattentiveness at the top, lack of planning in the middle, lack of organization and cohesion and focus among officials ultimately lands on the shoulders of these soldiers who sometimes do the wrong thing.
[How did Garner feel about (Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad) Chalabi and the other Iraqi exiles?]
... Fairly early on, Garner did a backgrounder with the media. He's talked about this on the record since. ... He was asked, why are you going to work with exile groups? He indicated no, I'll treat them like everybody else, but this is not an effort to go out and install a bunch of exiles in power in Iraq.
After the briefing, Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of [defense for] policy, calls him into his office and, according to Garner, is just kind of red-faced, angry with him about it. [Feith] says: "You don't understand. Chalabi is a great guy; he could be president of Iraq. Don't go and do that." And Garner loses patience with Feith.
Garner is a military man, kind of direct, and Feith can be very circular. Finally Garner says, "Look, Doug, either fire me or shut the f*** up." Garner thought he'd won the argument. I think he thought OK, Feith will shut up. I can't prove this; I suspect that at that point Feith decided actually the former, that he was going to get rid of him, because Garner was ousted out pretty quickly out of Iraq. ...
... Garner goes to the Pentagon -- it's March 15 -- and Rumsfeld says to him, "What are you going to do about de-Baathification?" Tell me a little bit about that.
Garner had briefed Rumsfeld on de-Baathification. He had briefed Condi Rice on de-Baathification. He [had], I thought, a fairly coldhearted but realistic assessment, which is the Baathists are an Iraqi problem, and more or less let the Iraqis take care of it. They know who the really bad guys are, and they will kill them. He was pretty content to let that happen. ... He goes in, and he talks to Rumsfeld about it, and Rumsfeld kind of nods and says OK. ...
[What were the assumptions in Phase IV of the war plan?]
Eclipse II, the war plan, basically had assumptions that were entirely false and, in fact, weren't supported by any evidence. They were that you would have a large number of Iraqi security forces, especially police, available in the wake of the war; that the international community would step up to the plate and come in and say, "Thanks, America; we're here to help." This was an unwarranted assumption, especially given the evidence of French, German, Turkish, Saudi Arabian skepticism about this whole operation.
The third assumption in Eclipse II is that very quickly you'd have an Iraqi government in place. When I talk to planners about this, they say, yeah, the war plan would have worked. We had a good plan. It's the people like Garner and Bremer came [in] and screwed everything up. If you quickly had tossed the ball to some Iraqis, this whole thing would have worked. ...
[Was there a political litmus test for the people who went over for reconstruction with Garner?]
Well, that's more Bremer than Garner. It's Bremer's people. It was this children's crusade, especially of former Republican campaign workers, White House interns, Heritage Foundation people. It was going to be this conservative millennia in Iraq where free-market democracy of a brand not seen much outside the American South was going to be planted in the middle of the Middle East.
And the likelihood of that taking hold?
Well, if you subscribe to the universality of freedom -- everybody wants to be a democrat; everybody wants freedom -- they thought all we have to do is present it to them, and they'll take it onboard. There's an arrogance in there. We are one of the world's youngest cultures walking in the middle of ... the land of Abraham and Ezekiel. This is the land of Hammurabi. People forget that Mosul was the biblical Nineveh. Prophets walked those streets. Yet the Americans come in and say, "We're going to impose 20th-century American-style democracy here." There was no evidence that this would succeed there. ...
... In the book, you basically say, "History will judge the U.S. invasion in the spring as perhaps the worst war plan in American history."
Yeah, I actually wrote in my original draft that it was the worst war plan in history, and my editor said, "Oh, come on, give them a little bit of slack -- perhaps the worst war plan in American history." I think it really is the worst war plan in American history in that it was written without regard for the mission. The mission given by the president was go in and invade Iraq in such a way as to change the nature of Iraq and of the entire region. That's a huge effort. That's as big as anything since World War II. That really is the occupation of Germany.
Yet the war plan devised by Franks and implemented by the U.S. military was a coup d'etat war plan, banana republic, takeover of a capital. They'd assumed you decapitate the chicken, put a new head on it and leave. There's a huge gap between the assignment they have been given and the plan they write to carry out that. ...
The second problem I have with the war plan is something you could really only see in hindsight, to be fair to Franks, which is I think the war plan helped create what followed; it helped create the insurgency. It focused on the conventional Iraqi military and saw these other guys are sort of a sideshow, whoever these irregular fighters were, what actually, as we know now, that was the real problem in Iraq. ...
The third problem I have with the war plan is simply it devoted 80 percent of its time to the simple problem [of] how do you get to Baghdad and really devoted very little time and energy to the real problem, which is, what do you do once you get there?
