the invasion of iraq
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Frederick W. Kagan is a professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In this interview he offers his views on Donald Rumsfeld's vision of war and how to use the military. He also talks about the performance of American ground commanders and the Iraqi military, and the missteps made by the U.S. in preparing to take charge of postwar Iraq. "The problem was simply that we didn't have enough troops, that the troops we had were not trained to transition from war to peacekeeping, and that there was no clear plan in place for how we would do the peacekeeping…." This interview was conducted on Jan. 29, 2004.

interviews: frederick w. kagan

Why were the forces that were sent in to attack Iraq so much smaller than in the 1991 Gulf War?

I think we sent much smaller forces to fight, partly because the Iraqi forces themselves had been very severely degraded in the first conflict. Because of our sanctions and the no-fly zones and various other factors, we were confident that the Iraqi army was going to be a much less formidable foe, so it was not going to be necessary to have that same degree of force.

The U.S military took extraordinary pains to avoid civilian casualties in a campaign in which an incredible amount of ordnance was dropped.  Overall, America's success  in avoiding large numbers of civilian casualties was astonishing.

At the same time, we had a secretary of defense who was committed to a particular vision of what war should be, and believed that he had demonstrated the validity of that vision in Afghanistan with virtually no forces on the ground during hostilities. I believe that his determination to continue to validate that view of war led him also sharply to constrain the number of ground forces that he sent to this one.

Rumsfeld had fought Afghanistan, trying to keep the American footprint on the ground small or nonexistent. Many people, after the Afghan war, claimed that was a new model of war that the United States was going to use henceforth, and that we should simply apply it directly to Iraq. That, of course, didn't quite happen. But the Afghan mindset, certainly, influenced the way we went into Iraq.

Before the war, Rumsfeld and the Pentagon seemed pretty optimistic about the outcome. Can you describe the key assumptions concerning what the war was going to be?

The most important assumption that Rumsfeld made was that his job was destroying the Iraqi army and bringing down the Iraqi government. I think that he never really understood the degree to which his job also involved maintaining order in Iraq thereafter, and establishing a new regime that might be stable.

If you look at it from the perspective of destroying the Iraqi armed forces and taking down Saddam Hussein, then it was easy. We knew that it would be easy. It's no surprise that it was easy, and his assumptions were justified. I think the surprise that the administration seemed to show when we did not immediately manage to maintain stability in Iraq, to not instantly become a stable democratic society, reflects the fact that they had never really thought seriously about what would be required to do that.


I don't know. This administration certainly came into office saying, "Superpowers don't do windows, we don't want to do peacekeeping, we don't want to do nation building." Bush made statements, even after the Afghan war, that he did not want to have American ground forces there after the war, doing peacekeeping. When you come into office with that kind of attitude, I think it's probably very hard to turn around quickly and say, "This is going to be all about peacekeeping after we destroy Saddam Hussein."

I think the other problem you have is that Rumsfeld has a vision of war that is honestly very much like the vision that Moltke had in the nineteenth century. Moltke thought politics stops when the war begins; starts again when the war ends. The military is not involved before the war, and is not involved after the war. That seems to me to be very much the attitude that Rumsfeld has: when the war's over, it's not his concern anymore.

But a lot of people were saying before the war that this is a much bigger story than just bringing down one horrific dictator. This was a chance to democratize Iraq, and that would help other areas within the Middle East to move in that direction. So how does one make that assumption -- that a big part of what you're about is also postwar and you're not all about war?

I think Rumsfeld could legitimately say, "Yes, of course we'd have to worry about what the postwar situation is, and that's critically important. But that does not mean that that's the military's job." Rumsfeld may have imagined that he was going to be able to offload the responsibility for rebuilding Iraq to some other agency, and not tie down what are, after all, very limited military forces doing that. That's a pseudo-legitimate argument that he could have made.

I think a less legitimate argument that seemed to be being made at the time was that this would be easy, that there was the Chalabi group and the Iraqi National Congress, there were Iraqis whom we would be able to install and then turn the mission over to. I think that was foolish at the time, and it's turned out to be extremely foolish in hindsight.

