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the failure to secure iraq
What were the fundamental misjudgments and missteps that contributed to the post-war internal turmoil in Iraq which now, 18 months later, has spawned an increasing insurgency? Commenting here are Thomas Ricks, Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post; Walter Slocombe, former director for national security and defense in the Coalition Provisional Authority; John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Col. Douglas A. MacGregor (U.S.Army-Ret); Lt. Gen Paul Van Riper (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret); Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.), Commander, CENTCOM (1991-1994); and Gen. Thomas White (U.S. Army-Ret.).

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thomas ricks
Pentagon Correspondent for The Washington Post.

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…Did you always know the assault, the taking of Baghdad, was going to go really well and fairly easily?

I thought the war as a whole would go really well. ... Baghdad was always a major concern, and I did not think it would go as well as it did. But I don't think it actually went that well. The government fell, but the capital was not taken. I don't think the enemy in Iraq decided he was defeated when we decided on April 9, 2003, that he was defeated. We pulled down the goalpost at halftime, and he kept on playing. So I don't think we won on April 9; I think we prematurely declared the war over. And what we did was fought for three weeks the war we wanted to fight and for the subsequent 60 weeks have fought the war he wanted to fight. That's not a good way to fight a war, to let the enemy determine the nature of the combat.

When did you know that it was all going to go kind of sour?

I've been wrong consistently in my predictions on postwar Iraq. When I was there embedded with the 1st Armored Division immediately after the war, in May 2003, I think I assumed that yeah, it was going to be tough, tougher than the public line we were getting from the Pentagon, but they would take a year; they would tap it down. There would always be small incidents of violence because this is the Middle East, and there are always going to be people who hate Americans. Basically it would take about a year to get this baby nailed down. ...

I began to think it was really going south in April 2004, partly just because on the ground, the assertions that were being made by the U.S. government were so at odds with the reality on the ground.

At the same time, I began to look at some of the numbers of the U.S. occupation authority, the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], had collected, its polling data, and it became quite clear that between December 2003, which was when Saddam Hussein was captured, and April 2004, that the American occupation, to a surprising degree, had lost the mild support of the Iraqi people. And these were the CPA's own polls showing that in the fall, as high as 47 percent of Iraqis were saying, "I can kind of see a reason for the occupation," and by the spring it is down to 2 percent. They're just saying, "Get out of here." They lost patience with us.

What about the dissonance between what is happening on the ground and the way the secretary and others are seeing it? Were they telling another story publicly and worrying inside?

No, I don't think they did know. I don't think they were being disingenuous. I think they really did believe it, partly because U.S. commanders on the ground tended to believe it. Not some of the specialists, not the area specialists, not the civil affairs specialists, not the special operations guy[s] who know how a foreign military is supposed to be trained, but your rank-and-file, regular active-duty officer, NCO [noncommissioned officer], they thought, the media is really not telling the whole story here, or even most of the story here; they don't see all the good things we're doing. And they are kind of locked, I think, in their perceptions. I think we all are.

The difference is reporters go out and try to talk to different people to try to correct that and get outside their perceptions. They talk to Iraqis; they talk to foreign diplomats; they talk to allied militaries: "What do you think," you might ask the British officer, "of U.S. military operations?" And he might say to you, "Not the way we do it." And you say, "What do you mean by that?" And he would say, "Well, keep my name out of this, but I don't think sending a patrol through a neighborhood, shooting it up, and then painting the orphanage at the end of the street wins you hearts and minds." The troops come back and say: "Why don't you write about all the good things we're doing? We were out painting an orphanage." …

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walter slocombe
Former director for national security and defense in the Coalition Provisional Authority.

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…Why didn't we anticipate and think about this -- about the insurgency, about the mess?

I don't think we anticipated the complete collapse of the governmental system. Remember, that had not happened in Germany or Japan, even with much more larger-scale fighting and a much more total defeat and so on. Indeed, in some sense it hadn't even happened in places like Kosovo. The problem in Bosnia was not that there were too few governments, but there were too many. So I think that sense that there would be an almost total vacuum of capacity to manage the country and to provide security and to provide basic services and all those other things, whether we should have expected it or not I don't know. But that, I think, was the fundamental problem.

