Lt. Col. (ret.) John Nagl: I certainly agree with Steve Hadley that there are hard national security reasons why we invaded Iraq, and certainly one of them could not have been that there was al Qaeda in Iraq in 2003, because there was not. There were an awful lot of al Qaeda in Iraq. I fought them later, but they came after we got there. So if our strategy was to attract al Qaeda to Iraq, it worked. I don't remember that being one of the arguments.
So the casus belli was the Iraqi WMD programs. The ends/means mismatch was that if we were moving to secure Iraqi WMD, we did not have sufficient forces to do so. And I know this personally. When I arrived in Iraq in September of 2003 at Taqqadum Air Base, one of the largest weapons bases in all of Iraq, it was completely unsecure. The fence around it had been dismantled by the Iraqi people who were selling the metal for scrap iron. There were literally weapons lying in the streets. They could have been anything, and many of them were.
This failure to provide sufficient troops to secure Iraqi weapon sites which was the justification for the war, had been foreseen by Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, and he's written about his struggles inside the Pentagon to try to send sufficient troops to accomplish that mission.
I'll make just one more point. We have not talked at all about some of the critical policy decisions that were made, decisions like the complete de-Ba'athification of Iraq which contributed to the events that followed. I'll talk just briefly about what I consider to have been the most grievous of those errors, which was the disbanding of the Iraqi Army.
One of my buddies was a tank battalion commander, fought into Baghdad and was working with an Iraqi major general who had essentially demobilized his division but had his soldiers ready to secure Baghdad as a responsibility of the occupying power. My friend and he were having discussions; the order came down to disband the Iraqi Army completely. My friend had to tell his interlocutor, the Iraqi major general, "I'm sorry, we're not going to be able to work with you."
The Iraqi looked him in the eye, straight in the eye, and said, "That means I will be fighting you tomorrow." My friend said, "I know." They stood up, saluted each other, and the next day the IEDs started.
So the decisions made in Washington not to provide sufficient troops to secure the WMD sites, later to de-Ba'athify, and to shut down the Iraqi Army, were huge contributors to everything that followed.
Col. Peter Mansoor (ret.), former aide to Gen. David Petraeus: We've talked about resources and whether, had we provided more resources or better resources, this war would have gone differently. And I don't think in the first three years it would have.
General Petraeus used to say that it's important for a senior leader to get the big issues right. And early on, we did not. And the de-Ba'athification of Iraqi society and disbanding the Iraqi Army did more than just create significant problems for us. In my view, those decisions created the insurgency. There would have been insurgency anyway but it would have been much smaller; it would have been, as Secretary Rumsfeld used to say, the dead-enders. But by de-Sunnifying Iraq, in the minds of the Iraqi Sunnis, we created our own problem.
I love President Bush's memoir Decision Points, because in it, he talks about these decisions, and he goes, you know, we did not talk about these in the National Security Council, and we should have. And he takes responsibility for that. And he says, now, had we talked about these issues we might have come to the same decisions but at least we would have done it knowing the second and third order effects that would follow from them.