Prewar, what were the expectations of how the Iraqi military would act?

The U.S. military had been telling itself and the world that any future enemy would go to ground in the cities, make us dig them out. We would have extremely nasty, vicious urban warfare, [because] they would not attempt to confront us in the open, where our greatest strengths lie. I honestly think that the military was surprised when it turned out that we could do the "Thunder Run" through Baghdad, and that was the end of the game.

So I think that our assumptions were flawed, but in the direction that they should be flawed in. We assumed it was going to be harder than it turned out to be. I would love to know what Saddam thought he was doing. It does show a flaw in your ability to assume that you know what future enemies are going to do, based on what would be most aggravating for you. The truth of the matter is, I think a lot of leaders in this world are going to be reluctant to fight within their own cities, which also entails having their cities completely destroyed. There may have been other reasons why Saddam was not prepared to draw us into Baghdad and have the big Baghdad fight we thought we would have.

What were our expectations about the Iraqi people generally, and how they would react?

I think that we rightly imagined that the majority of the Iraqi people were not going to be hostile. I think we imagined wrongly that they were going to rise rapidly to our support as we attempted to liberate them. A lot of the error in that assumption came from underestimating the importance of the Fedayeen and the organizations that Saddam had put in place to ensure that they did not rise to our support.

I'm not sure what it tells us about whether we were actually wrong about how receptive the average Iraqis were going to be. Honestly, I think the celebrations in the streets that you saw in Baghdad and elsewhere, after it was clear that Saddam was gone, showed that there was a lot to the assumption that the Iraqis were going to be initially very pleased to have us there. But I think we did underestimate Saddam's ability to control his people, even as his regime -- the armed forces -- were being destroyed.

What was the impact of the speed of the allied ground attack?

The rapid ground campaign was essential. I think it wasn't rapid enough. There were a number of points at which we paused, and in military operations, pauses are very dangerous. We paused for a long time in front of Basra, partly, I think, because we were scared of an urban fight, and partly because we didn't have enough troops.

We also paused for a considerable period of time in front of Baghdad. Those pauses allowed the enemy opportunities to regroup and attempt to regain the initiative. Actually, you had the very bizarre situation, where an Iraqi armored column went roaring out of Baghdad during a sandstorm during our campaign, which, according to all the precepts of our capabilities, they shouldn't have been able to do. But that was because we paused. That was because we gave them the opportunity to regroup and do that.

How did the concerns about the aftermath of the war and civilian casualties and protecting civilian infrastructure impact the air campaign?

The air campaign was clearly limited in its target set, its intensity, and its duration by the desire to minimize the Iraqi civilian casualties and even destruction to the Iraqi infrastructure. I think by imposing those limitations on themselves, the planners of the air campaign were very wise. The problem with that is that we have been relying, in principle, in our theory of war, on unlimited air campaigns, where we can simply pound the enemy as much as we need in order to force him to surrender. I think that this shows that we need to rethink our reliance on such campaigns.

Was "shock and awe" implemented the way the theory was really designed?

One of the leading "shock and awe" theorists, [Harlan] Ullman, said afterwards that they did not properly implement his theory, that the air campaign actually looked very much like something out of a standard air superiority textbook.

… I'm sure that's true. In fact, having read his book, I'm confident that we did not fully implement "shock and awe," which calls for basically devastating the enemy country to the point where it's no longer capable of functioning as a society. …

We chose not to do anything remotely like that, and that was a very good decision. …We didn't do it, because it would have been stupid. We were not trying to destroy Iraqi society; we were trying to eliminate Saddam Hussein's regime and establish democracy there. You can't use "shock and awe" for that. It was good that the Air Force didn't fully implement what he'd recommended, or we would have been in a much worse situation than we are now. It's unfortunate that we tried as hard as we did to implement his theories.

Compared to the 1991 war, what were the biggest changes in the air campaign, in the air technology and air tactics?

The most significant change was that, in the first Gulf War, we were mostly dropping dumb bombs. In this campaign, we were mostly dropping smart bombs. It makes the air campaign more effective. It makes it much more possible to limit civilian casualties. It makes it much more possible to strike targets precisely.

