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October 19, 2004


Brad DeLong

I spent part of yesterday hanging out with ex-Asst. Sec. Def. Joe Nye. I asked him a question: "I can understand why Rumsfeld might think it was a good idea to show that we can take Iraq with three divisions (even if the 101st Airmobile winds up being used as LOC troops, and we only have two maneuver brigades at the front at the end)--it shows that we could take Syria with one division, and Iran with five. I can even understand why Rumsfeld might think it was a good idea to take Iraq--Saddam Hussein, after all, did sponsor terrorism against Israel, and it might be good to teach governments that after 911 sponsoring terrorism--even if it is not against us but only against our allies--is a really bad idea. But what I do not understand is why they went into Iraq without a contingency plan, without 150,000 Arabic-speaking military police ready to follow on to maintain order. Why?"


And the good professor will now supply the names of the various Arab speaking countries supplying said 150,000 military police? The name of Arab speaking countries that have a spare 150,000 military police? The name of Arab speaking countries that wish and hope and pray that regime change and democracy proceeds apace in Iraq? So such countries can be next to be involved in regime change? The assumption seems to be that such a list of countries exists. Can you share it with the rest of us?

Did Mr. Nye provide an answer to the good professor's question?

Paul Craddick

Rich Lowry of Natl. Review recently penned a thoughtful piece, "What Went Wrong?," which endeavors to address many of the vogue criticisms of post-war conduct.

I don't pretend to have followed the nuances of the debate closely enough to have an opinion about how decisive Lowry's points are, but so far as "contingency" goes ... the invasion itself entailed responsive, contingent action: thanks to Turkey, the 4th Infantry division was prevented from invading from the north. Thus it would take longer to get more troops into the theater.

Lowry asserts that having the lighter invasion force actually made for a quicker initial victory (an element of surprise, greater mobility), but led to problems later on. A strength of his exposition is that he repeatedly adverts to a fundamental aspect of prudential decision-making - every choice is made in an atmosphere of imperfect knowledge, and inevitably entails both benefits and hazards. The chaos and large scale of war tend to amplify both (as, mark well, does poor Intelligence, vis-a-vis the hazards). A critic might say that this is just clever excuse-making.

So far as maintaining civil order goes, Lowry argues that it's questionable that more troops, per se, would have been sufficient to control looting (and, recall, Saddam emptied the prisons early on). A decision was apparently made that decisive approaches to crowd-control - e.g., shooting those caught in the act - would go against the spirit of "liberation."

At least some of the subsequent difficulties faced in the country - cities like Fallujah and Samarra becoming redoubts of insurgents and terrorists - were begotten of the inertia of unfolding events, as ad hoc measures were stitched together to deal with the emergent facts. It's important not to forget the extent to which mollification of the interim political players in the post-Saddam Iraq has conditioned policy.

Which leads back to the points implicit in TM's questions. Things have been done wrong, ill-advised decisions have been taken - how can that not be the case? Granted that, how does one distinguish between blameworthy decisions and regrettable but "understandable" ones? "It's all in the planning," retorts the critic. Well, since a detailed contingency plan for every conceivable ill turn of events is itself inconceivable, according to what criteria do we distinguish between that for which planning was/would have been/should have been rationally undertaken, and that which represented a merely remote possibility? And sometimes "all bets are off" - in such cases is the gambler always culpable?

In light of the "epistemological" difficulties, I am surprised at the vehemence with which some commentators adopt the pose of sagacious judges of military strategies and tactics. Or maybe I'm not.


But what I do not understand is why they went into Iraq without a contingency plan, without 150,000 Arabic-speaking military police ready to follow on to maintain order. Why?"

A more important question, why does Joe Nye “hang out” with such naive people? One hundred and fifty thousand Arabic–speaking military police can only be procured from Arab countries, countries that mostly did not support the war. Arab police duties are to support the local dictator, terrorize fellow citizens, shake down merchants, suppress free speech, take bribes and basically be the local mafia with uniforms.


