Patrick Lasswell makes an interesting observation about the purported lack of a postwar plan in Iraq:

If you are in charge and anything goes wrong, you had a bad plan. Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no answer only?

That meme does have a problem, though. Every once in a while somebody repeating the meme gets the notion that the US has not learned from history. Then we get to tell a funny story. After WWII, we put a lot of folks in charge in Germany and Japan who had never had civilian authority before and a few who had. But Washington never sent in a plan for them to follow. Part of this is because after Roosevelt’s death, a lot of things were left unfinished. Most of this was because Harry S Truman had been a combat commander and knew how to trust competent subordinates. One of the results of this is that we now talk about the Marshall Plan, the vision of a trusted subordinate who handled a problem excellently, after he had seen the problem on the ground.


It is important to remember that the map is not the terrain and that the plan is not the situation. That is a great lesson that we have learned from history, make plans according to reality, not projections.

True enough. What’s much more important than a rigid plan is a clear objective. The plan has to be adjusted based on the situation on the ground–but always with an eye toward the end game. The real question is whether the Administration has a firm grasp on what that end game looks like.

(Hat tip: Michael J. Totten)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. tc says:

    “make plans according to reality, not projections.”

    This gets said a lot, but when you look at some of the decisions made… for example, sending the Iraqi army home without pay. What kind of “reality” was that in accordance with?