In January 2003 President Bush gave the Pentagon control of postwar Iraq. Douglas Feith the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy was put in charge of planning. Before the invasion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called in a group of outside experts to review what had been drawn up. One of those was James Dobbins from the RAND Corporation. This is an interview with Dobbins about what he thought about the Pentagon’s plans for Iraq.
1. One of the most basic questions the United States had to answer about Iraq after Saddam was gone was what kind of government they wanted and how would it be created. What was the Pentagon’s plan, and how much substantive work had been done on the subject?
The US military largely left post-war planning to the civilian side of the Pentagon. The civilian planners there seemed divided between those intending an immediate handover to a sovereign Iraqi government and those who anticipated an interim US run government authority.
2. Before and after the 2003 invasion Secretary Rumsfeld said he didn’t believe in nation building and wanted Iraqis to take control of things as soon as possible. Were his ideas incorporated into the Pentagon’s planning, and if not how did you think that was going out after the invasion?
Rumsfeld favored a rapid transfer to a sovereign Iraqi government on the Afghan model, and a minimalist US presence, again on the Afghan model. In accordance with this policy, US forces began to draw down almost as soon as Baghdad had fallen.
3. Security proved to be the biggest problem after the 2003 invasion. Had the Pentagon adequately prepared for that?
No, the Pentagon and administration more broadly assumed that Iraqi police would be adequate to assume public safety and law enforcement responsibilities.
4. Overall, what were your thoughts about the Defense Department’s strategy for postwar Iraq?
The Bush administration’s plans for post invasion Iraq are universally regarded as grossly inadequate, based on wishful thinking and disregard for past experience.