Where would these 150K or so Arabic-speaking forces come from? Turkey? Jordan? Iran? Gee, I can't think of a single more efficient way to have a newly-liberated Iraq split into pieces and annexed by it's neighbors.

Brad DeLong

Well, one place they *might* have come from is from the old Iraqi army--had it not been disbanded in what both Franks and Garner say was a truly boneheaded move.

A second place they *might* have come from is from Egypt--had we taken the diplomatic steps to get Hosni Mubarrak on our side...


Well Brad,

Maybe we shouldn't have disbanded the army. I tend to agree. But as a commenter above pointed out your vehemence is silly. Franks and Garner are entitled to their opinion (I question whether Franks said any such thing) but it is hardly true that it was boneheaded. It would in fact have been a very risky choice. The troops would have been a major source of potential instability; they were one of the world’s most inapt forces for police work which you suggest as a function. If they had been used to keep order the abuses would have undoubtedly been a stain far worse than Abu Ghraib. At best they might have been useful in manning the border and depriving the insurgency of potential recruits as they would have had a job at least. Eventually if they had not caused horrendous problems it might have sped up the forming of Iraqi forces which could be counted on to battle insurgents. Maybe they shouldn't have been disbanded, but boneheaded is ridiculous and I have not come close to listing all the possible drawbacks to keeping the army intact. What is boneheaded is the belief they could have been a deployable police force.

As to the Egyptian idea I'll put that in the "you gotta be kidding" category.

Cecil Turner

"I can understand why Rumsfeld might think it was a good idea to show that we can take Iraq with three divisions"

Well, in the first place there were four full divisions (3rd ID, 101st Airborne, 1st MarDiv and the British 1st (UK) Armored Division), and those were reinforced by bits of others (e.g., 2nd BCT of the 82nd Airborne, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade). (Big .pdf reference.)

In the second, it wasn't a "good idea" because we were trying to impress the Iranians. It was a good idea because there was a single-threaded supply line that had to stretch from Kuwait to Baghdad.

"had it not been disbanded in what both Franks and Garner say was a truly boneheaded move."

I think I need a cite on that one. Most Franks quotes are more along this line:

I avoid the semantics, maybe, on the use of the word "disband." I think what happened is the Iraqis walked away . . .


Was the problem "epistemological" or "eschatological"?

When some of the better intelligence like the State's INR is summarily dismissed in favor of a marketing alternative that fosters groupthink and confirmation bias, the problem isn't one of knowledge but psychology.

Cecil Turner

I wouldn't get too gushy about INR's intelligence. They only disputed the nuclear part of the estimate, and even there they didn't give Saddam a clean bill of health:

The Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) believes that Saddam continues to want nuclear weapons and that available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities.


There were also post-war warnings. I recall the effort last summer from the Chalabi wing to scapegoat State for all the woes portraying them as the UN in residence, no doubt, to obscure the reality that State, and some CIA elements, had had a better handle on the situation -- a pre-emptive tu quoque, I suspect.


I thought Joe Nye was a humorist. Not a good one, but a humorist. But that was based on picking up his "soft power" book and glancing through it a bit -- perhaps I missed something. His anguished question about 150,000 Arabic-speaking military police perfectly illustrates his grasp of the issues.

This whole obsession with "planning" failures has been preposterous from the outset. As are almost all of the glibly ballyhooed "mistakes," like disbanding the army. That would be the army that had already disbanded on its own, which was officered mostly by people who could never be trusted or bought off (they're mostly fighting us now), and some of whose erstwhile troops, even after some training, have often proven next to useless (to be fair, as much because of command-chain issues as anything else). Right -- an untrained enemy-ridden rabble was just the solution to the situation.

Don't have current access to the State and CIA products, but the publicly leaked assessments have often made them look pretty clueless. I'm still waiting for the Shi'a to join the "insurgency" against the coalition, since we haven't fixed the place yet -- let's not forget that jaw-droppingly idiotic prediction. (and no, heroin-powered and -paid riff-raff being bused to their doom in Najaf and Karbala from Sadr City don't count as a mass popular phenomenon).