The military doesn't like to think of itself as having that task, right?
The U.S. military does not like to think about occupation. They think of themselves as war fighters. Now, this is historically an ignorant position to take, because most of the time what the military does is things like occupation and peacekeeping; it's not going and fighting the battle. ...
For example, in high-intensity combat, overwhelming force brought to the decisive point is supposed to be how you win the battle, the maximum of force you could bring to bear. In counterinsurgency, the rule of thumb is the minimal use of force. Use the minimum amount of force necessary to get the job done.
In high-intensity combat, the local population is irrelevant. Ideally, they're not even present. In counterinsurgency, the population is the prize. They're really what you're going after.
In high-intensity combat, you want to focus on the enemy. In counterinsurgency, you want to make the enemy irrelevant. It doesn't matter if he still exists. You don't need to destroy him; you simply need to make him irrelevant. If you can get the people to trust you, if you can give a sense of security for the people, if the people will tell you where the bad guy is planting the bomb, and that bad guy can't operate anymore, he simply starts to evaporate. That's the ideal way to [counter] an insurgency.
[After the first phase of the war, Franks retires,] [Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez gets promoted. Is there anything about his background and history that makes him understand the low-intensity part of it?
No. The tragedy of Lt. Gen. Sanchez and the Army as a whole is that everything he had learned in its post-Vietnam rebuilding did not serve [the Army] well in Iraq. The post-Vietnam rebuilding of the Army is really a heroic story. They rebuilt the Army physically with equipment, spiritually in bringing back morale, and intellectually -- how do we fight and win? They had a training revolution. ...
The problem was that every strength carries a weakness, especially military operations, and in the post-Vietnam rebuilding, they planted the seeds of this mess in Iraq. For example, in the training revolution, the National Training Center, it trains you to go fight a battle, get your forces there, fight a battle and leave. What happens after that is someone else's problem. Great training for battalion commander; not very good training for the general who should be thinking about the day after. ...
And the effect of that?
The effect of that was that the Army was unprepared for the mission in Iraq, and the people who bore the brunt of that unprepared mess were American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. That's one reason that Iraq has been such a mess for us.
So in walks Paul Bremer. Who is he? Why do they hire him? What are the circumstances? What's the mission?
I don't know. Garner tells me that Bush told him that Rumsfeld hired Garner and Rumsfeld hired Bremer both. Why is not really clear. Here's a guy who had worked for [Secretary of State to Nixon and Ford] Henry Kissinger, kind of respected in counterterrorism from a diplomatic point of view, but doesn't know a whole lot about the Middle East, doesn't speak Arabic, doesn't know the region, but has a reputation as an effective manager.
They throw him in the middle of this, even as there's a sense that Iraq isn't quite going the way we expected. They're determined to make a decisive entry. He's going to come in and really take charge -- which is not necessarily a bad thing. I think Iraqis wanted a sense that somebody was running this thing, that somebody was in charge. And he comes in with a bunch of policy pronouncements: ... de-Baathification, dissolution of the military, free-market economics. All these things really just, I think, stir up Iraq in a revolutionary way that we're not prepared to happen. ...
... [Should Bremer have known] what we've already talked about, which is minds are made up and there is a plan that's being executed?
Yes, but there is a kind of determination in the administration that we're going to forge on, whatever the realities; we're tired of listening to the experts; this is the way it's going to happen.
But on top of that, what Bremer didn't see, and which I think none of us really saw at that point, is that dysfunctionality of this administration: that the State Department and the Defense Department really weren't cooperating with each other; that there was huge suspicion between the White House and CIA.
When the CIA station chief starts filing reports saying, "This thing is really bad," it's again disregarded as: "Ah, that's just more agency undermining us. Those guys are bad guys. What's the politics of that station chief? Is he a Democrat?" It's a profoundly dysfunctional approach to warfare. The key thing in warfare is the unity of command. Civilians need to be working with the military; politics need to be working with CIA. Instead, they're all distrustful and skeptical of each other.
I have a sympathy for Bremer on this. Bremer isn't aware of what a mess this is and finds himself the guy left holding the ball with the rest of the government, the military kind of walking away -- "We didn't want to be here" -- and the rest of the government not being particularly helpful.
He gets there and sees smoke and ministries burning and stuff, and he says to the guys: "What is this? I thought I was coming to this place that's been pacified." The guys say, "It's the looters." And Bremer calls a meeting, and ... he's pissed, and he says, "Well, shoot them." ... What is the response of the guys on the ground?
It's funny you should ask, because actually, that day I was embedded with Teddy Spain, the MP [military police] commander for Baghdad, essentially the U.S. police chief for Baghdad. I turned to him, and I said, "Hey, Col. Spain, I'm reading in this New York Times story that you're going to shoot looters." And he said, "Uh-uh, nobody's told me that."
