Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Dysfunction Within The Bush White House Undermined Planning For Iraq

Then National Security Adviser Rice and Pres. Bush did a poor job managing Iraq policy (Agence France Presse)
One of the major problems within the Bush White House was that it had a dysfunctional foreign policy apparatus. The National Security Council was created after World War II to manage military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues. Under the first Bush administration, the National Security Advisor was Condoleezza Rice. She had a close, personal relationship with the president, but proved incapable of managing the strong personalities within the White House. The president also often failed to make any choices between these differing opinions. That led to a haphazard approach to Iraq, which ultimately undermined planning, and helped lead to the chaos after the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Vice President Cheney, Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld, Pres. Bush, Sec. of State Powell. Bush's top officials were deeply divided on Iraq policy. Rumsfeld and Powell were rivals within the administration as well (Associated Press/Getty)
Both President Bush and Condoleezza Rice lacked strong management skills. That meant many times tough issues were never debated, nor even decided upon. Sometimes agencies were allowed to follow their own independent paths, with little to no coordination from above. After 9/11, the situation became worse. Instead of ideas coming slowly up from the bureaucracy, top officials like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others made decisions on the fly. That meant there was even less discussion within the administration. On top of that, many individuals within the White House did not like each other. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell for example, had a running battle with each other. The former also did not like Rice, and often denigrated her at meetings or ignored her completely. This belies the tendency to think of an administration as a single, unified entity. That was far from the truth for Bush’s time in office. Because of these internal rivalries and the fractured decision making process, Rice, who was supposed to manage foreign policy, often had to play catch-up on what was going on. Bush meanwhile, did little about these sharp differences.

Undersecretary of Defense Feith refused to coordinate with other agencies on post-war Iraq planning, a sign of the divisions within the Bush White House (Washington Post)
Iraq became a perfect example of this dysfunction. There were deep divisions within the White House over how to deal with Saddam Hussein. These came out on several occasions before the 2003 invasion. For example, the first national security meeting of the Bush administration in January 2001 focused upon creating a new Iraq policy. First, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued for a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein, and more support for the Iraqi opposition, specifically the Iraqi National Congress. Powell on the other hand, pushed for strengthening United Nations sanctions on Iraq, which would more strategically target military related goods heading for the country. Rather than work out these differences or select one approach over the other, no decision was made about Iraq. That left State and Defense to carry on separately with their individual policies. Another case was when initial planning started for post-war Iraq in late-2001. At one time, five different groups were working on the topic including the State Department’s Future of Iraq project, two steering groups within the National Security Council, two officers from the Central Command (CENTCOM), and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. Because the White House wanted to keep its plans secret, all of this work was compartmentalized meaning that none of these groups worked with each other, most didn’t know about one another, and few consulted with outside agencies that would be critical for any security and rebuilding effort after Saddam was overthrown. Later on, new groups replaced these initial ones, and ignored all their previous work. A specific example of this was a meeting held in January 2002 at the Old Executive Building in Washington to go over the basic war plan and aftermath. General Wayne Downing, the National Security Council’s top counterterrorism official, chaired the session, which was organized by the Vice President’s office. Rice was not informed however, and when she found out about it, she ordered all the papers that resulted from it destroyed. It wasn’t until January 2003, right before the invasion that Bush gave the Defense Department ultimate responsibility for post-war Iraq. Even then, the in fighting continued as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith was put in charge of post-war planning at the Office of Special Plans. He said there was no way that the Pentagon would discuss Iraq with other parts of the government even though they would be needed to help stabilize the country after the invasion. When it came to dealing with Iraq, planning for the war, and its aftermath things were haphazard at best within the White House. No agency wanted to work with another, Rice had no handle on managing these differences, and President Bush either didn’t know about all the machinations within his administration or never took the time to decide on one approach over another.