There cannot be a "plan" that makes Sunni Arabs from some parts of al-Anbar more sensible or sophisticated or less desperate to regain top-dog status. Or other Iraqis to step up to the plate. It just takes time and experimentation. Lowering the profile a year ago for Ramadan was a calculated risk that turned out badly -- you learn and move on.

Perfection would be nice. Achieving your objectives is what matters.

The Kid

Now there’s a plan, let’s do the diplomacy to “get Hosni Mubarrak on our side.”

“Hosni! I’m going in, watch my back…”

We’re seeing in this exchange the problems of planning even after the fact. There are lots of good questions but few good answers. It may well be that planners were biased by the Balkans experience, where outsiders serving as police and even UN employees have engaged in criminal behavior of all sorts. Or that the Iraqi army assessed as too Sunni to risk preserving whatever remnants stayed around. At some point someone sucked in his gut, decided to go with what we had, and make the best of it.

I say that we should let Bush clean up the mess he created, then split the troops and exit through Syria and Iran.

The Kid

Today the NYT features the article Poor Intelligence Misled Troops About Risk of Drawn-Out War .

It seems that the CIA’s intelligence was a bit too sanguine.

Intelligence officials were convinced that American soldiers would be greeted warmly when they pushed into southern Iraq, so a C.I.A. operative suggested sneaking hundreds of small American flags into the country for grateful Iraqis to wave at their liberators. The agency would capture the spectacle on film and beam it throughout the Arab world. It would be the ultimate information operation.

Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of allied ground forces, quickly objected. To avoid being perceived as an occupying army, American forces had been instructed not to brandish the flag.

The idea was dropped, but the C.I.A.'s optimism remained.

You might recall that what kicked off the ground war was the strike on an underground complex where Saddam and his sons were hiding. Well, the CIA was wrong about that bunker – it didn’t exist. But the strike was the opening salvo of Iraqi freedom.

I point this out not to bash the CIA – there’s a time and a place for that – but simply to underscore that deficiencies in intelligence colored post-war planning. Hey it happens. Just suck in your gut and see it through. And stop the whining.

Patrick R. Sullivan

I'm sure the Professor knows, deep in his heart, that evil W has a secret plan to draft 150,000 Arab policemen after the election in November.

Brad DeLong

Gee. The quality of comments here has dropped through the floor. What happened?



I'll ignore the insult. How about you not ignoring the critique? As Icecold demonstrated there are a huge number of problems with the issues you bring up. I say that as someone who believes we should have tried to keep the army together (which as noted above may not have been very successful even had we tried.) I also still have no idea what you could be thinking about with Mubarak. I hardly consider myself unpersuadable. If you do not like the tenor of some of the comments why not indulge the rest of us?

Cecil Turner

I'd have to second that, Professor. The Times piece wasn't very impressive, and rested on several questionable assertions. For example (recapping Franks's plan):

"Combat forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60 days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little more than a division, about 30,000 troops."
In fact, the pre-war planning was an argument over Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" and the Pentagon's "closer to 100,000." The Administration clearly expected more help from the international community than we got, and by July, the number had gone up a bit:
In his testimony, Franks warned that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq probably won't decline significantly from the current 148,000 until sometime next year and that the kinds of hit-and-run attacks that killed two American soldiers Wednesday will continue.
(At that point, "142,000 U.S. troops that had been assigned to Iraq had been redeployed," and accounting may be part of the confusion.) But overall their numbers have been much more consistent than their critics. (And I'd be a lot more impressed with the naysayers if they could keep their facts straight.)

So, what could have been done better? Could we have shocked and awed the insurgency into submission by having more troops? I don't see it--maybe somebody else would like to make that case. Clearly Fallujah was mishandled, but the problem doesn't appear to be a shortage of troops. "Seal the borders"? Yeah, right.