One thing Bremer found out that day [was] that he had no command of the military. That was a profound lesson for him. He thought he was coming in to be the proconsul. The proconsul runs the politics and the military. He had no military command. He couldn't tell the U.S. military what to do. ... They didn't like him; they didn't want to listen to him.
From that moment on.
[The] U.S. military is not trained to take lessons from some State Department striped-pants cookie pusher is their attitude. Now, in counterinsurgency, that's exactly who you should be taking the orders from. But their chain of command did not go through Bremer; it went up the Central Command from Sanchez to [Lt. Gen. John] Abizaid and then to Rumsfeld. ...
... Garner kind of gets the idea, I gather from your book, that everything he was trying to do was about to get turned upside down by this new guy.
Well, Bremer comes in, and de-Baathification is going to be his first move. He's really going to send a signal that this is going to be a different country; the Baathists are not going to be in charge. ...
I think this was a message that Bremer really wanted to emphasize. He comes in, and Jay Garner hasn't left Iraq at this point, and he shows the order to Jay Garner. Garner reads it, and he thinks: "This is not what I briefed to Condi Rice or Rumsfeld. This is not the plan. This is not what we told Iraqis." He says, "Let me go show this to the CIA station chief." ... The CIA station chief reads it, and ... they both go to Bremer and say, "Give us an hour so that we can rewrite this thing and just change some of the tone and some of the language," and so on.
Bremer says: "Look, you don't understand. I'm not asking you; I'm telling you. This is what I'm going to do. I'm not asking for your advice." They argue a bit more, and finally Bremer says, "Look, I have my orders; this is what I'm doing."
The CIA station chief looks him in the eye and says: "Fine, go ahead and issue this order. But know that by tonight you will have driven 50,000 Baathists underground. Six months from now, you're going to regret it." I think it was a major step in creating the insurgency. ...
[What was the effect of Rumsfeld's dismissing the looting, saying things like "Freedom is untidy"?]
The message that Rumsfeld sent with that was a lack of American sense of responsibility, which I think probably Iraqis found chilling, which is "Not our problem." If you're an Iraqi, you're going: "Wow, there's no order here right now. Saddam's people are out, and the Americans are saying, 'Not our problem,' and they're being dismissive." "Freedom is messy." ...
[Talk about when the U.S. military helped pull down the statue of Saddam.]
... It's interesting. I actually think 2006, this year, is the battle of Baghdad, three years after we thought we'd won. That's the big fight going on now.
What do you mean?
There's a genuine war going on for control of Baghdad right now. It's partly a civil war, a low-grade civil war; it's partly a war between the U.S. and the insurgents. It's really a three- or four-way war going on for control of Baghdad, because Baghdad is a huge city, 5 or 6 million people, and to control Baghdad is to control the country. ...
[What was the effect of the change in military leadership in the spring of 2003?]
It's a real sign of official inattention that almost the entire leadership of the U.S. military changes over in this key, crucial period of April/May/June 2003. At Central Command, Gen. Franks retires at the end of June and takes off, replaced by Abizaid. The commanders who have gone into Iraq, the ground commanders, [Allied Land War Commander Lt. Gen. David] McKiernan and the people around him, and [5th Corps Commander Lt. Gen. William] Wallace, are gone, replaced by the most junior lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. Ricardo Sanchez, who until that point had been commanding one division of about 17,000 people, suddenly is commanding 150,000 troops. The staff that fought the war, the invasion, leaves, replaced by 5th Corps staff, which is a much smaller staff without a lot of the people they need to handle the job.
And of course Jay Garner leaves, replaced by Bremer. Back at the Pentagon, Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, the chief of the Army, leaves and is replaced by Pete Schoomaker. Across the board, it's almost like people are wiping their hands, saying: "Great job, fellows. You guys play the next game. We're out of here."
Tommy White's gone, too. He gets canned.
Yes. Secretary of the Army gets fired almost as soon as the war is over. The image I have in my mind is Gen. Eisenhower turning to the U.S. Army in July 1944 and saying: "Great job, fellows. I'm going to go retire, play golf. Have a good time on the way to Berlin."
... What is life like in the Green Zone for those young interns and campaign workers who get enlisted to go to war with Paul Bremer?
At first the Green Zone was pretty tough. Initially people who came with Garner were sleeping under logs because there was no air conditioning, and it was 110 degrees at night. I actually think it would have been good to keep it like that. One of the best commands I've seen in Iraq, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, on its second tour, in the headquarters that they had downtown, when the town's electricity went off, their electricity went off. It's going to focus your mind, if you're a commander, on the electricity.