On the other hand, there was a great deal of preparation for a series of events which in some ways would have been much worse and much harder to deal with than anything that actually did happen. There was an expectation of massive famine; of major epidemics; of huge refugee movements; of not this occasional bomb going off someplace, but of thousands of people getting killed and interethnic massacres like in India and Pakistan at the time of partition; of complete collapse of the transportation system, water supplies and that kind of stuff.

But in general, people with food was never a serious problem. Electricity is a problem, but if somebody had said that the biggest problem four months after the end of the large unit fighting was gas lines, electricity on only half the day, and a crime rate high by Middle Eastern standards, people would go, "Uh, all right." And an occasional bomb going off, it ain't so bad.

I think some of the problem may be that there was more concentration than proved to be necessary on some of these very big, but also in some ways more apolitical, if you will, problems -- massive famines, massive epidemics. We expected the possibility of the residue of large-scale use of chemicals, biological weapons, which would have contaminated large areas. There was a lot of focus on that, and those things all didn't happen. ...

The expectation that the occupation would be difficult, I think, was pretty widespread. There were a lot of people who believed that, including me, that it would take a long time. I remember we were talking about an occupation that would go on for years. The original plan was that the occupation would end sometime in, I don't know, 2005, the formal occupation. ...

If they expected that [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi would kind of come in and be, I don't know, Nelson Mandela, that clearly was wrong. On the other hand, I know for a fact that from the very beginning, Rumsfeld, who was supposedly the villain of the peace and all of this, Rumsfeld was saying, and Garner understood, "We've got to make sure that we're not relying too much on the exile; we've got to make sure that we reach out and get people who have been in country, who have credibility in country," because I would be surprised if even on the best of days Rumsfeld ... thought we can just turn it all over to Ahmad Chalabi and he can handle it for us.

I think there was a good deal of thinking about how do you deal with the very top-level construction of some kind of a national consultative council. Where I think the problem lay was not at the high level but at the working level, at the village, town, community level, where there was this implosion of authority. …

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john hamre
President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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…When you arrived, how did the reality compare with what you'd been worried about?

We knew security was going to be a problem, and we had forecasted [that] security was a problem. We have been studying every post-conflict reconstruction task since World War II. There have been 54 of them, and we studied each one in a great deal of detail. And there's one constant dimension, and that is the need to establish security early, a secure environment in the country. If you don't have that, nothing else works. ... The security problem was largely being defined by the military, who were responding to the continuing guerrilla activities of the former regime loyalists. And that was a problem; that was a security problem.

But it was only one of three security problems. Just as important was the basic criminality in the country. Saddam Hussein, before the war, opened up the prisons and released 100,000 criminals into Iraqi society, and they were just traveling openly and plundering and preying on society. That was a security problem that every Iraqi citizen felt deeply. They felt very vulnerable, but it wasn't registering on our screen as a security problem that we thought we had to worry about. ...

The third security problem, which we really didn't address, was to deal with the large black-market gangs that were operating and plundering the country. During the years of embargo, the Iraqi regime created large, sophisticated networks of black marketeers. That's how they generated cash. ... I remember being at the palace, and one morning for the staff meeting, a guy reported that someone had broken into the largest factory in Iraq during the day before and stolen all the generators and all the motors. And I thought to myself, well, that isn't two guys hauling off a refrigerator; this is organized. ... And of course, this is systematically dismantling the economy of Iraq. So we'd already had a huge unemployment problem, and it was getting worse every day because we weren't really focusing on this economic destruction that was going on.

Two of those three things are not counterinsurgency. This isn't a war; it's something else.

Right, exactly. And this is why the full composite of a federal government needs to be involved in reconstruction. I love DOD; they're my people. But when we go into a place, we think security is the guy that's shooting at us, for good reasons, but we don't tend to think about basic policing in the streets. ...

Okay, that's security. What were the other issues?