Can you briefly sketch in the prewar argument between the Army, led by Gen. Shinseki, and Rumsfeld's office on how many troops were necessary?

Rumsfeld wanted to not send a lot of troops to Iraq, because he thought they would be unnecessary. He thought that it would be possible to destroy the Iraqi armed forces with command and control from the air, primarily. He did not want have a lot of ground forces in the country because it involves a significant logistical tail. It takes time to send lots and lots of troops to a region that far away with limited infrastructure, and he wants to be able to move very quickly. He wanted very much to validate his vision of war, which is that you don't really need ground forces beyond special forces troops to put laser designators on targets.

The Army wanted to have more troops because, first of all, the Army does not fully adhere to Rumsfeld's vision of how war should be fought. Obviously, the Army thinks ground troops continue to be important. The Army also was more thoughtful about what areas would have to be held, the significance of particular pieces of terrain, the problems of interacting with the complex local political situations, with populations, and the fear that the Iraqi armed forces would disperse, go to ground, make it hard for our precision-guided munitions to attack them.

It's very important for us to remember that one of the reasons why there was substantial concentrations of Iraqi armor where we could reach out and touch them rapidly with PGMs is because we had large ground forces in the theatre. If we hadn't had those ground forces in the area, the Iraqis could well have dispersed. There would have been no need for them to concentrate to fight another army.

But Rumsfeld did not give any serious consideration to what the postwar security situation would be like at all. Shinseki, who, after all, has considerable experience with peacekeeping operations-- That was probably an obvious thing for him to be thinking about. So I think, on those grounds also, the Army was more determined to have adequate forces in the theatre to deal with the problems that did in fact arise.

Can you explain Shinseki's reasoning, as far as you feel comfortable?

I'm hesitant to put words in Shinseki's mouth … I mean, in a war like this, the first days after victory are critical. If you allow the situation to deteriorate into disorganized anarchy, violence, chaos. What will happen is people will start self-organizing. You will find yourself with local leaders that emerge that you may or may not like, pursuing agendas that you may or may not be able to sustain. Your own image will be tarnished, because in the world as it is today, if we go in and take down a regime, we are expected not to allow the situation thereafter to collapse into chaos.

So I think the fact that it did lapse into a certain amount of chaos immediately after the combat operations were finished has made it much harder for us to bring about stability in the country. [It] has lost us a lot of credibility with the Iraqi people that we didn't need to lose if we had immediately transitioned to stabilization and peacekeeping operations.

We underestimated the difficulty establishing a new, stable, democratic Iraq. It's very clear, if you go back and look at our leaders' statements before the war, they thought that it was going to be relatively easy, and it's turned out to be relatively hard. Honestly, I don't understand why they thought that it was going to be easy. It seems evident that it would be a hard thing to do. But we don't know who they were talking to, and what intelligence they had exactly that suggested that they came to that conclusion.

That obviously factored into Rumsfeld's conviction that we would not need a lot of ground forces there when hostilities stopped for peacekeeping, instead of stabilization operations; also, what's perhaps even more important [was] that we would be able to draw our forces down very rapidly after combat operations ceased, which has turned out not to be the case.

… It's very clear that they did not reckon on the fact that, when we didn't go into the Sunni Triangle immediately, the Iraqi troops that were there would just fade into the countryside to take up guerrilla operations against us. That's turned out to be a major problem that we've been facing here. If they thought they were just going to grab Iraqi army units and use them for internal policing, then they weren't thinking very clearly about how those units would work in democratizing Iraq.

What about civilian deaths in this war? How do tactics that were used in Iraq have an impact on that?

When you're talking about civilian casualties in war, it's very important to understand that there will always be civilian casualties in war. You can look at any specific instance when there was civilian casualties and point to, frequently, errors of judgment, or misperceptions, or confusion, or lots of things that cause them. You can dissect any given incident and say, "Well, they shouldn't have done this and they shouldn't have done that." But it's almost certain that, in any large war, that there are going to be incidents, and there are going to be civilian casualties.