The Green Zone instead became the Emerald City, walled off from the rest of Iraq. In the rest of Iraq, electricity is intermittent at best, sewage problems, dusty, dirty, potholes. Inside the Green Zone it's calm; it's quiet. Occasionally there's a mortar shell coming in, but it's a big place, and mortars are relatively small weapons. Life gets pretty good inside the Green Zone. It gets better and better, you know. The complaints you hear in the Green Zone are the cable TV channels aren't very good; somebody is showing German chess matches at night on one of the cable channels.
A bunch of bars open up. The CIA has its own bar. The al-Rashid Hotel becomes a kind of weird scene. A lot of alcohol is flowing. People are living pretty good. People have maid service and stuff. Guys who wouldn't have maids back here suddenly [have] got cooks, and all the menial labor is taken care of, all the cleaning. They're making pretty good money. They're getting danger pay and things like that. U.S. soldiers would come in from these dusty, dirty bases elsewhere, and they come into the Green Zone for some sort of meeting, and their jaws would drop. They feel like, "Wow, this is Sodom and Gomorrah, man." They haven't seen a woman in months. They certainly aren't drinking alcohol out there, those commanders. They come in here, and it's Friday night at the al-Rashid; it's the disco scene. It was sort of "Wow, this is a whole other world." ...
I heard military commanders -- some called it the Emerald City, and others called it Oz. There was a real cautiousness that the civilian occupation authority was a kind of façade, and there really was nothing behind the curtain. That's why military commanders also called it the CPA; they joked that it stood for "Can't Provide Anything."
[What is the impact of CPA Order No. 2?]
Well, it was the official dissolution of the Iraqi military and significantly also the Interior Ministry police, the national police force. The effect of this was to tell a bunch of powerful and wealthy people inside the society: "You have no future here. You're going to become a non-person." I think it really did spur the insurgency.
It really also, I think, sent the message to the Sunnis that you're going to have to fight for any power. You're not going to get offered anything here. You're going to have to cut your deal, which is what the politics are of 2006 now -- the Sunnis try and cut a deal for their future in Iraq. ...
Is this a conscious thing, or is this an unintended consequence of the decision to try to say we're in charge?
I don't think they quite knew what they were doing. They thought they were acting on analogy to the U.S. occupation of Germany after World War II; in fact, they weren't. It was almost the opposite of de-Nazification, [which] was handled from the bottom up. But it was an attempt also, yeah, to make a statement about who we are and what we're going to do here in a kind of big-man way.
It might work better if the U.S. military had supported it. The U.S. military thought its mission was security and stability. Well, if you want sustainability in a town, you go to a local Baathist guy who knows how to run things and [who is] familiar with power and police and military, and you put him in charge. You see the military doing that kind of on the sly. ...
How are Sanchez and Bremer getting along personally through the summer of '03?
I have never talked to either man about how they get along with each other. But I've talked to many people who have worked with them; I've read notes of meetings at which they were present. The word was they came to loathe each other; that they could barely speak to each other; that the body language, especially from Sanchez, with the passage of time was that he really just couldn't stand this guy.
Sanchez himself is a pretty tough case. I have a lot of admiration for his personal history. He comes out of a very poor family in the Rio Grande Valley, the first person in his family to ever, I think, graduate from high school, but I'm sure first person to ever go to college. He becomes a general in the United States Army. That's a really long road and a long ladder to climb. But [he] is not prepared by the Army for the job he has in Iraq, is not given the resources he needs to do that job, and is given a really terrible command structure that puts him at odds with Bremer. They just, as I understand it, go [at] each other like hammer and tongs for months.
But he's getting the crap kicked out of him by Rumsfeld -- satellite conferences all the time: "I need more intelligence. I need to know what's going on. What is this thing you're calling an insurgency?" ...
"When are you going to get this thing wrapped up?" is the phrase I've heard Rumsfeld use. "When are you going to get this thing wrapped up?" Well, sometimes things don't get wrapped up. Sometimes crises last a long time. And the key is not to end the crisis, but to manage the crisis. I think that's what the U.S. military has moved to now in Iraq in 2006.
They won't say this publicly, but they can see that the job is basically keeping a lid on the civil war, keeping a lid on Iraq so it doesn't spill over to the rest of the region, and hope that while you keep that lid on, an Iraqi military police and government eventually will stand on their own two feet. But they also think privately that's going to take several years.
When you're over there and others, and the police have been disbanded, and the military is standing on the sidelines, they're going away or --
Well, actually, lined up outside the Green Zone for their pay. At the same time that [former Director of National Security and Defense in the CPA] Walt Slocombe and Bremer are saying, "The Iraqi military fell apart; it doesn't exist anymore," you go outside the Green Zone, and I can tell you with this bunch of officers, 1,000 line up for their pay stipends that the CPA has arranged for them.