The bottom line is that Saddam gave up trying to fight a conventional war, and opted for the insurgency. It doesn't appear to have any chance of long-term success, but it is causing a lot of turmoil. Was it avoidable? Again, I'm not seeing the magic policy that would have prevented it. As for the specifics of your proposal (leaving aside the issue of a larger invasion force), Arab-speaking MPs might have been helpful, but I'm not convinced it was practicable to get them (or that they'd be on our side if we did).

Brad DeLong

Tom Maguire asked three questions:

"So, my questions - is the occupation going well, or according to plan? Did the initial plan make sense, even if it did not work out? Have the adjustments been timely and effective?"

I've given my guess at an answer: that the initial plan made no sense because there was no plan for what to do after we got to Baghdad--no plan for the size and kind of force needed to preserve enough peace in Iraq for reconstruction and democratization to begin. I don't see any other answers to Tom's question here...

One theory is that reconstruction and democratization were not part of the mission--that Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to demonstrate that we could smash any regime in the world with a small force, and that their view was that Garner would rule Iraq for two months during which he would hold elections (which Chalabi would win), and that we'd be out by August. Certainly that seems to have been Franks's initial view. Thus the lack of a large civil-affairs tail was simply not a problem. And then, after we occupied Baghdad, the mission was changed: Garner was tossed out and Bremer brought in, at which point Bremer now says he began to yell for more help--and was ignored by the White House.

Another theory is that Cheney and Rumsfeld were just totally snookered by Chalabi, and thought that he had a plan for keeping Iraq pacified.

In neither case, however, does this compute: neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld is dumb. So why go in without the MP and civil affairs tail you know very well you might turn out to need?

Cecil Turner

"So why go in without the MP and civil affairs tail you know very well you might turn out to need?"

Well, that's a little more cogent criticism. But I think a big part of the answer is that they're not available.

At the end-of-the-cold-war reorganization, we downsized our armed forces considerably, and moved a lot of support functions to the Reserves (probably beyond what was wise). The process continued under Clinton, and stripped the active forces down to bare essential warfighting functions. The Administration tried to get precisely that sort of support from our "alles," but it didn't work out so well.



Much better. I'll just assume you now understand that keeping the army intact was a possible choice, but hardly an obviously better move since you have not discussed it further. If that is all you are saying then I will agree. I wish we had tried keeping the army intact. I only expect you to acknowledge that the effort would have had a high potential for failure and many problems of its own including, if we are to believe many Shia's and democrats in Iraq, the negative reactions of many there to not disbanding the army and an aggressive de-Baathification program. Of course that kind of intellectual humility deprives one of a scathing point on the incompetence of the administration.

"In neither case, however, does this compute: neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld is dumb. So why go in without the MP and civil affairs tail you know very well you might turn out to need?"

Well I am glad you acknowledge they are not dumb. Once again, where are these 150,000 Arabic speaking civil affairs troops going to come from? You mention Egypt. Do you really think that would be wise? Do you really think they have that many available civil affairs troops? Do you really believe their training and behavior would fit our standards of comportment? Would the forces of a dictator really be the source of democratic support we need? Exactly what are you thinking, I have no idea? Do you think under any circumstances they would supply more than a token force? Have we had even one post WWII engagement when any foreign power has supplied more than token forces (I say this only since the Polish and British forces seem to be considered token and they are amongst the largest forces to fight alongside us in the post war era) to fight beside us? I realize Bush is a great diplomat, but it seems an awfully hard standard to hold him up to, to accomplish something no other President has been able to do in Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans or anywhere else.


I'll just add that if you think the military saw downsizing under Clinton, you ain't seen nothing compared to what the retirement rate will be under Kerry. Those polls showing how much the military favors Bush look real accurate from the AFB I work on.


After reading your postscript with Rumsfeld's objectives, it looks to me as if his plan is working.
After 1 1/2 years they are getting ready for elections.

They stopped Saddam's weapons programs. (Read Duelffer's report if you think he had stopped them already)

They ended Iraq's aid of terrorists.