The U.S military took extraordinary pains to avoid civilian casualties in a campaign in which an incredible amount of ordinance was dropped all across a country, including in extremely densely inhabited areas. Overall, America's success in avoiding large numbers of civilian casualties was astonishing.

The problem is we're living in a world where the expected rate of success is 100 percent. We count up from zero how many civilian casualties there are, and every one is unacceptable. Of course, in principle, that's true. In war, reality doesn't actually work that way.

My experience is that American soldiers and Marines are incredibly well-disciplined professionals, and are not readily rattled. I don't see any evidence that people were so rattled in this war that they were not capable of behaving professionally and using their proper judgment. I think when you get into situations like Nasiriya, where there's a very hard fight and the enemy's blending in with the civilian population, it's simply very hard to know all the time what the right thing is to do, and you get a lot of confusion.

But the notion that you have people who are on hair-triggers and shooting readily at things that they shouldn't be shooting at-- There may well have been instances of that, but I would be surprised to find that there were very many.

There's a point in the battle as they're marching towards Baghdad. The battle at Nasiriya is over, the disaster with the 507th Maintenance Group has happened, the two Apache helicopters have been knocked down and the pilots taken prisoner. The sandstorm is bogging them down. In Washington, a very public debate occurs with real generals on television sort of debating whether there was enough manpower on the ground. Did this reflect the ideological battle between the Powell doctrine and Rumsfeld's new, lighter, flexible force doctrine at that point?

You can see the battle of the two doctrines all the way through the war. I think that it is ingrained in the mindset of senior Army generals that they are uncomfortable operating -- most of them -- in situations where they don't have overwhelming force. Their instinct -- a lot of them -- in those situations is to wait until they do have overwhelming force before moving on.

Rumsfeld, of course, would say you don't need overwhelming force on the ground; we have overwhelming force overall with the air power and the precision gun ammunitions, so we need to have a new notion of what overwhelming force is. There's a lot of truth in that. I think that the pauses that we saw may have been due to timidity about what was ahead, or the sandstorm, or the possibility of encountering Iraqi troops, and were unnecessary.

I think that American ground commanders, in some cases, were too timid, and were too reliant upon notions of overwhelming force. The issue about overwhelming force and the Rumsfeld doctrine is less about defeating the enemy's armed forces and more about what happens after those armed forces are defeated.

Summarize, if you could, the failures of the Iraqi military in responding to the invasion.

We could spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the failures of the Iraqi military in this campaign. The Iraqis had made significant efforts to revamp their doctrine at any event, and think about how they would fight us since 1991, and they behaved very differently from the way that they behaved in 1991.

Saddam seems to have believed that what was most important was establishing a significant guerilla campaign in our rear, attacking our lines of communications -- lightly armored troops, not well armed, not trained in general to fight, and thereby inflicting lots of casualties on us in the rear areas. He may also have thought that he was going to disrupt our supply in that way. That was what the Fedayeen were all about, in part, in addition to retaining control of the country for him.

That wasn't a bad idea. As ideas go, that's a pretty good way to attack us. The problem is that, once again he underestimated our ability to respond even at that sub-tactical level, with troops against troops. He just didn't understand what was going to be necessary to challenge us seriously even in our rear areas. That was a significant mistake that he made, because he was relying on that campaign to succeed, I think.

He also made an enormous mistake, from the standpoint of giving us a hard time, in concentrating a lot of his armored units outside of Baghdad, and keeping them tightly concentrated in open areas, where we could readily destroy them from the air. Why did he do that? My guess is that he knew that once we actually occupied Baghdad, the game was over. But as long as we did not occupy Baghdad, he could continue to make the same sort of laws to the Iraqi people that he's been making for as long as he's been in power, and have them believed enough -- at least not to have people go over.

I think that he hoped that if he could keep us out of Baghdad long enough, there would be a large-scale international outcry and possibly an explosion in the Arab street in response to this war that would paralyze us and force us to negotiate with him. That turns out to have been a miscalculation, if that's what he was calculating.

Again, I don't think it was stupid. I think that considering that he had very few good options, if any, it wasn't a bad try. He just misread, in this case, the international situation. He also, again, overestimated his ability actually to delay our advance, if we didn't want to be delayed.

