Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said there were two ideas within the Bush administration on post-war Iraq plans. One scenario was that the U.S. would quickly turn over power to Iraqis like what happened in Afghanistan. The other plan was much longer and consisted of the U.S. ruling Iraq and eventually transitioning over to an Iraqi government. President Bush was initially for the first concept as he was against nation building, but then quickly switched over to the long-term plan when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was created. That showed the president had no over-arching view of post-Saddam Iraq, and went with whatever his advisers at the time suggested.
President Bush had come into office opposed to nation building. Bush said that experiences like the American involvement in Bosnia showed that attempting to rebuild countries was time consuming and a waste. Bush was supported by his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who on February 24, 20013 gave a speech “Beyond Nation Building” arguing that peacekeeping in Kosovo had made the locals dependent upon the international force. He therefore advocated following the Afghan model where the U.S. created a new government in short time. Khalizad noted that the president would often say that he wanted a quick transition to an Iraqi government. The president was mostly against nation building because that was something that the Clinton White House had done, and he wanted a completely different foreign policy. The administration also tended to think in best case scenarios, and never seriously contemplated the costs of invading Iraq and its aftermath. The idea that things could be turned over to Iraqis rather fast therefore fit into that mindset.
That all changed in May 2003 when Paul Bremer was named to head the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Bremer had read a RAND study on rebuilding post-World War II Japan and Germany. That shaped his decision to try something similar in Iraq. Before being publicly announced to lead the CPA, Bremer met with the president at the White House. Bremer told Bush that Iraq would be like a marathon, and he needed time to build Iraqi institutions before it could have its own government. Bush let Bremer know that he had his support and could take as much time as he needed. That completely reversed the administration’s plans. The head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) Jay Garner and Khalizad had been meeting with Iraqis from both within and outside the country. Khalizad had even set up a meeting for Bremer to visit some of the people he’d been talking to about forming an interim government. Bremer dismissed that idea and set upon his own strategy.
U.S. postwar planning had always been characterized by dysfunction. Several different groups had worked on policies, but completely separate from each other. The last one was by the ORHA. It went with the shot-term policy that Bush originally backed. When Garner was replaced by Bremer however, Bush went with his views. That showed that while the president had an overarching vision for a democratic Iraq, he was not wedded to any specific means to achieve that goal. Whatever he was presented with by those in charge of Iraq he supported, even if it meant a 180 degree course change. That would plague the administration all the way to the Surge as the White House would go from strategy to strategy without ever truly analyzing the costs and benefits of each one.
Gordon, Michael, “’Catastrophic Success’ The Strategy to Secure Iraq Did Not Foresee a 2nd War,” New York Times, 10/19/04
Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story Of The Struggle For Iraq, From George W. Bush To Barack Obama, New York, Pantheon, 2012
Packer, George, The Assassins’ Gate, America In Iraq, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
Whitelaw, Kevin, “After The Fall,” U.S. News & World Report, 12/2/02