TCS Daily

A Defense of Planning

By James K. Glassman - February 5, 2004 12:00 AM

One of the three great mysteries of the Iraq war has been cleared up. What happened to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? They were never there in the first place.

But, despite the crowing by Democrats over the conclusions of inspector David Kay, President Bush is innocent of lies and distortions. The CIA said Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and that nuclear ones were around the corner. Bush believed what the spies told him, just as President Clinton did earlier. "We were all wrong," Kay told Senators recently.

The second great mystery remains. Why didn't the Administration plan better for the aftermath? The answer finds the President and the Secretary of Defense far more culpable.

We did plan. Meticuloulsy. But the plans were largely ignored. James Fallows writes in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly that all the key post-war issues were "the subject of extensive pre-war discussion and analysis." Occupying, not defeating, Iraq was known to "be the central reality of the undertaking."

The military, the State Department and the CIA understood "that a breakdown in public order can jeopardize every other goal; that the ambition of patiently nurturing a new democracy is at odds with the desire to turn control over the Iraqis quickly and get U.S. troops out; that the Sunni center of the country is the main security problem; that with each passing day Americans risk being seen less as liberators and more as occupiers, and targets."

And, as the thousands of pages of the government's Future of Iraq project show, the planners had good strategies and tactics for handling these thorny problems.

But the Administration largely ignored the plans. This is a condemnation more profound than Kay's. With WMD, the President and his advisors got bad intelligence and, in good faith, acted on it. The result was the overthrow of a brutal dictator -- a result aimed at making the world safer.

But there is no excuse for the bloody mess since the war ended, and it is time to stop pretending that so much chaos and death were inevitable. Last April, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked why U.S. soldiers were not stopping the looting. He replied, "Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." Sorry, but that won't do.

Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said it was "hard to imagine" that it would take more troops to stabilize Iraq than to win the war.

To the contrary, it was easily imagined. If we had followed the planners' advice and put enough U.S. troops on the ground and kept the Iraqi army intact, we could have made the country secure. We could have saved lives and, by now, moved Iraq toward democracy and prosperity. Instead, says Fallows, the Administration proceeded "in blithe indifference to the warnings of nearly everyone with operational experience in modern military occupations."

At this point, my friends and colleagues on the right are probably screaming, "What's gotten into Glassman? He falls for Fallows!" Yes, Fallows wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter, but in this case, I have three words for my pals: Read the article. If you've got a half-open mind, you'll be deeply disturbed.

In an article in Commentary, Victor Davis Hanson, whom I respect, wrote, "It is a genuine cause of lament that many American lives have been lost in what should have been an uncontested peace.... But let us begin by putting the matter in perspective. The reconstruction of Iraq is proceeding well: electrical power, oil production," etc., etc.

No, let's instead tell the truth about the Emperor's New Clothes. Things are not proceeding well -- because the Administration willfully ignored its own planning. Why?

That's the third great Iraq mystery, and there is no good answer. Fallows suggests a kind of hubris similar to that of the Vietnam War architects in David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest."

Supporters of the war (me, included) have been hewing to the Administration's story that everything's just fine. It's not. Voters may be willing to forgive post-war foul-ups, but they won't be treated like fools, and the stonewalling could cost Republicans the election. The solution: find another David Kay to tell the truth about what went wrong. Then, assign the blame, fire the responsible and learn the lessons.


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