The question to this day is, once Baghdad falls, why didn't the troops move immediately to stop the chaos, the looting?

American troops actually moved fairly rapidly to try to reel in a lot of the looting in Baghdad after it broke out. To the extent that they were not successful in doing that, I think the main reason is because there weren't enough of them there. They were in what was still a fairly precarious security situation. There were irregular forces running around. We were not formally in control of the entire country, or even of the entire city, and there were a lot of security operations that they had to deal with. Their first priority was securing our control of the city, and making it possible for us to move forward with various occupation duties.

The issue of stopping the Iraqis from destroying their own property -- which I think we probably didn't foresee how much of an issue that would be -- was more than the number of troops in Baghdad could readily handle at the time. … To this day, I don't fully understand why the Iraqis did that, the ones who did. But I'm not sure that I'm prepared to say that we should have foreseen that there would be looting of that variety. What I am prepared to say is that we should've been ready to deal with a contingency like that. There are other contingencies that we could've thought of that might have arisen, including actual opposition. Not everybody needed to be thrilled to see us, and [as] it turned out, lots of them weren't.

So I think this is why you don't go in with the minimum number of troops you think you're going to need.

So what was impact of this on what the United States needed to accomplish in Iraq?

The looting in Baghdad was bad from the standpoint of setting us on the road to establishing a stable [government] in Iraq. By itself, in the long term, it probably wasn't very significant. Certainly the problem now in Iraq is not that we allowed the Iraqis to loot their capital after we had defeated Saddam's regime. The problem is that it was part of a pattern. The pattern was our failure rapidly to take full control of the country after we had defeated Saddam's regime, and ensure that order was maintained throughout the country and that we were the ones clearly in control of the country.

There were lots of other incidents all around the country going on at the same time that were less dramatic, but that were as important -- taken collectively, much more important than the looting -- in making it harder for us to appear as though we had the best interests of the Iraqis in heart.

Wasn't what happened to some extent foretold by, for instance, Gen. Shinseki and his attitude about the need for more troops -- specifically for post-victory, basically?

Yes, I think that Shinseki rightly felt that the forces we were going in with were inadequate to deal with the transition from war to peace. I think that, in that regard, he was absolutely prescient. The problem with what Shinseki said is that it was not entirely clear all the time that he was talking about the need for more troops for postwar. Sometimes it sounded like he was talking about the need for more troops to win the combat. That tended to undermine the effectiveness of his message. It looked like an Army general who didn't want to fight, deliberately making the requirements so that no one would want to do it -- which, after all, Colin Powell had done in 1991, and was surprised when Bush called the bluff.

When the looting was going on, Rumsfeld at the Pentagon responds to the looting with an answer that begins, "Democracy is untidy." What does that demonstrate about his attitude about the aftermath of the war?

As usual, when Rumsfeld says, "Democracy is untidy," after the looting, there is an element of truth in what he says and there is an element of divorce from reality in what he says. The element of truth is that the transition to democracy in any state that has been an autocratic or totalitarian state for a long time is untidy. There [are] going to be a lot of things, almost inevitably, that are going to happen that outsiders living in stable polities who haven't experienced this, or not for a long time, are going to [wonder about] -- "Shouldn't be doing that. That's unfortunate. Why is that happening?"

The point that he was rightly making is, "Hey, you know, we [must not] imagine that the Iraqis are simply going to rise up en masse and say, "Yes, now we're going to be democrats, and everything is fine."

The problem with that statement is that it seemed to dismiss failures that we had committed -- failures to help the Iraqis get through a difficult time, while minimizing the impact of this transition and minimizing the disruption to their society. In that regard, it was unfortunate that Rumsfeld would not take more responsibility and say, "Well, we shouldn't have handled it that way, and we need to think about how we're going to handle similar problems in the future."

Explain your analysis of what should have been planned for. What were we missing?

