President Bush constantly talked about winning in Iraq. In November 2006, the White House released its “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” The problem was at that time, the United States had no plan on how to achieve victory, and the strategy paper wasn’t even approved by the Pentagon or military.
The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq was based upon the Clear Hold Build plan devised by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. When Rice became Secretary of State in 2005, she hired Philip Zelikow to be her point man in Iraq. Zelikow read the book A Better War about Vietnam and picked up on a counterinsurgency strategy based upon clearing an area of insurgents and then holding it so reconstruction could occur. He was able to flesh this concept out by talking with Colonel H.R. McMaster who had been able to secure the town of Tal Afar in western Ninewa using similar tactics. Rice liked this idea and dubbed it Clear Hold Build. She made it the basis of her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 19. President Bush agreed with it as well, and included it in a speech on November 11, before it was made the centerpiece of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. One of the major criticisms of the United States effort in Iraq was that there was no counterinsurgency strategy to defeat the militants. The current plan was to carry out conventional military campaigns until the Iraqi forces were built up to a sufficient level to allow the Americans to leave and turn the war over to Baghdad. The United States could clear any area in the country, but not hold it because it lacked the troops. The Clear Hold Build appeared to be the answer to this dilemma as the Americans would be responsible for the initial operations, and then have the Iraqis hold an area, while the two would take care of rebuilding. These were hollow words however as the U.S. command in Iraq and the Pentagon were totally excluded from this new plan.
When Rice initially announced the strategy the U.S. commander in Iraq General George Casey, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were furious. Casey and Rumsfeld were both surprised by Rice’s comments to Congress as they had never heard of Clear Hold Build before, and Zelikow never mentioned it when he was in Iraq. When Rice was next in Iraq Casey and Khalizad asked her what the new policy was about. Casey said he should have been consulted as the commander in Iraq. Rice replied that she had run the idea by General Ray Odierno and the State Department’s military liaison as if that was informing the chain of command. Rice later apologized. Rumsfeld tried to get the policy removed from Bush’s speech, but failed. He would later say that it was the Iraqis that should be doing the work in Iraq, not the Americans. That summed up the Secretary’s general philosophy since 2003, which had been to turn over responsibilities to Baghdad and withdraw U.S. forces. The military and the Pentagon lost this argument and Clear Hold Build was included in the new national strategy. It was never really implemented however, and two months later in January 2007, Bush would announce a whole new program for Iraq, the Surge, which was the first time the U.S. actually had a plan to win the war. It only took four years to agree upon one. That was because there was a discontent between what President Bush talked about, victory, and what was actually happening in Iraq, trying to withdraw. It took Bush three years to figure out that was not working, and then another year to come up with a new plan.
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
Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
Woodward, Bob, State of Denial, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2006
- The War Within, A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2008