I think our soldiers were doing a terrific job at this part of it, this trying to rebuild civil society, but we didn't give them very many tools. We didn't support them well, and that's, I think, a challenge, a problem.

I was surprised at how poorly we communicated to both the Iraqi people and to ourselves. We haven't done a good job with public communication, and I'll give you an example. ... Saddam used to punish people by cutting off electricity for two or three days just to let them know he was mad at them. Well, when the electricity went out when we were there, usually produced by this economic sabotage more than anything else, the public interpreted it that we were punishing them ... because something bad had happened, and it reinforced their anger that they felt about Saddam, directed toward us. We never explained to them: "It isn't our fault that the electricity went out. Some jackass blew up a high-power wire in our tower and pulled it down. That's why you don't have electricity. And here's what we're doing to fix it." ...

You're not the only person who thought in advance that there were going to be some reconstruction issues and didn't feel anybody was paying attention. There was a State Department group that worked on it. Do you know anything about that?

The State Department did organize a series of working groups. ... I think because the interagency process wasn't working well, a lot of that wasn't used. And I think, again, they started with a very idealistic image of the war and what the after-war environment would be like. I think the dominant perspective was [that] these were smart people, oppressed people -- for 30 years they lived under the tyranny of a clique of ruthless men -- [and] that all you have to do is to remove that and the natural environment that will emerge is going to be a flowering, sophisticated, relatively liberal, open-progress environment. I think they were just quite convinced of that. And I think they did not understand how badly distorted the economy had become from 30 years of socialist mismanagement, how fragile the infrastructure had become after 20 years of underinvestment and 10 years of sanctions, how frightened and paranoid the society had become. ... They, for example, thought that they wouldn't have to spend much money on reconstruction because Iraq had the second largest potential oil reserves in the world. They were forecasting before the year was out that they'd be at prewar production levels on oil, and that within a year, there would be over five million barrels a day for export. Completely wrong, but again, it was in the idealism of their thinking that these are oppressed people just waiting to be freed and it's going to work out. That was the dominant view. And so with that perspective, when somebody walks in and talks about detailed planning for problems, they say, "Well, we're not going to have those problems, and we don't need to do that."

They did plan for problems that didn't occur. We planned for serious malnutrition issues during the war, and we stockpiled food. They planned for guerrilla skirmishing right away, and it didn't happen. ... But we didn't make preparations for the other part of the problems that did emerge, and we could have anticipated them. ...

There was a lot of talk about needing a couple hundred thousand extra guys for the back end, and famously, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz said, "That's ridiculous." Looking back on it, were a couple hundred thousand extra foot soldiers on the ground in Iraq the solution to the problem?

We really only dealt with the Saddam-loyalist problem well, and we had enough troops for that. If that's the only problem you really think you're going to have, we had enough troops. But to tackle the two other security problems, we needed more. …

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Douglas macgregor
(Col., U.S. Army-Ret).

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... You're talking about a country where the top priority has to be restoring power and creating order and solving joblessness. There is already too much joblessness, to the point where everybody in the nation was on the dole.

Well, we took it over, and one of the easy ways to end the jobless problem is to get all of these young men, all of whom had gone home with their RPGs and AKs, and rapidly reconstitute them in an army under their own officers. Would it have been a perfect solution? Probably not. But the whole solution in these kinds of operations, if you go back and look at the British or the French or anyone else who's operated in the Arab world for any length of time, is to rapidly back out, that is, with your own force; to move into the background and to push forward the local capabilities that are there; to work with the local people, the tribal sheiks, the clerical structures, to work with them and ultimately to pay them, to subsidize them, because they have no other means of support. Saddam Hussein was the only game in town. You had no choice but to take subsidies from him and do his bidding, or you would starve.

We had to fill that vacuum. And I think with the military, the Iraqi military, we could have easily done that. There were even members of the Republican Guard who were willing to work with us. And by throwing them out of work, absolutely rejecting them -- which didn't happen immediately; it took a month or two for this to take effect -- we essentially fed the insurgency which at the outset was very, very minor. And we recruited for the insurgency, subsequently, in a lot of other ways because we asked American soldiers to go into an environment they didn't understand.