It's amazing how fast things happen in situations like this when we are rolling tanks across the desert into cities, taking down the enemy regime, and then trying to transition to a new kind of regime. It's amazing how rapidly the locals respond to those situations. It's amazing how rapidly power vacuums are felt, and people rise to the challenge and the opportunity that they present. It's amazing how quickly people can get set into ways that are very unfortunate for what the long-term vision is that we have for a country.

The way to prevent those bad things from happening is to have positive control of the situation, as completely as possible, all the way through. That means that, as the ground forces are rolling forward and the leading edge is destroying the enemy ground forces and occupying territory, the troops right behind have to be busy consolidating that control; taking power; making sure that power vacuums don't develop; preventing the development of anarchy; maintaining vital services; preventing humanitarian disasters from arising; and in general, maintaining a functioning polity behind the lead troops.

We really did that only to a very limited degree, and that was not because the troops didn't want to do it. American troops are great at that, and they usually spring very rapidly from combat operations to those kinds of stability and support operations. The problem was simply that we didn't have enough troops, that the troops we had were not trained to transition from war to peacekeeping, and that there was no clear plan in place for how we would do the peacekeeping, how we would do the stabilization.

So we allowed time to go by before we really thought about what we were doing and how we were going to do it. In that time, a lot of things happened that were unfortunate for us.

What were the miscalculations about what we expected to find in Iraq?

The most important miscalculation we made was imagining that the transition from end of war to stable Iraqi polity would be relatively quick, easy, and done by the Iraqis themselves, with minimal participation on our part.

Another miscalculation was that we did not recognize the likelihood that Iraqi soldiers would melt into the countryside if we did not round them up, and start guerilla operations against us. We should've seen that, given how the Fedayeen behaved; we didn't. The fact that there were Fedayeen around suggested that there was the nucleus of an organization that could carry on guerilla operations against us. We should've foreseen that possibility.

We did expect the Shiite to rise up and support. We did expect the Iraqi population to rise up and support. They didn't, mainly because Saddam had put effective organs in place to prevent them from doing that. I don't know to what extent that was an intelligence failure, and we didn't pick that up and we should have. But we certainly did not foresee that.

In general terms, we just did not reckon with the difficulty of the only part of the operation that actually mattered, and that part was reestablishing a stable polity in Iraq. It's ironic that we focused very much on the one thing that we knew we could do, which was destroy the Iraqi military, and didn't think very much about the one thing that was actually going to be very hard to do, which is transition to democracy.

What was the result of those miscalculations?

As a result of the miscalculations, we didn't send enough troops. As a result of the miscalculations, we did not carefully plan what the postwar situation would look like and what we would do about it. We didn't look hard, I think, at what problems would arise and what we would need to deal with them, and how we would deal with them. We didn't especially train the troops that were there for what the postwar situation would be. They trained to fight; they did not train to do peacekeeping.

All of those things meant that, when the situation started deteriorating very rapidly, it was on the troops, really, to do the best that they could. The truth of the matter is that the troops did terrifically well in responding to situations that had not been foreseen, for which they hadn't been trained, and where there weren't enough of them.

… Then we also had the problem that we miscalculated in another respect. I think we did not understand the fragility of the Iraqi infrastructure. I don't know to what extent we should have thought about that beforehand. You know, when you do war, you're not going to think of everything. There are going to be things that you're going to miss. But it turns out that the Iraqi infrastructure was extremely fragile, and that it was very vulnerable to guerrilla attacks by a very small number of people, who could really have a disproportionate effect.

Infrastructure like that is going to be very hard to guard, and it's going to be very hard to keep going. You have a much higher troop requirement if you're going to have to do that kind of thing. We missed that.

What was the impact of the civilian deaths during the combat operations on the Iraqi citizenry? Did this adjust their attitudes towards us, and again, add to the difficulties in our ability to rule right after the end of the fall of Baghdad?

You have to convince me that some of the civilian deaths, by themselves, would have been a problem for us trying to move to stabilization. If we had actually been in control of the situation, had thought through the issues, had enough troops and were able to control the situation adequately, looked like we were doing the right thing, I think it would not have been that big a deal. The Iraqis, like everybody else, understand that there are civilian casualties in war.

