On March 19, it will have been 10 years since the United States invaded Iraq. Foreign Policy and the RAND Corporation teamed up to bring together many of the key players who launched, fought, analyzed, and executed the war, including everyone from Bush national security advisor Stephen Hadley and Gen. John Allen to Doug Feith, the controversial Bush Pentagon aide who advocated for the war in 2003, and Paul Pillar, the CIA analyst who later went public with his doubts. It quickly became clear that, even a decade later, every aspect of the war -- from its rationale through each phase of its execution -- remains hotly contested. We hope this unique conversation adds to the record of how we understand that war -- and in particular, what its consequences will be, and already are, for future American national security debates. We present here edited excerpts from the first part of discussion, on "Ends and Means," moderated by RAND's James Dobbins, and you can find a full list of participants and their bios here. The second part of the transcript can be read here.
James Dobbins, RAND: There are some people who feel that we bit off more than we could chew in Iraq, that we had too ambitious objectives when we went into Iraq. And there are others, including myself, who feel that we didn't resource it adequately in the early months, and as a result had a hard time clawing back from those early days. I'd like to ask Steve Hadley to say a few words about ends and means, goals, objectives, and early commitments.
Stephen Hadley, Bush national security advisor: Did we have a match between ends and means in terms of the invasion and the toppling of Saddam? I would say yes. We had one mistake: We did not pay attention to the rear area security problem. We knew in the planning it was a problem, and we failed to get it teed up in the interagency so it would really be addressed in the systematic way it needed to be addressed, and we paid for that.
Second, was there a mismatch between ends and means in terms of the objective? You know, the lore out there was we went to war to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. That was not the case. We went to war to achieve some hard national security objectives.
Before we went to war the president had, in the situation room, a conversation about, once we topple Saddam, what is our obligation to the Iraqi people? Is it simply to substitute an authoritarian who will not move against our interests by supporting terror, invading neighbors, pursuing WMD? Or do we have an obligation because we are the United States of America, and because they've suffered under 30 years of a brutal authoritarian. Do we have an obligation to give the Iraqi people a chance, an opportunity, to build a democratic future for themselves?
The president decided on the latter, and I actually think we achieved that objective. It wasn't pretty, and Iraq today is not pretty, but it has an opportunity to build a democratic future despite the enormous pressure that Syria and other events are putting on Iraq.
Third, did we have a mismatch between objectives and resources in terms of the insurgency? And you know, Stan McChrystal's book is very interesting, because it makes crystal clear that what Iraq became was a struggle against al Qaeda in Iraq. And I remember -- and I'm not getting partisan here -- I remember in the summer of 2008 when then-candidate Obama said al Qaeda was the ball. The Bush administration took their eye off the ball, and they went into Iraq, but al Qaeda isn't in Iraq. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan.
And I asked Mike McConnell at the time -- [director of national intelligence] at the time -- how many al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan today? And how many are in Iraq? And he said, in Iraq there's about 15,000 down from about 20, and in Afghanistan there's 200.
So you can say we failed to foresee that Iraq would become the front line of al Qaeda's struggle against the United States, and I think we did not have the right strategy or the right resourcing in the end of the day to deal with that problem. And it took us a long time. And part of it was relearning a lot of things about counterinsurgency we did not know. So I'm not sure it's a mismatch of objectives and resources. It may be something we should have anticipated and planned for but we did not, and it took us a long time, too long, and too high a price, to finally get our arms around that problem, and defeat al Qaeda in Iraq, and that's what we did.