None of us spends a great deal of time in the Islamic world. The cultural sensitivity isn't there; the understanding isn't there. And if you don't spend any time in that part of the world, there's a very, very unhealthy tendency to dismiss the people who live there as being something less than they are because they're different. They don't have the same standards of hygiene, the same standards of behavior that we adhere to. They can't. It's not their fault. That's the way the society is structured. But when you put American soldiers and Marines in that environment, it's very easy to start dehumanizing your potential adversary. It's also easy to see enemies in places where they aren't, to misinterpret behavior. We weren't prepared for any of that. That's why it was so critical to bring people in that country into the police and military very, very quickly. We can't police those places. ...

By September 2003, there's this amazing moment where the secretary flies over to Baghdad, and the press is saying: "What about this insurgency? Isn't this terrible? Isn't this a failure of the policy?" And he says, "We're painting orphanages; we're helping people."

Well, all of the Iraqis we had worked with said: "Number one: civil order and security. Number two: power restoration. Number three: jobs." They sang that particular song day in and day out for months. From the time that we even got close to the border with Iraq, they said, "Those are your top three priorities." If you address those early on; in other words, you arrive with a civil order, new rules of engagement, psy-ops teams driving down the street, speaking Arabic, saying: "Go back to your homes. Police, stay on duty. If you are seen on the streets and are carrying a weapon, you will be shot. If you loot or commit acts of criminality, you will be shot."

But for whatever reason, that didn't happen. The generals did not plan any of that. And I think that it might be useful to ask them why they didn't. But to say that they didn't because they weren't told to do it doesn't resonate strongly with me. ... If you look at counterinsurgencies, counterinsurgencies are successfully dealt with when you make it very clear that you are not there to conquer; you are not there to occupy. What you really want to do is create conditions of stability and order. To do that, you need the support of the population. That means that they need to look to their police; they need to look to their military. But you can provide the invincible fist that is behind them. ...

Ultimately, we ended [up] behaving, I'm afraid, a lot like the British soldiers in Ulster in the early 1970s, where they incarcerated thousands of Irish Catholics without trial, held them for long periods. And about the only thing that the British army managed to do in the early '70s when they intervened in Ulster was to recruit for the IRA [Irish Republican Army]. In the Arab world, you shoot one person, you've now alienated a hundred people in the man's family and tribe. If shoot several, if you injure several, if you incarcerate several, you run terrible risks of alienating large numbers of people. Now, some would argue we didn't have any choice. I'm not sure that's true. We were trying, we thought, to deal with an insurgency effectively, and I think what we did is make it worse. …

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paul van riper
(Lt. Gen., U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.).

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…Presumably before the war, somebody was saying: "What about the other end of this thing? What if they take to the streets? What about suicide bombers?"

There were many voices who spoke both openly in public testimony to the media, and I'm aware of many cases where they spoke privately to those in key positions in the administration and warned them that this could be the result. They were dismissed, some publicly, like Gen. Shinseki, when he said several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed, and Mr. Wolfowitz said, "I can't imagine you'd need any number like that." So there was this humiliation whenever you challenged. …

…I didn't see a plan unfolding that was a plan that would really fight a war, fight this campaign. I saw one that would take care of a single operation, the capture of Baghdad, the takedown of the Saddam regime. And the question is, all right, what are you going to do with the country after you have it? How are you going to get this thing under control? I saw no planning, heard of no planning worthy of the name for the aftermath of the fighting.

And I said to myself, because I look back at history, and even in 1943 when what the results were going to be in Europe was still in question, the United States had people planning for what happened after the military operations, the active forces passed through. They were talking about how you reestablish civil government. They were talking about how you deal with a people that are occupied. There's a rich body of literature that was written after the Second World War. I knew of no one inside the Pentagon even looking at that. All that work was being done over in the State Department, and the Pentagon was ignoring it, and in fact, when they were offered, simply just refused to even look at it.

So the statue of Saddam falls. What are you thinking?