There's been a lot of talk within administration circles since the war that their theories of military transformation were actually vindicated by the war in Iraq.

The first thing you need to say about claims that anything was vindicated in Iraq, is that defeating the Iraqis doesn't prove anything about any theory of war, defeating the Iraqi military. If we had waited and sent 500,000 troops in, would we have won the war? Sure, of course. If we had not used very much air power at all, but had rolled tanks across the desert primarily, would we have won the war? Sure. Against the Iraqis, lots of things would have worked. So to say that this war vindicates one vision of war or another is not to understand how the weakness of the enemy plays into this.

But the question you have to ask over and over again of the administration is, what did you achieve? What did your vision of war succeed in? This vision of war succeeded in destroying the Iraqi military, which you can do lots of different ways. It did not succeed in establishing the best conditions for achieving the political objective of a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq. In that respect, I don't think you can say that it vindicated their vision of war, because what good is a vision of war if it doesn't actually achieve the political objectives that you're fighting for?

The point that someone might make from the administration is, "You've just got to wait; you have to be patient."

You can't just respond to these problems saying that you have to wait. First of all, it's not true. You could say you have to wait; that assumes that things are automatically going to move in the right direction if you don't do anything. I think there's a lot of evidence that that's not true here. We have to do a lot of things in order to move things in the right direction. Waiting probably is going to make things worse if we're not doing the right thing in the interim.

The other problem with that is, it's just a way of passing the buck. You don't have to wait. When you go into a situation like this, what you have to do is shape the conditions in order to help you best achieve what it is that you're trying to achieve. Ask the question, did we do that as well as we could have or not? Clearly not. Well, then in that context, the issue of waiting is irrelevant.

You also have spoken about that, in the end, a war can't kill everybody; that there must be a larger aim of the impact, of our impact on the enemy. Explain what you mean.

War is not about breaking things and killing people. Battle is about breaking things and killing people. War is about achieving a particular political end state. The "killing people and breaking things" part of that is subordinated to that end state. If you're going to achieve that end state, you're going to have to do more than break the right things and kill the right people.

You're certainly going to have to use diplomacy. You're probably going to have to engage in stability and support operations of various varieties. You're going to have to interact with the local population in various different ways. You're going to be in a much more complicated environment than one in which you simply have targets and the weapons systems that attack them.

Unfortunately, our current military doctrine is moving very much in the direction of seeing all potential enemies as target sets, and not seeing them as collections of human beings with weapons, where what really matters is your interaction with the human beings. Your interaction with the weapons systems has to be subordinated to that.

There have been mistakes made. What should be done now to make up, to some extent, for the mistakes in the past?

It's an incredibly hard question. We've gone down a very dangerous road. The most urgent thing that we have to do now is suppress the insurgency. If we turn over to an Iraqi government in a few months time a state in which there is significant ongoing insurgency, I think the likelihood of the success of that government is very low.

It's time to open the coffers. It's time to spend all of the reconstruction money that we have, a lot of which isn't being spent. It's time to make clear to the Iraqis that we are committed to their long-term well-being and that we're interested in doing more in Iraq than simply chasing Al Qaeda, and really to show them that what's important here is their future, and not our past interaction with Saddam and our concerns with Al Qaeda.

We have not been very successful at getting that message out to them, and I think there have been a lot of bureaucratic reasons for that. Time is running out to solve that bureaucratic logjam and make this work. But on the other hand, good things have been happening, and we might be able to build on them.

But above all, it's time for the real Iraq Marshall Plan. If we think for a minute about how significant a democratic regime in Iraq would be throughout the entire Muslim world, how that would transform the debate in the Muslim world about what choices to make and who to support and what to do, and how disastrous it would be if we try to set up a democratic Iraqi regime and have it destroyed by Islamist insurgents--.

What price would you like to pay? I mean, there's hardly any price you could pay that would be too high to achieve the aim and avoid the disaster. I just think we've been going at this in a very parsimonious fashion, trying to restrict our commitment, and that's just not the way to do it. It's not the way we did it in Germany. It's not the way we did it in Japan. And it's not the way we should be doing it here.


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posted february 26, 2004

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