Opinion

Not just generals are to blame for Iraq

Here is as clear and dispiriting an indictment of military planning for the Iraq war as it is possible to make: “The transition to a new campaign was not well thought out, planned for, and prepared for before it began.”

That's the conclusion of military historians Donald Wright and Col. Timothy Reese, authors of a 696-page report titled “On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign.” It is the army's historical account of the 18 months following President George W. Bush's May 2003 declaration that major combat in Iraq was over.

Military leaders and civilian officials were focused on battlefield triumph and ousting Saddam Hussein, and they paid too little attention to what would follow, according to the unclassified report.

In addition, the report said, “the assumptions about the nature of post-Saddam Iraq on which the transition was planned proved to be largely incorrect.”

The army's Contemporary Operations Study Team, along with the report authors, put the blame on the army, saying it “should have insisted on better Phase IV planning and preparations through its voice on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

In fact, much of the blame should go higher up: to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush, the civilians who oversee the armed forces. Mr. Rumsfeld heard the concerns expressed in the report; he just didn't heed them.

Seldom have our nation's leaders been so blinded by the view through their rose-colored glasses. Rarely have the results been so costly in lives, dollars and our nation's reputation.

Among the critical mistakes:

About 150,000 U.S. and allied troops were in Iraq after the invasion, at a time when war planners were assuming that Iraq's government would remain functional after Saddam's ouster and that there would be no mass insurgency. “These factors were in line with prewar planning for a quick turnover of power to Iraqis and a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces, leaving Iraqis to determine their own political future – options that proved impossible to execute,” the historians wrote.

The lack of detailed plans for the postwar phase reflected the optimism in the White House and the Pentagon about Iraq's future. Col. Kevin Benson, a planner at the land war command, had developed a plan that called for using about 300,000 soldiers to secure postwar Iraq, about twice as many as were deployed. His superiors didn't want it.

The Army switched command teams during a critical period early in the occupation. It took months to get the new headquarters up and running effectively. When Gen. Jack Keane, the vice chief of staff of the Army, learned of the move, he voiced his concern to Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of Central Command. “I said, ‘Jesus Christ, John, this is a recipe for disaster,'” Gen. Keane told Army historians.

So it was. The generals do have a lot to answer for. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush have even more.

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