I never bought the "Oh, we didn't dissolve the Iraqi military; it just fell apart by itself." ... There are lots of guys in the Iraqi military who wanted to work, who could have worked, as Garner planned, on reconstruction, providing security. Or you could have used them to provide security for those huge arms dumps that are still in Iraq several years later.
There's one arms dump near Tikrit that is the size of the District of Columbia. I think it's about 4.5 miles by 4.5 miles of just arms bunkers. Nobody was guarding those. We didn't have enough troops certainly to guard them. Now, if you put the Iraqi army out there, yeah, sure, some would have seeped out; some would have been sold, but less than not having any guards. We solved one of the key problems for insurgency. One of the key problems is arms. Where do you get your weapons? "Well," we said, "there's big arms dumps there, and we're not going to guard them, fellows. Help yourself."
Then we helped with the recruiting and the financing. We didn't close the borders, so the finance can come in from Syria, where the Baathists would flood. And we said: "OK, you need some recruiting? We'll round up thousands of military-age males and send them down to Abu Ghraib. You can recruit them there."
We solved the three key problems -- recruiting, arms and financing the insurgents -- through Bremer's policies and through U.S. military documents.
[What is the significance of August 2003?]
August 2003 is when the real war for the future of Iraq began. It was four months after United States military thought that it had prevailed in Iraq, that Baghdad had fallen, several months after the president had declared "Mission accomplished."
Aug. 7, the Jordanian Embassy gets blown up, and a few days later the U.N. gets blown up. In quick succession there's a big bombing down in Najaf and Karbala. There is the bombing of several police stations. What they're doing is picking off allies. Anybody who's working with the Americans, anybody who's helping the American effort -- Jordanians, U.N., Shiite clerics who are sympathetic to the Americans -- they're all getting hit. The message is very clear: The most dangerous place to be in Iraq is standing next to an American. ...
[In] an insurgency, the battle is not to kill the enemy; it's to isolate the enemy from the people. In the fall of 2003, the Americans became isolated from the people in the Green Zone and also on American military bases. The walls went up; the drawbridge was pulled up. Interaction between Americans and Iraqis declined. That was a tactical victory for the insurgents. ...
[What happens when Garner leaves Iraq?]
He flies home, and he gets searched the whole way home, because he's flying out of the Middle East on a one-way ticket. ... He flies into Dulles; he goes to see Bush at the White House; Bush kind of thanks him. He goes over to see Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. He wants to bring up some of the issues he's seen in Iraq and talk about some of the mistakes he's seen, and he says Rumsfeld just dismisses it: "Well, that's done; we're not going to get into that." ...
... Who does Bremer actually report to? Who is he listening to? Or is he ignoring basically everybody?
Effectively, Bremer didn't report to anybody. Officially, he reported to Rumsfeld, but eventually Rumsfeld said, "Well, he really reports to Rice," because she was dealing with him so much.
Rice, who was so frustrated, I was told, with Bremer's lack of reporting to her, that she actually started getting bootleg copies of the British Embassy reporting on Iraq, because [Great Britain's special representative in Iraq] Sir Jeremy Greenstock was out there reporting back through British channels. Her office was finding that much more informative than anything Bremer was telling her.
I don't think effectively Bremer reported to the president, because ... Bremer had the president at his political advantage, which was they had already gotten rid of Jay Garner. Suddenly you're in election year 2004. You can't fire the replacement because it looks like you're admitting defeat or failure in Iraq if you can the second guy.
So Bremer knew he was basically vulnerable in that position, so what you see instead is they're sending out a series of guys. Robert Blackwill goes out as Condi's representative. Then they send out [Joseph] Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general, all trying to get the CPA under control, get better reporting. They never really get it.
Richard Armitage, who was the deputy secretary of state, told me that they never really got decent diplomatic reporting out of Baghdad until Bremer left.
And Bremer is operating unilaterally in this way because he believes -- and he might even be right -- by not playing the Washington political game, the micromanagement game, he can turn on a dime. Or is he actually mistaken and wrong? ...
Bremer may have thought that he was doing the right thing by ignoring Washington. Wolfowitz told me flatly that Bremer ignored him. But by taking that road and not addressing the fundamental structural problems of the lousy structure of command, he never addressed the fundamental problem: You need unity of command. War is an exceedingly difficult enterprise. ...
[What happened when Bremer published his September 2002 op-ed in The Washington Post?]
