If only we knew then what we know now

Early in the morning of February 2, the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released Hard Lessons, a summary of all that has gone wrong in postwar Iraq. Hard Lessons may be the single most dismaying state paper released by an American official in the post-Vietnam era.

David Frum, Neocon and former speech writer to President Bush, is serializing snippets of the Inspector General’s report on his blog.

This is a document that reflects incredibly poorly on just about every Iraq war decision maker, and it is all the more depressing for being so vividly – pungently – written. This is our most authoritative and most detailed single volume on what went wrong in Iraq.

Six years, four thousand lives and hundreds of billions of dollars later, we seem at last to have stabilized Iraq. This weekend’s elections occurred peacefully, and the US goal of an Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors or its people now looks within reach. Yet we all have to be haunted by the question: Did it have to take so long and cost so much?

Frum’s (and the report’s) analysis is brutally honest and, probably like many who criticized the whole misbegotten exercise from the beginning, I am torn between deeply grateful for his honesty and cursing him for waiting until his honesty made no difference.

All the interagency Iraq planning groups worked in secret. Few knew the others existed. Officials justified the extreme secrecy on the grounds that ongoing diplomatic negotiations would be undercut if Saddam knew that postwar planning was well underway. (64)

A commenter wonders

how this rehash of the past by bureaucrats and biased journalists fits with a plan to restore a conservative majority?

Presumably the unbiased journalists would have stopped reporting after we won?

In Part 2, Frum talks about the poor planning.

Garner laid out four rebuilding scenarios for Rumsfeld, from “do what absolutely needs to be done and no more” to “redo the whole country of Iraq.”
“What do you think that’ll cost?” Rumsfeld asked.
“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Garner said.
“My friend,” Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.” (80)

Part 3 covers the mission accomplished period.

Two weeks had passed since Saddam’s regime had fallen. Outside the gates of the Republican Palace where ORHA was trying to set up shop, anarchy reigned. “We found the city in utter chaos,” said Richard Miller, one of six police advisors sent by the Justice Department. In some places, “corpses littered the streets, AK-47 fire was near constant, and looters operated with impunity.” Many government buildings had been destroyed.

If I recall correctly, that was about the peak of the liberal media only report the bad stuff era.

Result: While Bremer was settling in for a long occupation of Iraq, Franks was accelerating plans for troop withdrawals – first canceling a planned reinforcement of 50,000 post-conflict troops, then planning for a reduction to fewer than 30,000 US troops by the end of August 2003.

In part 4, we are reminded of how

The Iraq war was supposed to pay for itself, as the Gulf War had done a dozen years before. Instead, since 2003, Iraq has become the largest single-nation recipient of US international assistance in history.

As late as 2004 they were still celebrating their fantastic successes.

In a hastily arranged ceremony, the CPA folded its tent in the Green Zone on June 28, 2004, returning sovereignty to Iraq two days ahead of schedule. As its senior officials departed, the CPA issued a glowing report card on itself titled, “An Historic Review of CPA Accomplishments. Ambassador Bremer compared the reconstruction of Iraq to the Marshall Plan, and the CPA’s self-assessment ended with a list of achievements purporting to show that the CPA had done more in a shorter period of time in Iraq than the United States had accomplished nearly six decades earlier in postwar Germany. For example, Bremer noted, the CPA had created an independent central bank in two months; Germany did not have one for three years. Iraq became independent after one year; German sovereignty did not come for a decade. The CPA had “trained a new military” in three months; in Germany it took ten years. The CPA put together a reconstruction program in just four months; the Marshall Plan was designed over three years.

But, as we all knew then and as officialdom finally concedes now

The CPA’s self-assessment missed the mark. The Iraq it left behind was in a perilous state…

Iraq had slipped into the grip of a fierce insurgency, more U.S. troops were dying almost every day, and the occupation had soured many Iraqis on the continuing U.S. presence in their country.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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