For the second time in as many months, a report
by a key Pentagon advisory group has implicitly taken the administration of
President George W. Bush to task for major failures in pre-war planning, particularly
with respect to Iraq.
A 220-page report [.pdf],
quietly released late last month by the Defense Science Board (DSB), concludes
that the administration clearly underestimated the number of troops and cost
required to achieve its political objectives in Iraq.
The report, entitled "Transition to and From Hostilities," explicitly
contradicts another key assumption of top Pentagon officials before the Iraq
war that Washington could quickly reduce its troop presence after ousting the
regime of President Saddam Hussein.
"[W]e believe that more people are needed in-theater for stabilization
and reconstruction operations than for combat operations," asserts the
report, which based its conclusions on a study of U.S. military interventions
over the last 15 years.
Moreover, the DSB task force, which interviewed scores of current and former
U.S. officials with experience in war-fighting, counter-insurgency, peacekeeping
and reconstruction, found that stabilization of "disordered societies,
with ambitious goals involving lasting cultural change, may require 20 troops
per 1,000 indigenous people."
Washington currently has 150,000 troops in Iraq, a presence that translates
into only six troops for every 1,000 Iraqis far short of the roughly
500,000 troops the task force indicates would be necessary in Iraq. A 5 to 1,000
ratio may be sufficient to stabilize "relatively ordered" societies
for which the U.S. is not seeking to achieve "ambitious goals," such,
as presumably, implanting a democratic, pro-Western government.
"The United States will sometimes have ambitious goals for transforming
a society in a conflicted environment," according to the report. "Those
goals may well demand 20 troops per 1,000 inhabitants ... working for five to
eight years. Given that we may have three to five stabilization and reconstruction
activities underway concurrently, it is clear that very substantial resources
are needed to accomplish national objectives."
The report also concludes that the State Department is much better equipped
to organize and oversee reconstruction operations than the Bush administration,
which had given the job in Iraq initially to the Pentagon, had recognized. It
calls for the Defense Department to support substantially increased resources
for the State Department to meet that mandate.
The DSB consists of volunteer experts mostly from the private sector
chosen by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to advise him on key issues
on which they have special expertise. In many cases, Rumsfeld follows its recommendations.
Indeed, following the submission of its originally classified report last fall,
Rumsfeld issued a directive instructing the military's regional commanders to
"develop and maintain" new war plans specifically designed to address
stabilization and reconstruction issues, another major recommendation highlighted
in the report.
The latest report follows another on "strategic communication" by
the DSB made public in November. That study also challenged a number of core
assumptions about the administration's "war on terrorism," especially
its insistence that radical Islamists "hate" the United States because
of its "freedom" and democratic practices, rather than concrete U.S.
policies in the region, such as its staunch support for Israel against the Palestinians,
the invasion of Iraq, and its backing for Arab autocrats.
Warning that Washington was losing the propaganda war to the Islamists, because
of its perceived "arrogance, opportunism, and double standards," the
report argued that the administration's insistence that it wants to bring democracy
to Islamic societies was "seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy"
based on a faulty assumption that Arabs, in particular, are "like the enslaved
people of the old Communist world."
The latest report does not specifically address either the "war on terrorism"
or the situation in Iraq, but its conclusions are certain to fuel the ongoing
controversy over whether Pentagon civilians led by Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith effectively "lost"
the Iraq war by ignoring warnings from the State Department, the intelligence
community and the uniformed military that stabilizing the country would require
many more troops than they wished to deploy.
Before the war, the Pentagon civilians, who were backed by Vice President Dick
Cheney, sought to exclude the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) from postwar planning and operations largely because of their belief that
the two agencies would promote Sunni Arab nationalists in the place of Saddam
Hussein. They, on the other hand, supported exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, a secular
Shi'ite who, they believed, was committed to a thorough de-Ba'athification of
Iraq and staunch alignment with the U.S. and even Israel.
They also believed Chalabi's repeated assurances that U.S. troops would be
greeted as "liberators" by virtually all Iraqis, rather than as "occupiers"
and so planned to quickly draw down the 140,000 troops who invaded the country
to only about 30,000 by early 2005.
In one particularly notorious case, Wolfowitz publicly ridiculed estimates
by the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, that "several hundred thousand"
troops at least would be required to stabilize the country.
Rumsfeld, who had downgraded a special Army institute devoted to peacekeeping
and stabilization shortly after taking over the Pentagon, also wanted to make
Iraq a model for a "transformed" military that, with massive firepower,
precision weapons, superior technology and mobility, could quickly overwhelm
While the military objective was indeed quickly achieved, the absence of a
sufficiently large force, let alone one experienced in peacekeeping and stabilization
operations, created a major security vacuum that was filled over the following
months by an insurgency which, according to the head of Iraqi intelligence last
week, has grown to some 30,000 full-time fighters backed by 200,000 supporters.
Instead of focusing on Iraq, the DSB task force examined U.S. combat operations
since the end of the Cold War and their aftermath and found that more troops
not only were required for stabilization than for combat, but that stabilization
operations have typically lasted for five to eight years.
The Pentagon, according to the report, "has not yet embraced stabilization
and reconstruction operations as an explicit mission with the same seriousness
as combat operations. This mindset must be changed."
In addition, it went on, the Pentagon had failed to establish a strong working
relationship with the State Department, whose regional expertise, knowledge
of culture, diplomatic skills, and contacts with international agencies and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were critical to achieving success in
"The orchestration of all instruments of U.S. power in peacetime might
obviate the need for many military excursions to achieve political objectives;
or, failing that, at least better prepare us to achieve political objectives
during stabilization and reconstruction operations," the report notes in
an apparent critique of the both the administration's rush to war and the Pentagon's
(Inter Press Service)