Kevin Drum asks some fair questions about the rebuilding effort in Iraq:

It’s become common knowledge since the end of the war that the Pentagon did virtually no planning for postwar Iraq, but I’ve never heard a reasonable sounding explanation for this. After all, the real purpose of the war, we’re told, was to turn Iraq into a model for other Middle Eastern states to follow. I think this explanation is essentially correct, and what’s more, I agree that it’s the only real justification the war had.

But if that’s what the White House and the Pentagon really believed, wouldn’t postwar planning be the most important task they had? After all, the whole point would be to take out Saddam and then engage in a whirlwind of activity to demonstrate to the Iraqis (and the rest of the Arab world) that the United States had their best interests at heart and was truly a friend to democracy and tolerance.

And the faster the better, of course. After all, the longer it takes the more likely it is that the Iraqis would turn against the occupation.

So why the lack of planning, which so clearly works against America’s best interests? Did they just screw up? Did they truly believe that we’d be universally greeted as liberators and the country would be up and running in no time? Did they somehow think the UN would jump in to help?

Honestly, I think the answer is that we have no real clue how to do this job. The U.S. military is superb at fighting wars and has gotten decent at peacekeeping. But it has virtually no experience or assets for building a country from the ground up. We have folks in Civil Affairs branch that do that, but there are almost none of them. Indeed, the vast majority of CA personnel are in the Reserves. We’ve got almost nobody on active duty that speaks Arabic and very few people who do the other jobs necessary for such an endeavor: MPs, special operators, and psychological operations specialists to name those I can think of off the top of my head.

Unfortunately, much of this was a job for the UN, which does have experience with this sort of thing (e.g., Mozambique) but we can’t make that handoff given UN resistance to the war to begin with.

The US has a long history of “muddling through” these operations. I think we’ll get it figured out, given the enormous resources and talent pool. But the Jay Garner-Paul Bremmer handoff was a pretty clear sign that Kevin is right on the lack of a real plan ahead of time.

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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. Dave says:

    I’ve heard (possibly here) the notion floated that we expected to spend significantly longer on the way to Baghdad… I suppose the followup to that is that they figured they could lay groundwork on the local level as we worked our way in towards Baghdad.

    You tend not to plan for getting Part A done faster than you thought possible, I suppose. *shrugs*

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    Maybe, but my recollection is that Baghdad fell maybe a couple of weeks faster than we thought. That’s not really a big difference.

    The funny thing is that I quite agree with James that we don’t really know how to do this and will have to muddle through. I don’t even have a big problem with that. But even so, you’d think there would have been a lot of planning. Maybe it would have ended up being bad planning, but you’d think there would have been something.

  3. This is just another case that shows that government can’t get anything done with efficiency. Also that they plan for almost nothing, just put out fires. It’s the military that usually plans, but nation building isn’t their job (until now).

  4. Paul says:

    hmmmmm Kevin claims….

    t’s become common knowledge since the end of the war that the Pentagon did virtually no planning for postwar Iraq,

    To whom? It is “common knowledge?”

    I would call it an allegation at best.

    Was he in the Pentagon?

    The rebuilding of Iraq is go FAR FASTER after this war than it went after the first Gulf War when Saddam was in charge.

    90% of the coutry is effectivley back to normal. Really it is only Baghdad that is still a mess and again, it is better off 3 mos after this war then it war 1 year after the last.

    This is simply Kevin trying to covert spin into reality.

    What has been achived both on and off the battlefield has been breathtaking. Remember, during the war we were losing it too. The critics have accuratly predicted 58 of the 2 problems we have had.