I was thinking two things -- one, obviously proud that this happened. As a Marine, I was proud that the Marines were involved as they were, that they moved so quick and as well as they did. I was proud of the Army forces, proud of all the joint forces. In the back of my mind, though, I had two concerns. One is, what are you going to do with the rest of the country, the northern part of the country that you haven't gone to? What is it you're going to do with all these places you bypassed down south? Literally, what is your plan now that the regime has fallen? I didn't know of one.

I guess deep in my heart I hoped that there was some sort of a secret plan that they were going to follow. ... Just imagine if the follow-on and support forces that were in the original plans had been there, [if] divisions had simply gone around Baghdad and gone up into what we now know is the Sunni triangle; clamped down; let them see the hard heel of occupation, at least for a short period; get secured; prevent the looting; go into places in the South that were bypassed; get ahold of the weapons; get them under control; get into some of these places where there were alleged weapons of mass destruction, find out what was really there; prevent this radioactive material from escaping. That's the kind of forces you needed. No one can quibble over the right size force for capturing Baghdad. But for a war with the nation of Iraq and for actually occupying the country as we claimed we wanted to do, totally insufficient. This is literally Operations 101.

…It's September of '03, and Rumsfeld has gone with a press entourage to Baghdad. Did you know then that the insurgency was more than just a handful of people?

I don't think anyone truly knew what the scope of this was going to be after the active fighting ended in May of 2003, but we understood what Saddam claimed he was going to do; we understood the possibilities of what you could do. And not to be prepared for that, even if you didn't know what was going to happen, to be prepared for all of the eventualities, is what I'm critical of.

Why would the secretary of defense not say: "We've got this problem here. We're going to go get it"?

I think to a degree, he's stubborn. Being stubborn, holding to your convictions, is good to a point, but when the evidence around you indicates your position is not tenable, then you ought to start to adapt to the situation. It got well beyond where it was tenable, and he was still holding the position. …

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joseph p. hoar
(Gen., U.S. Marine Corps-Ret), Commander, CENTCOM (1991-1994).

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…With Desert Storm …..I never once, in all the conversations that took place between August and February, heard a discussion about war termination. What were the terms of ending the war? What kind of requirements were we going to impose on the Iraqis after we had thrown them out of Kuwait? Because you remember, the military mission was beautifully defined: Liberate Kuwait. That doesn't give you either peace or stability; it just gives you a liberated Kuwait. And I guess I'm as guilty as everybody else. I might have raised my hand in a meeting and said, "What are we going to do after we throw them out?" I never heard anybody talk about this.

This has weird and faint echoes into the future [Iraq] doesn't it, that we're not thinking about the aftermath of these things?

It's the human condition that we do the things we understand best. So the military planned for the military mission of liberating Kuwait. The State Department or somebody else should have been thinking, what are we going to do after we do this? We've got a bad guy, a thug, that runs that country. We used to help him, you'll recall, during the war with Iraq and Iran. But now he was a bad guy, bona fide bad guy. What are we going to do? How are we going to change the relationship here? ...

The interesting thing from my point of view was that President Bush had said, "I had been told that if we decisively beat the Iraqis in Kuwait that Saddam Hussein would throw in the towel and leave, that he'd abdicate." And I often thought that didn't square with my knowledge of that part of the world; that people gave up office usually after they'd been hung up at the end of a rope. ... Some years later, a distinguished admiral who I knew, who's since passed on, said that he had been in the White House when this discussion had come up, and he said that the president had indicated that Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, had told him that Saddam Hussein wouldn't stay if the forces were defeated.

Now, I can't speculate on why Mr. Mubarak said that, but the Egyptians have a very different agenda in that part of the world than in the United States, and so it would seem to me that in this instance, that kind of information might not be very reliable if you were getting it from the head of state of Egypt. …

General, let's talk about the war plan. One fellow we talked to said, "We could have gone in there with 50,000 or less, decapitated the regime; it would have been over in nothing flat." The reason I'm quoting him is this is what the secretary of defense read and said, "Send this guy down to CENTCOM to talk to the other generals sitting around the table." That was in January of 2002. What do you think Gen. [Tommy] Franks' answer to that was, and what do you think of the idea?

