Yesterday, the Bush administration awoke from its long slumber and noticed that chaos overran Iraq plan in ’06, Bush team says. The Times story barely requires commentary:
President Bush began 2006 assuring the country that he had a “strategy for victory in Iraq.” He ended the year closeted with his war cabinet on his ranch trying to devise a new strategy, because the existing one had collapsed.
The original plan, championed by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Baghdad, and backed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, called for turning over responsibility for security to the Iraqis, shrinking the number of American bases and beginning the gradual withdrawal of American troops. But the plan collided with Iraq’s ferocious unraveling, which took most of Mr. Bush’s war council by surprise.
It did not, however, take anyone else by surprise. Everyone else knew that this invasion and occupation would require, in the words of General Shinseki, “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers,” and that sending in a third as many forces would leave us unable to maintain stability. The idea that an increase of 20,000 troops is supposed to fix everything now is as absurd as suggesting that no one expected chaos in Iraq. That was, in fact, the major non-pacifist critique of the invasion.
In interviews in Washington and Baghdad, senior officials said the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department had also failed to take seriously warnings, including some from its own ambassador in Baghdad, that sectarian violence could rip the country apart and turn Mr. Bush’s promise to “clear, hold and build” Iraqi neighborhoods and towns into an empty slogan.
An empty slogan from this president? I refuse to believe it.
This left the president and his advisers constantly lagging a step or two behind events on the ground.
This president lagging behind events on the ground? Again, I cannot believe it. Sure, he dropped the ball on Katrina, and thought that showing up at campaign rallies on the eve of the last election would bolster his candidates, but those are just minor misreadings of the meteorological evidence and every poll being conducted.
“We could not clear and hold,” Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, acknowledged in a recent interview, in a frank admission of how American strategy had crumbled. “Iraqi forces were not able to hold neighborhoods, and the effort to build did not show up. The sectarian violence continued to mount, so we did not make the progress on security we had hoped. We did not bring the moderate Sunnis off the fence, as we had hoped. The Shia lost patience, and began to see the militias as their protectors.”
In what sense can an “effort to build” be said to “show up.” The builders have to show up, and under the circumstances, aren’t we supposed to be those builders? The final bit of Hadley’s comment suggests that our failure to provide security is somehow separate from the Iraqi people’s reliance on militias for safety. This is a bad idea.
It’s also worth mentioning the classic military aphorism here: “Hope is not a plan.” How much reliance does Hadley place on his hopes in the planning for Iraq?
Over the past 12 months, as optimism collided with reality, Mr. Bush increasingly found himself uneasy with General Casey’s strategy. And now, as the image of Saddam Hussein at the gallows recedes, Mr. Bush seems all but certain not only to reverse the strategy that General Casey championed, but also to accelerate the general’s departure from Iraq, according to senior military officials.
November 19, 2003: “I’m saying I’m going to listen to the generals who say, Mr. President, we’ve got — we need more, we need less, we’ve got exactly the right number. They will tell me the number.”
October 25, 2006: “I will send more troops to Iraq if General Casey says, I need more troops in Iraq to achieve victory. And that’s the way I’ve been running this war. I have great faith in General Casey. … I trust our commanders on the ground to give the best advice about how to achieve victory.”
January 2, 2006: I’ll fire any generals who don’t give me the right numbers.
…as Baghdad spun further out of control, some of the president’s advisers now say, Mr. Bush grew concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory.
And wouldn’t that be a shame.