Well, Bremer lays out this plan in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, and as I am told, other people in the administration looked at it and were just totally puzzled by it. ... They didn't know about it.
But even more important than blindsiding the Bush administration, it also blindsided the Iraqis. Guess what? You're going to have to have this long, lengthy process of several years before we're actually finished here. I believe it was [Ali] Sistani, the Ayatollah Sistani who stood up and said, "No, I'm not going to do that," and basically vetoed it. This was a shock to Bremer. I don't think he had really focused on the fact that Sistani could veto his policy.
Why is Nov. 15 important?
... Nov. 15 is when Bremer comes back and says, "By the way, we're going to end the occupation in June." Nov. 15 is a crucial date. It really is a total shift in the American posture in Iraq. The preamble is October, which had been Ramadan and the Muslim [month] of the fasting, and also, coincidentally, when the insurgency really took off, the number of attacks really took off. This was a shock to the Americans. They'd been saying for months: "We're almost turning the corner here. We're going to put this thing down." There's a few "dead-enders," was a phrase that was used.
Suddenly, after months of saying things are much better than they look, actually things got much worse than they had been. Bremer heads back to Washington, talks to Bush, comes back and sits down in the middle of November and says to his staff, "Oh, by the way, we're going to end the occupation in June, just a few short months from now."
Suddenly all the talk about a [yearlong] occupation, of standing up an Iraqi constitution and all of this process, has gone out the window. Basically the new policy is three words: "We're outta here."
The whole focus of the CPA changes from planning for the future of Iraq to tossing the ball to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. The phrase that comes up again and again when you talk to Americans about Iraq -- it actually has been used by one of Gen. Casey's subordinates in an official paper -- "the rush to failure." This [is] in some ways when the rush to failure begins: Let's stand up Iraqi police; let's stand up the Iraqi army and get out of here. Nov. 15, while recognizing reality that this occupation thing that Bremer had been talking about wasn't working, also forces a lot of situations to become worse. ...
... Tell me a little bit about [what's] facing the military [in the fall of 2003].
... The insurgency has been building. The American occupation isn't really working, internally or with the Iraqis. Just as the insurgency is taking off, the U.S. military commander's focus shifts. They're all saying, "But we're not going to be able to cut troop levels." They've been assuming for months, "Man, we should be able to cut troop levels."
No, actually, you're going to need a one-for-one replacement. You've got about 135,000 troops here, and you're going to have to maintain that level. The entire focus shifts in the fall of '03 to "We'd better get ready for that rotation." ... This probably is the biggest single troop movement in American history: 135,000 out and 135,000 in. You've got an almost total swap-out in January, February and March of '04.
Now, it's done better than Vietnam in the sense that ... rather than one-for-one replacements, where people come and they don't know the soldiers on either side of them, you have units coming in. But that produces a whole new problem. Nobody knows what's going on, so you get seasoned insurgents and relatively green soldiers. Now, they did try to pass on some of that knowledge from the previous units, but there's no substitute for actually knowing people. ...
Gen. Sanchez has actually complained about this in documents that have never been released. He said, "I was the only guy in Iraq who had been around." He said, "Except for me and my personal staff, we had a total change here." I think it's no coincidence that the insurgency erupted vividly just about six or eight weeks after that swap-out, because suddenly the Americans look more and more vulnerable. They didn't know the territory.
All the guys who made promises to Iraqis for a year -- "I'll protect you; be my ally" -- they were gone. Suddenly the new guy who didn't know who was his friend and who was just a slick-talking con man was going to sell him out. ...
[Was there a moment when Bremer got the word that the policy was shifting?]
I don't know. I'm not sure this administration ever gives the word. ... I imagined that meeting between Bush and Bremer. I think there was sort of a sense of: "You're doing a hell of a job, Jerry. Let's go work out. Oh, and by the way, we're out of there in July." "OK, Mr. President." And Bremer says, "Well, OK, I'll figure this out on the flight home." Then he comes back and says, "By the way, we're out of here in July." That's it. I don't think you get an intellectual-based structured argument or policy synthesis emerging from conflicting views. I think it's more just a lurch forward. It appears to me like just one more lurch.
At the same time, though, Bremer is becoming more and more irrelevant. The knowledge among commanders that this guy is going to be out of here in a few months -- OK, he's a short-timer. Also, they've never really found it particularly helpful. And the Green Zone is kind of irrelevant to U.S. military operations. I think they just kind of start ignoring [the CPA]. They're all out there doing their own thing in their area of operations. They've got to go down to meetings in the Green Zone every few weeks, but that's it. ...
So the curtain in front of Bremer has been ripped away entirely, and he suddenly is just this man yelling into a megaphone behind the machine. ...
[What was the reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in late spring?]