I know what my answer would have been. I can't say it on public television. You can't get there from here. This is a labor-intensive business. If you're going to go in and change a country of 25 million people, you've got to have boots on the ground. The way you minimize casualties is you fight aggressively and with overwhelming strength. And so when you start up the road to Baghdad, you've got to have enough guys to protect your supply lines so hapless guys driving tanker trucks and supply trucks don't get shot and get captured. When you get into the big city, you have enough people to flood that city, that city that's second only in size to New York City in terms of how big it is. It's 6.5 million people.

50,000 people -- where would they go in Baghdad? What would they secure? Even if they were successful, how would you manage all of that? What would be the next step? I think it's absolutely impractical. And 50,000 people would have meant more casualties, because there would have been more of them caught on the roads. There would have been more of them that would have been killed in these small firefights around the city. It's just not workable.

Why would this be attractive to the secretary of defense?

There is this thread that moves through the Defense Department regardless of who's in charge, whether it's Democrats or Republicans ... that technology will take care of all of this. The more technology you have, the fewer guys you need on the ground. That's true for some missions, but it's not true when you're about to undertake a counterinsurgency campaign in a country of 25 million people. And the idea that they were going to dance in the street and welcome us when we got to Baghdad was just wrong. The last time they danced in the street in Baghdad was 9/11. Don't count on it.

Why did they count on it?

Because guys like [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi told them what they wanted to hear. This guy has been a fraud since the early '90s, and all of us have known that and spoken out publicly against him. But he told these guys what they wanted to hear: "It'll be easy. We'll take over the country. When I'm running the country, we'll recognize Israel. We'll reconstitute the pipeline to Haifa. It hasn't been in working order since 1948" -- all of the kinds of stories that these guys wanted to hear. …

At the same time that the war plan is finally evolved and guys are getting to the ground, you would think there's also a reconstruction plan.

I think that because it's essentially a political process, the principal person in the U.S. government to manage this should have been the secretary of state, not the secretary of defense. So decisions about military activity should have been cleared by this senior guy in the country who would have been described, I think, as the presidential special envoy to Iraq. And so it isn't that the military couldn't do what it wanted to do. ... It would have been a cooperative process. But the person that reported back would report primarily to the secretary of state and the secretary of state to the president, in my judgment.

That didn't happen. Why?

Because the president chose to have the Defense Department do this work and be preeminent, to be the agency that had the primary responsibility for the reconstruction.

Once that decision is made, what are the implications?

Well, I think there's a couple problems. First of all, [former Director of Operations in Somalia, Gen.] Tony Zinni, when he was at CENTCOM, had started to think about this and had a plan. Nobody ever asked to see it. Nobody ever looked at it. I'm told that the Army War College up at Carlisle in Pennsylvania put together a plan for the reconstruction. Nobody ever asked to look at it. ...

Now, the developmental piece has been equally screwed up. As you know, there was $18 billion authorized and appropriated for the rebuilding of Iraq. Only $600 million has been spent today. The fiscal year is about ready to end, and a very small portion of that money has been spent thus far. Clearly we're not doing very well on the developmental side either. I don't know why. But clearly the wrong people are out there trying to do the job.

The State Department did have a team, 60 or 70 people, who wrote a plan for what to do. The State Department people get moved over to the Defense Department, and then Rumsfeld tells all of them fairly quickly they've got to get out of the building before sunset. He doesn't like the idea of having the State Department people in the building. What is going on?

Well, I'm not encumbered with any firsthand knowledge, but I would say that this is the problem that you have when you're dealing with true believers. One thing that I have learned as a senior commander is, if you already know the answer to the questions, [and] you can be sure if you've already made it clear what the answers are, people are going to feed you back that information. That's the nature of the ways things are done in the military. Rare occasions you'll get guys who say, "Hey, General, your fly's open," or "You've got it wrong," but not many.

What does it mean to the uniformed services to have all this happen?