They are killing jihadis at a wonderful rate.

And, as an added bonus, the 'mess' in Fallujah and other jihadi stronghold has the Iraqis on our side against the Jihadis.

As Rumsfeld has said repeatedly, 'War isn't tidy'. Anybody who expected Iraq to be pacified quickly hasn't been paying attention. For those who want to fight Iran and Syria next, Surprise!!! We already are.

I'm not saying that the situation in Iraq is perfect, but I don't see any plan that would have made it better.

Keep the Iraqi Army intact as an MP force? Now that's funny. That was one of their tasks under Saddam. They kept the peace alright. Just ask the folks in Basra. Ask the marsh Arabs. Ask the folks in the myriad of mass graves we keep finding.
Also, the Iraqi Army disbanded iself when they went into hiding. Were we supposed to take their word that they were good guys? Where were we supposed to get officers for them? They've needed a year of training to get to the point where they are a credible force. Remember a few months ago when they ran away?

Anybody who has read anything about any previous wars would understand the Herculean task before us and expect 'untidiness'.
Germany had a history of democracy and it took much longer to 'DeNazify' them. How many years did Japan have a military dictatorship under MacArthur?

America isn't a god, we are trying to help build a free, democratic Iraq. They have to do it for themselves.

Notice Rumsfeld's formulation to help the Iraqi people create the conditions for a rapid transition to a representative self-government

We aren't there to 'Give' freedom to the Iraqis. Give somebody something and they don't value it as highly as they do when they have to fight for it.

We gave freedom to the French and we can see how that worked out.


Actually, the question of the '150,000" Arab speaking forces and the question of the level of U.S. forces are strongly coupled.

The U.S. couldn't have policed Iraq and processed Iraqi soldiers given the levels they were working with in May, 2003.

Oddly, although Rumsfeld and the war's supporters consistently made analogies to the occupation of Germany and Japan, they blithely ignored the history of the occupation of Germany and Japan. In both cases, processing a defeated army required huge P.O.W. camps and a mechanism for checking off the soldiers and officers. The need for some such process was even more urgent in Iraq, where the inner situation was more opaque.

That the administration didn't do it had nothing to do with some deep seated principle, and everything to do with the typical administration frivolity. It was the same spirit that animated Cheney's remark, who cares about deficits? Behind the grand rhetoric, this strategy called for maximizing short term 'victories' for political gain, and ignoring long term priorities and problems, which might involve sacrifice of one kind or another to one constituency or another.

Simple as that.


It seems that it is okay not to plan for a post-war, to reject the advice of those with experience in post-war planning, and to repeatedly change course as one non-plan after another proves fatally flawed, because.... planning is hard, and isn't guaranteed to be 100% accurate? And, as veeshir would have it, we can apply the "10,000 monkeys trying to type Shakespeare" reasoning that, if you screw around long enough you may just get it right (or close enough that a partisan like veeshir can pretend so), such that the delays, costs, and difficulties created by prior screw-ups can be ignored?

An interesting, um, discussion.


Aaron, where is my analysis wrong?
War is untidy. I didn't say it was perfect, I said that what Rumsfeld said is happening. Where am I wrong?
I was expecting to be called a partisan, I also had hoped to see somebody tell me where I was wrong. I didn't actually think it would happen, but I had high hopes.

to reject the advice of those with experience in post-war planning
Who? Shinseki? What experience does he have with post-war planning? Are you saying they ignored Marshall? Ike? Who exactly has "post-war planning" experience? You?

Go read this speech.
This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

We are fighting jihadis in Iraq. Exactly what Bush wanted. Or don't you remember the "bring it on" comment. Do you remember Bush saying we would take the fight overseas so we don't have to fight here?
Look at Iraq. That's the major battlefield in the War on (some) Terror. You can quibble about whether it was before we invaded or not, (I think it was), but it most definitely is now. And that's good. As has been pointed out, do you think the jihadis in Iraq would be living productive lives if they weren't trying to kill American soldier, Marines and sailors? Please.