... I know that there was a general feeling [of] "Wow, this is really bad." But it came at a particularly bad time. Remember, we'd gone into Iraq because Saddam had WMD [weapons of mass destruction], ... and the WMD thing has been disproven by a U.S. government investigation. ... The 9/11 Commission has come out and said: "Guess what? There's no nexus to Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
So the last leg to stand on is, we're bringing democracy; we're liberating these people. Well, these photographs do not look like liberators; they look like torturers. So that moral argument is undercut somewhat. And America loses standing and prestige. This is not the act of a caretaker who's there to help you. It really shines a light on something the U.S. Army still doesn't want to talk about, which is how its own commanders' actions help to create that situation.
And the effect of all of that in that spring, that last period of time, I presume on, I guess, Bremer, who's trying to put a political thing together. ...
The Governing Council is getting increasingly unhappy with Bremer. ... In February, an Iraqi cleric with close ties to the insurgency was meeting with [Lt. Col.] Alan King and says: "Look, I want to also not just talk about these other issues; I want to talk about what I'm hearing about Abu Ghraib. I'm hearing bad things out of there."
King was rather insulted and says: "Look, we're American soldiers. We don't treat people like that. We're not Saddam Hussein. I'm rather insulted you would bring that up. Now, if you've got photographs, you show them to me. You've got evidence, let me see it."
A few months later King gets a message: "Seen enough photographs yet?" I don't think Iraqis were shocked, though. Something that Americans don't understand is that Iraqis were treated pretty badly frequently -- not always -- by U.S. troops in 2003, 2004. And I don't blame the troops for this; I blame their commanders. ...
I actually said to Sanchez one day, something my driver had said to me. My Iraqi driver said, "You know, when I lived in America, we could call 911 if you wanted police help." He said, "Why isn't there a hotline here that we can call in and say, 'Hey, I saw some insurgents'"? ...
I mentioned this to Sanchez, ... and he said, "Oh, that's an interesting thought." Well, this was March, I think, 2005. I believe they finally did stand up a national hotline. ...
... Tell me what really happens in April/May of 2004?
April/May 2004 was an astonishing time in Iraq. It's when it really brought home that this thing wasn't working. ... Our bureau chief of Baghdad at the time was Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Rajiv had a big map on his office wall -- he was then in the Sheraton Hotel, and Rajiv would look at his map pondering, sometimes for a long time, with a red pencil, and he'd cross off roads, areas, highways. By late April 2004, everything around Baghdad was crossed off. There were no more roads; you couldn't go anywhere. ...
April 2004, two things happen. First, you've got a real battle for Fallujah. The Marines have just come in taking over that area from the 82nd Airborne, and they are determined to confront the insurgents there. That's the Sunni insurgents.
The second thing that goes on is, the first time the Shiite militias rise up, basically led by Moqtada al-Sadr. This has the effect of creating a two-front war the United States military. ... This begins to threaten American lines of communication. Not only do they have to run through many, many miles of Shiite territory where suddenly RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] are being shot, but the Sunnis also begin blowing bridges that lead into Baghdad. There's some fear for a while that Baghdad and the Green Zone are going to be cut off.
There's some panic talk about are they going to have to evacuate the Green Zone. This starts smelling a little bit like the Tet Offensive.
... What the U.S. military took away from that time was it's time to get serious. They also had the benefit of about a year's occupation time in Iraq, and you start seeing patterns emerging. ...
The more you looked at it, in certain areas, in different areas, [there were] guys that had certain patterns of success. It tended to be commanders who had the intelligence and the courage to recognize that the U.S. military had not prepared them for the job and who could think independently and critically about the situation.
So up north, Gen. [David] Petraeus with 101st Airborne, out west Gen. [James] Mattis, later in that year in Iraq, Baghdad, Gen. [Peter] Chiarelli. Some colonels also said, "Everything the U.S. military has given me hasn't prepared me for this job." They start operating differently, and I think that's actually when the U.S. military starts doing better.
Gen. Casey goes out to implore Sanchez, and he says, "Let me pull in some counterinsurgency experts." They've kind of been disregarded and ignored up to this point. "Have them tell me what we're doing here." They come in and give him a report that says, "There are nine basic hallmarks of failure in this sort of war, and you guys are squarely meeting eight of them. You're not controlling the border. You're not focusing on the population. You are focusing on large-size operations. You are not treating your prisoners well." These are all lessons, again and again, the military has learned. Why are these being ignored?
In August 2004, for the first time, the United States military formally has a counterinsurgency plan. It's not until August 2004 where Casey actually has a plan and signs it. There was never a plan the whole time that Bremer and Sanchez were there for how the U.S. military was to operate. So really, you need to get Bremer and Sanchez out of there, it seems, to even have a strategy, let alone an effective strategy is to have a strategy.