This is a very tough issue. Eliot Cohen wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week saying generals shouldn't be getting involved in the politics, that they're generals and they weaken the resolve, and this is the issue of supporting the troops. Attacking the political leadership and supporting the troops are two very different things, in my judgment. But if you're on the ground and you're a commander, you have got to put whatever personal views you have about the war aside and meet your day-to-day commitments. And I believe that. We can't just fold up and get away. The second- and third-order consequences of failure in Iraq are enormous. We would have another theocratic state in Iraq. We would destabilize, potentially, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, all of those countries.

But the sure way, in my judgment, of getting that kind of a state is continually trying to influence the outcome. Sooner or later you're going to make these people so angry that the dominant force in this country, which is Shia Islam, is going to wind up running the country.

When did you know that it was a serious insurgency?

I've never heard Mr. Cheney characterize any of our opposition in Iraq as anything but terrorists, and that's pretty big spin in my judgment. Many of these people are people that have no work because of either their political connections or their service in the army before. They've been badly treated by the U.S. military for whatever reason, justified or not. To say that some of these people don't have legitimate reasons for wanting to see the United States out of there is to not understand the problem.

I don't doubt that there are foreign terrorists there, but their numbers seem to be relatively small. I saw a figure that there were 12,000 detainees in Iraq that were held by the U.S. armed forces there, of whom 92 were foreign-born. Now, if you extrapolate that figure to our opposition countrywide, it would seem to me that the number of foreign people is relatively small. The guys that we're having so much trouble with -- whatever their motivations, there is certainly a nationalist overtone. I don't think you could fairly describe them as terrorists. You'd have to talk about them as insurgents. …

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thomas white
(Gen., U.S. Army-Ret.), Secretary of the Army, 2001-2003.

…Face-forward planning: What happened?

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The working assumptions were that the Iraqi people would behave themselves. There will be a few dead-enders and former Baathists that will have to be dealt with, but by and large, they assumed away the problem. ... Now, mind you, Gen. Rick Shinseki was the only guy in the whole senior structure who had actually had hands-on, on-the-ground experience in running a stabilization force. In his case, it was Bosnia. So you would think that his views on the subject would have carried some weight, and unfortunately, they did not.

Wolfowitz says to a congressional committee that he can't conceive of a situation where the forces required for the stabilization phase would be greater than the forces required for the military operation. All of us in the Army felt just the opposite, that there was a long history of that being absolutely true; that the defeat of the Iraqi military would be a relatively straightforward operation of fairly short duration for all the reasons Doug Macgregor had to say. That was all true. ... But the securing of the peace and the security of a country of 25 million people spread out over an enormous geographic area would be a tremendous challenge that would take a lot of people, a lot of labor, to be done right. And nobody wanted to hear that. And we are dealing with the consequences of that to this day.

What I don't understand is how a guy like Don Rumsfeld, who you've described as micromanager, down in the muck, wanting to know everything, can let the "winning the peace" side of the equation go.

A part of it was that we had had this operation in Afghanistan, and in the post-combat phase, the difficulties never bubbled up to significant levels. So there was kind of this mind-set, and also that the postwar deal is kind of a lower form of life; it's kind of a necessary evil. But they've got Chalabi and all these other guys who are blowing in their ear that this will not be a problem. ... To do that portion of the operation justice, you probably would have had to slow down the military operation itself, because you'd have to convince yourself you would be ready to do a phase four of that magnitude. It would have slowed down the whole thing because you would have needed to have the additional forces in place. An enormous amount of planning would have had to go on, and none of it went on. It was easier just to keep on the short track of the logic of the war: the imminent threat to the United States. Therefore we have to attack quickly, and oh, by the way, we'll just kind of bumble along when the war's over, and hopefully it will turn out okay. And it didn't.

In the planning phase, or lack-of-planning phase, there has been State Department activity.

Lots of people, lots of smart people, experienced people in that region. But that is an issue -- that means if we take in their views and their thought and ideas, apparently we have to give up control of this thing. And the Defense Department is going to exercise rigid control over this whole operation, and therefore none of those people, some of whom Jay Garner apparently wanted to hire, are deemed to be acceptable. And so we just exclude that.