I say we are aiding the Iraqis to free themselves, just as Rumsfeld said in the linked quotes. Why am I wrong? Just calling me a partisan isn't argument, it's ad hominem.
Where did I say there was no pre-war planning? Our military has plans on invading Denmark, do you really think they went into Iraq without a plan? Do you think President Bush thought up the plan? Do you think we should be told details of the plan?

They have a plan, I'll let you in on what it is. Allow as many jihadis as want to come into Iraq to be killed by our military. It's really that simple. Would you rather that instead of IEDs targeting armored vehicles they target buses? Airplanes? Schools? Do you know how I figured out the plan? By paying attention.

But I'm just a partisan. You can tell because I defend my position using the available facts and Aaron obviously isn't a partisan because he carps and makes unsubstantiated remarks.
Now I see how it works.


veeshir, you presented your opinion, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be called an "analysis". You are entitled to your opinion, even if it has little to do with the facts, and I doubt that anything I could say would much affect your opinion - a prerequisite to that would be your being willing to look at the facts, and to consider that other opinions have validity. And you pretend that my observation of the fact that you are a partisan is an insult, so as (apparently) to justify your own childish ad hominem. So why should I waste my time with you?


Sorry, I have been ducking this discussion. I thought the best point was the one Brad and Cecil agreed on:

So why go in without the MP and civil affairs tail you know very well you might turn out to need?"

Well, that's a little more cogent criticism. But I think a big part of the answer is that they're not available.

That was Mr. Turner himself at 10:49.

The obvious problem with that answer is, if they are not available, and you think you need them, you ought to come up with some plausible alternative.

As much as a lot of Kerry's talk seems like useless second-guessing, the shortage of MPs, from the US or elsewhere, does look like what Kerry calls a plan to win the war, but no plan to win the peace.

OTOH, the intel was also so wrong about popular support.

All that said, I am convinced that Bush made some dramatic errors. But that was then - we still have to move forward, and Kerry has to convince me (or roughly 51% of the country) that his errors will be different, and less important.


Sometimes it actually is true that the guy who drove you into the ditch is the guy to drive you out. Most of the time it is not.

I would extrapolate by suggesting that the onus should be on Bush, not Kerry, to convince us that his future choices will be the better ones - or at least the less harmful.


I dunno, it looks to me as if I've raised some points and analysis about what's happening that haven't been answered. But if you want to declare victory, by all means Aaron.

The funny part is that the people over there, in the guise of the milblogs and the Iraqi bloggers, seem to think that things aren't all that bad. But I guess they don't know what they are talking about.

Another funny part is that Bush and his team have just conquered two countries, each in a matter of weeks, Afghanistan had elections for the first time ever, according to both Bush and the UN the Iraqi elections are on track.

But Bush had no plan to win the peace. Hey, whatever gets you to sleep at night.

The carpers have been attacking Bush since about 9/12. First we were going to go off half cocked and start indiscriminately bombing civilians. Then, brutal Afghan winter, millions of starving refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, thousands of dead GIs, Graveyard of Empires, Ramadan and the Arab Street. Then, on to Iraq and the 18 month Rush to War!!!!, millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, thousands of dead GIs, bombs raining down on Israel, the Arab Street again.
Now it's 'No plan to win the peace'. Pardon me if I trust the guy who's made the carpers look stupid for 3 years.



Unlike Aaron I think you make the best defense of Brad. However, sometimes you have to fight even if you don't have everything you need. 150,00 arabic speaking MP's is not a 2 or 6 month appropriation. In every endeavor, war included, we rarely have everything we would like. The "plan to win the peace" will be best judged when there is peace. The question now is how do we win the war. Winning the war would have been most likely more difficult had we waited for the perfect plan which given the complaints would have been able to liberate Iraq with casualties in the low hundreds. I honestly expected far more than we have had, so I cannot see the mistakes (which all wars and bureaucracy's make) as being so awful.

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