Years later, many of these divisions became public. In 2006, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post wrote Soldier, The Life of Colin Powell in which he attacked Rice for not dealing with the differences within the administration. Powell told DeYoung there were plenty of White House meetings over policy, but nothing came of them. That left Powell wondering when or if the president would make a decision on matters. He also thought this lackadaisical atmosphere allowed Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney to do what they wanted. The next year, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times released Condoleezza Rice, An American Life. She said that Rice’s power came from her relationship with the president. At the same time, she never pushed him on anything, and never managed the strong personalities in the cabinet. For example, Rumsfeld would often try to take over National Security Council meetings, and would never tell Rice what he was doing. She had to send members of her staff to the Pentagon to try to find out what was going on there. Cheney also showed her little respect. That led Bumiller to believe that Rice was a weak national security advisor. In 2008, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith’s book War and Decision came out. He wrote that Rice did a poor job because she didn’t coordinated policy. Feith also took his shots at the State Department and CIA, blaming them for most of the problems that occurred in Iraq. Finally, in February 2011, Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown came out. He stated that the Bush White House was dysfunctional, and that had a negative affect upon the Iraq war. Like Powell, Rumsfeld said that there were national security meetings, but no clear process on how to make decisions. He blamed Bush for not working out the disagreements amongst his senior staff, and for not always asking for or receiving options before he made a policy choice. He claimed that sometimes the government didn’t always follow through with the choices that he did make, and went on to accuse the other parts of the government for failing in Iraq. All of them shared a few common points. Namely, Bush and Rice failed at running a smooth administration, which was marked by in fighting.

In January 2007, President Bush declared, “I’m the decision-maker” when it came to Iraq policy. His record would contradict that statement. He didn’t pick a clear Iraq policy when he first came into office in 2001, instead allowing the State and Defense department’s to follow their own paths. At the end of that year, planning for the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath officially began, but there was no coordination, cooperation or management of the process. Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor should’ve been in charge of bringing some order to this chaos, but utterly failed in that task. In the second Bush term, she was rewarded by being named Secretary of State. Many of these problems were leaked to the press at the time, but by 2006 they began to come out in the open more as the major figures within the administration either released books or had ones written about them. The common theme of all of them was that the Bush’s foreign policy process was deeply flawed, starting at the top with the president, going down to Rice, and then spreading to the other major figures who continually sniped at each other undermining any unity of effort from the administration. In the end, Iraq was the one that paid the ultimate price as immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein looting broke out, militias tried to seize power in towns and cities, the government collapsed, services stopped, and small groups began attacking the Coalition. The U.S. was caught utterly unprepared to deal with any of these because the only clear decision it had made was to invade, while everything else was left up in the air because of its dysfunction.


Associated Press, “Bush: ‘I’m the decision-maker’ on Iraq troops,” 1/26/07

Benjamin, Daniel and Simon, Steven, The Next Attack; The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right, New York: Times Books, 2005

Burrough, Bryan, Peretz, Evgenia, Rose, David and Wise, David, “Path To War,” Vanity Fair, May 2004

Duffy, Michael, “Theater of War,” Time, 8/12/02

Elliott, Michael and Calabresi, Massimo, “Is Condi The Problem?” Time, 4/5/04

Hersh, Seymour, “The Debate Within,” New Yorker, 3/11/02

Kakutani, Michiko, “Rumsfeld’s Defense of Known Decisions,” New York Times, 2/3/11

Kessler, Glenn, “Rice’s Management at Issue,” Washington Post, 11/10/07

Milbank, Dana, “Don Rumsfeld, playing a dead-end game in his memoir,” Washington Post, 2/6/11
- “Iraq War Is Everyone Else’s Fault, Feith Explains,” Washington Post, 4/25/08

Packer, George, “War After The War,” New Yorker, 11/24/03

PBS Frontline, “Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” War Behind Closed Doors, 2/20/03
- “INTERVIEWS Elisabeth Bumiller,” Bush’s War, 3/24/08
- “INTERVIEWS Karen DeYoung,” Bush’s War, 3/24/08

Reuters, “Donald Rumsfeld memoirs reveal no regrets over Iraq,” 2/3/11

Ricks, Thomas and DeYoung, Karen, “Ex-Defense Official Assails Colleagues Over Run-Up to War,” Washington Post, 4/9/08

Risen, James, State of War; The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Free Press, 2006


Zul Kifal said...

i had disliked bush policies

Pam said...

It's nice to see that I'm not the only one who thought Bush and his administration was a total failure. Too bad the American public couldn't see that.

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