Maybe some of it didn't track to this party line. The Iraqi planning group got into the details of currencies and markets and all of these things that would be necessary to consider to get the country back on its feet and moving. Secretary Wolfowitz goes in front of a congressional committee and says, "Well, the Iraqi oil revenues will pay for all of this, basically." We're $200 billion into this thing now, and the Iraqi oil, when it flows, is not paying for very much of it.

Is that idealistic or ideological?

I think it's ideological. I think he is a true believer in the neocon agenda, and that colors the way he looks at this. This business of the way to deal with the Islamic issue of fundamentalism is to make the world democratic or make it look like us, and therefore planting our flag in the middle of the Arab world and making Iraq a showplace for democracy is the right thing to do regardless of what the cost is. And I think he truly believes that.

When Gen. Shinseki testifies, he's uncomfortable answering the question, "What's the number? How many do we need?" He doesn't want to answer it, and then he kind of does a math problem, and then he answers it. I think it's two days later Wolfowitz comes in.

Oh, yeah. First of all, it's the Senate Armed Services Committee, and it's Sen. Carl Levin. And Levin wants a number, which is not an unreasonable thing for Sen. Levin to be asking for -- "What's going to happen when the war's over? How many people?" -- right? That's a reasonable question to ask.

And so Shinseki tells him, "Maybe as many as 200,000," or some words to that effect. But the number 200,000 was out there. I thought that was perfectly reasonable. So the next morning, I get a call from Wolfowitz, who is upset that Shinseki would give this number. And I forget exactly what I said, but I said: "Well, he's an expert. He was asked. He has a fundamental responsibility to answer the questions and offer his professional opinion, which he did. And there was some basis to the opinion because he is a relative expert on the subject ."... They go public shortly thereafter to discredit Shinseki. And [Wolfowitz] says "wildly off the mark," and he gives this little speech about he "couldn't conceive of how you would have a case where it takes more people to secure the peace than it does to win the war." Well, you can look over the past 50 years in stability operations, and it's quite clear that that's precisely how the equation normally comes out, that Shinseki has a basis for this view. And Rumsfeld says something about it as well at the time.

So they discredit Shinseki. Then a week later, I get in front of the same committee. I see Sen. Levin before the hearing starts, and he says, "I'm going to ask you the same question." I said: "Good. You're going to get the same answer."

At that point, Shinseki and White are not on the team, right? We don't get it. We don't understand this thing, and we are not on the team. And therefore, actions are going to be taken.

And the implications for you personally were what?

That would have been April. And on the 26th of April, I was called in late on a Friday afternoon and told by Rumsfeld, with Wolfowitz standing there, that I was going to be replaced. And that was it. ... I said something to the effect of "Well, thank you very much." I consider the fact that I was secretary for two years to be an honor, and the chance to serve in the president's administration and to represent soldiers and their families. And the secretary is free to fire me anytime he wants. And if our positions were reversed, I would have fired him. …

The Army had been kind of getting out of the business of training for counterinsurgency, and now, of course, it seems to be job one.

Well, you'll recall when the administration came to office, the view was we've gotten too much into this nation-building stuff. And so we were looking seriously at how to reduce the commitment in the Balkans and those types of things, which I think were all appropriate things for us to be concerned with. And we were focusing our national training centers -- the one at [Fort] Polk [in Louisiana] and the one at [Fort] Irwin [in California] and the one in Hohenfels in Germany -- on complex situations, but mainly with combat-related tasks against a very disparate style of enemy, not just the Soviets reincarnate but lower-end-of-the-spectrum types of things. But we were not going to be in the stabilization business once we extricated ourselves from Bosnia.

And of course, you see, it really creates a conflict. On the one hand, you want to transform an Army using information technology and so forth that would cause you to be more labor-efficient, less labor-intensive. The Army's the most labor-intensive of all the services. And that would permit you to do more with a smaller force eventually. So you have that trend on the one side. On the other side, you have this trend towards stability operations in Iraq on a very large scale, which by definition are labor-intensive, take enormous numbers of boots on the ground to do these things right. So the Army's caught in the middle going in both directions. …

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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