Michael Gordon, New York Times: There was a contradiction at the heart of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, which was a very simple one: It wanted to do regime change, and it didn't want to take on any of the burdens of nation-building. In fact, Don Rumsfeld gave a speech to that in the lead-up to the war.
And so everything I saw from the inside, in terms of the planning, the extensive planning on what they used to call Phase 3 was all about how to take apart the regime, how to defeat Saddam, how to get into Baghdad, how to destroy the Republican Guard. There was very little of what they call Phase 4, which was, what were you going to do after you arrived in Baghdad and inherited this situation? And the strategy was a hopeful strategy. It was Doug Feith's liberation strategy, which is that it was -- the war was intended to be kind of a turn-key operation, where we would rather quickly hand over to some sort of Iraqi entity -- this was codified in CENTCOM's own plans. This whole intensive, laborious, complex, difficult occupation that the United States presided over was backed into. It wasn't the original design.
But the basic point I think in these operations is it's not enough to simply destroy something. If you don't have a plan to fill the vacuum that follows, you shouldn't go in in the first place. And United States didn't have such a plan, and it later evolved such a plan. What the United States should have done and what the military should have done is, instead of spending 18 months planning Phase 3 -- how to get to Baghdad and take down the war, and sort of started -- spent 18 months on Phase 4, and worked on things once we're there when all these things happen, how are we going to handle this, what's going to be the political mechanisms and military mechanisms. Because Phase 3 was the easy part. You could have attacked Baghdad from Turkey, we could have come from Kuwait; we could have come from Jordan. The result was preordained.
It was Phase 4, the part that was given short shrift, that, really, in the planning process, on the political side and on the military side, that should have been the very first planning task. And if you don't have an answer for Phase 4, then don't do Phase 1, 2 and 3.
Allen: Let me just say this again: A Phase Zero is where you do this, which is, you know, the peacetime part of this thing. When you begin the operation, or you contemplate the operation, Phase 4 begins immediately. It's not at the end of Phase 3. You're mobilizing for Phase 4 as the operation begins. So however long it takes you to get to Phase 4, Phase 4 has really started intellectually for you in terms of mobilization of resources from the beginning. And that ought to be driving our thinking on every contingency plan henceforth.
Hadley: You know, what you see depends on where you sit. So I speak from my particular vantage point of the White House, and I recognize that everything I say can be discounted because it's so self-serving. One of the things Dr. Sepp, I think, said, which I think is exactly right in terms of failure of intelligence, it's really a failure of imagination. It never occurred to me or anyone else I was working with, and no one from the intelligence community or anyplace else ever came in and said, what if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn't want the Iranians to know? Now, somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did. It turns out that was the most important question in terms of the intelligence failure that never got asked.?
Secondly, Peter is right. We assumed we had about 150,000 Iraqi troops that we would vet, and then they would help us reconstruct and provide security. And they -- we can talk about disbanding the Army -- they melted away, was how it looked to us. They melted away. They were not there, including all their equipment. And I still wonder today where all that stuff went.
We did not have a plan B. We tried a plan B. Colin Powell went out and tried to get other countries -- remember, Egyptians and others -- [to] put in troops, and got to zero. And we never decided, we've got to put 100,000 more troops in there because we're 150,000 short. That was less a problem of planning or a fallback. It was more we didn't face up to the consequences of where we were.
Three, process. We had process. It certainly was not adequate, though in some sense pre-war no planning process ever is.
But I'll give you three things to think about:
One, there are constraints. If you think it's a war of choice, you have lots of time to do a planning process. I don't think Iraq was a choice -- a preemption or choice -- I think it was a war of last resort. After 12 years we ran out of options. And maybe it was a failure of vision, maybe a failure of planning, but it's either let Saddam off the hook or go to war.
One of the problems about doing this wonderful 18 months of post-war planning is when it leaks, everybody says, "See, the Bush administration doesn't want to get a diplomatic solution, they just want to go in and change the regime. We told you." And suddenly, your coercive diplomacy goes out the window.
A decision I kept struggling with was, when do you start the post-war planning and how do you keep it small so people didn't participate? It was not broadly within the government. So you don't blow your possibility of solving the problem without going to war. It was a constrained planning process.
It had three problems in my view.
One, I don't think what we did in the interagency planning process ever got translated into guidance to troops down at John Nagl's level, so it may be planning with no consequence. Secondly, I'm not sure CENTCOM's heart was really in Phase 4. And third, given 10 years of war and the experience that John Allen had, we would do a planning process a lot better this time than we did.
It's only when we got a handle on al Qaeda, and then changed strategy in January 2007, that we did all the things Peter was talking about. I think as we think about this we underestimate the extent to which al Qaeda played. Al-Zarqawi was in Iraq, of course, when we went to war, but he, as [McChrystal's] book makes clear, exploited the vacuum that was created to make it the central front in the war on terror. We're responsible for that. But it changed the situation that we planned for in profound ways.