Tell me about Bremer's exit and the symbolism of [it].
... He snuck out of the country. At that point there were enough Americans who disliked him, but they kind of reveled in it. I remember talking to one former special forces soldier who is now in security there, who said basically: "He left the city like a rat. I'm glad he did, because that's what he was."
Bremer leaves -- first of all, calls reporters in for a very brief announcement, almost like "Think fast," tosses the football to the Iraqis, I think to Prime Minister Allawi -- "I'm outta here" -- hops in a helicopter from the Green Zone out to the airport. Pretends to get in one plane, a C-130 for a ceremony, but after the Iraqis leave, because of security concerns, gets out of that plane and moves to, I think it was a Gulfstream IV that then flies him out.
This is not the way that one conducts a triumphant exit.
And what does it say?
It says he was a failure. It says the American effort up to that point hadn't worked. Now, I think the American effort has changed a lot since then. But what happened in that year under Bremer and Sanchez when the United States dug itself a pretty deep hole in Iraq? And the question since then has been, can we get out of the hole that they've dug?
When you look at that year and ... where the responsibility might lie, where do you land?
It's easy to blame the individuals involved. They all bear responsibility. I would begin with President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, Ambassador Bremer, Gen. Sanchez. I don't want to excuse them; I think they all made huge mistakes that were avoidable. They helped create the insurgency through their actions, through their concepts, through their policies, through their orders.
That said, you don't get a mess as big as Iraq through the acts of a few individuals. Iraq has gone down the way it has because our system isn't working. It's a systemic failure. You have mistakes by the administration; you have mistakes by the military, mistakes by the intelligence community, mistakes by the media.
One of the biggest problems here, though, is the ... United States Congress has gone AWOL. This is the mistake that drives a lot of the other mistakes. Congress doesn't hold accountability hearings. It doesn't conduct oversight hearings anymore. We are now three years into a war, four years almost, [and] Congress has not held a significant hearing on the conduct of the war, of division commanders. In other wars, Harry Truman held hearings in the middle of World War II on defense contracting. [There was an] extremely intrusive committee in Congress during the Civil War on the conduct of the war.
Here we haven't had a significant hearing on the conduct of the war years into it. ... When one branch of the government is asleep at the wheel, it leads to huge problems. ...
[Describe some of the battles between the CPA and the military.]
You have these meetings between people at the CPA and what they call the major subordinate commanders, division commanders and their equivalents. They come down the Green Zone. You read through the notes of these meetings, and it's painfully evident how much disagreement there is; that they basically don't agree on basic policies, what we're trying to do here and how we're trying to do it.
At that Nov. 4, 2003, meeting, one of the points was de-Baathification, and also free-market economics, which were being implemented simultaneously. [The] military didn't like either, because the military saw the effects on the ground, which is, you're driving people away from us. You're driving the neutral middle away from us instead of pulling them into our camp. And free-market economics is creating a labor pool for the insurgency. ...
[What was the military's attitude toward the CPA?]
I think the military's attitude toward Bremer and especially to the grandiose plans they laid out was, "You and what army?," because it quickly became clear that CPA expected the military to carry out these things, to implement these. CPA, though, didn't command them, didn't have the resources, and kept on changing its mind about things, especially because CPA would rotate out. Bremer was there for a long time, but a lot of people just came in for 90 days. ...
Gen. [Charles] Swannack, the commander of the 82nd Airborne, told me about his never-ending fight with CPA to get adequate gear for police in Amarah Province. He said: "I wanted radios, black jackets and vehicles for them. And this guy keeps on saying, 'OK, I'll have it for you Nov. 1.' I call him Nov. 2, he says Dec. 1. I call him Dec. 2, and he says Jan. 1. I call Jan. 2, and they say he went home for Christmas and decided not to come back." So the military feeling was, you guys are having all these grandiose schemes; we're out here holding the bag.
One of the things you need to understand about that year at the CPA and Bremer was their increasing isolation. As the security situation worsened, people in the Green Zone became more and more cut off from the rest of Iraq. The more they became cut off, the less they were able to get out of the Green Zone and get into the real Iraq, the more the U.S. military started to disregard them. ...
By late spring '04, you just start ignoring these guys. This is the great accomplishment of Gen. Casey and [Director of National Intelligence] Ambassador [John] Negroponte. When they come in to replace Sanchez and Bremer, they repair that relationship. They're determined to do better, to talk to each other and to work cooperatively. It's almost as if oxygen is injected into the U.S. effort in Iraq. People are talking to each other. It's amazing how much better things work when that happens. ...
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