Monday, July 04, 2005

Mistakes re-visited, a Hawk's Perspective

Tony Cordesman, Reality-Based Hawk
Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar and analyst, Tony Cordesman, recently completed a paper, Iraq's Evolving Insurgency, which is essentially a first few chapters/rough draft for a book to be published this fall. The mistakes he chronicles are quite similar to the ones that those of us who opposed the war cite.
His verdict first, followed by the evidence:

"It is perfectly true that foresight is far harder than "20-20 hindsight." Many, if not most, of these problems were, however, brought to the attention of the President, National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense, and intelligence community in the summer and fall of 2002, and in Interagency forums. No one accurately prophesized all of the future, but many inside and outside government warned what it might be. The problem was not that the system did not work in providing many key elements of an accurate assessment, it was that the most senior political and military decision makers ignored what they felt was negative advice out of a combination of sincere belief, ideological conviction, and political and bureaucratic convenience."

{ed note: This is what happens when you run a war like you ran Arbusto and Harken and there's no Harvard endowment fund to bail you out. Or, more to the point, it's running the war in the same cynical, insular, unilateral, "fuck-you", Mayberry-Machivellian, fashion in which the Bushies do EVERYTHING!}

• A failure to accurately assess the nature of Iraqi nationalism, the true level of culture differences, and the scale of Iraq problems. This failure of strategic assessment included the failure to see the scale of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian differences, its economic weaknesses and problems, the difficulty of modernizing an infrastructure sized more to 16-17 million than the current population of 25-26 million, unrealistic estimates of "oil wealth," the probable hardcore support for the former regime in Sunni areas, secular versus theocratic tensions, the impact of tribalism, the impact of demographics in a society so young and with so many employment problems, and a host of other real-world problems that became US and Coalition problems the moment Coalition forces crossed the border.

• The failure to plan and execute effective broader information operations before, during and after the invasion to win the "hearts and minds of Iraqis," persuade them that the Coalition came a liberators that would leave rather than occupiers who would stay and exploit Iraq, and that the Coalition would provide aid and support to an truly independent government and state. A secondary failure to anticipate and defuse the flood of conspiracy theories certain to follow Coalition military action.

• The failure to plan and execute efforts to maintain the process of governance at the local, provincial, and central level; to anticipate the risk the structure of government would collapse and the risk of looting, and to create a plan for restructuring the
military, police, and security forces -- all of which needed to be proclaimed and publicized before, during, and immediately after the initial invasion to win the support of Iraqi officials and officers who were not linked to active support of Saddam Hussein and past abuses, and to preserving the core of governance that could lead to the rapid creation of both a legitimate government and security.

• Broad failures by what a leading officer involved in planning operations in Iraq by "quiescent US military and Intelligence community leaders who observed the distortion/cherry picking of data that lead to erroneous conclusions and poor planning," but failed to press their case or force the issue.

• Over-reliance on exile groups with limited credibility and influence in Iraq.

• Miscalculations about UN support, NATO & coalitions, and transit through Turkey.

• Failing to the provided the personnel and skills necessary to secure Iraqi rear areas and urban areas as the Coalition advanced, and to prevent the massive looting of
government offices and facilities, military bases, and arms depots as the during and after the fighting: A process that effectively destroyed the existing structure of governance and security without making any initial effort to replace it.

• The creation of a small cadre of civilians and military in the Office of Reconstruction and Assistance, many initially recruited for only three month tours, that was charged with a largely perfunctory nation building task, given negligible human and financial resources, not allowed meaningful liaison with regional powers, and not integrated with the military command.

• Replacing ORHA after the fall of Saddam Hussein with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and then suddenly improvising a vast nation building and stability effort, recruiting and funding such an operation with little time for planning, and then attempting to carry out the resulting mission along heavily ideological lines that attempt to impose American methods and values on Iraq.

• Placing the CPA and US commands in separate areas, creating large, secure zones that isolated the US effort from Iraqis, and carrying out only limited coordination with other Coalition allies.

• Staffing the CPA largely with people recruited for short tours, and often chosen on the basis of political and ideological vetting, rather than experience and competence.

• A failure not only to anticipate the threat of insurgency and outside extremist infiltration, in spite of significant intelligence warning, but to deploy elements of US forces capable of dealing with counterinsurgency, civil-military operations, and nation building as US forces advanced and in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the regime. Creating regional commands based on administrative convenience, rather than need, and leaving most of the initial tasks of stability operations and nation building up to improvisation by individual local commanders who had minimal or no expert civilian support.

• This failure was compounded by a lack of language and area skills and training on the part of most US military forces, and intelligence capabilities designed to provide the human intelligence (HUMINT), technical collection, analytic capabilities, and "fusion" centers necessary for stability, counterterrorist and counterinsurgency operations.

• Planning for premature US military withdrawals from Iraq before the situation was clear or secure, with major reductions initially planned to begin some three months after the fall of Saddam’s regime, rather than planning, training, and equipping for a sustained period of stability operations.

• Failure to anticipate and prepare for Iraqi expectations after the collapse of Saddam’s regime, and for the fact that many Iraqis would oppose the invasion and see any sustained US and coalition presence as a hostile occupation.

• A failure to react to the wartime collapse of Iraqi military, security, and police forces and focus immediately on creating effective Iraqi forces – a failure that placed a major and avoidable burden on US and other coalition forces and compounded the Iraqi feeling that Iraqi had been occupied by hostile forces.

• A failure to honestly assess the nature and size of the Iraqi insurgency as it grew and became steadily more dangerous.

• The failure to provide, or even have available, anything like the civilian elements in the US government, necessary for nation building and stability operations. These problems were particular serious in the State Department and other civilian agencies, and much of the civilian capability the US did have was not recruited or willing to take risks in the field.

• Then creating an occupation authority that planned for several years of occupation, as if a US-led coalition could improves it own values and judgments about the Iraqi people, politics, economy, and social structure for a period of some three years – rather than expedite the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraq as quickly as possible. The record is mixed, but the CPA only seems to have decided to expedite the transfer of sovereignty in October 2003, after the insurgency had already become serious, and its choice of June 2004 for doing so was largely arbitrary. Even then, it failed to make its plans sufficiently convincing to much of the Iraqi people.