What about the 90-day occupation?

Jay Bookman

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 9/8/03: Last February, with invasion just weeks away, sources in the Bush administration told Newsweek that they were expecting a postwar occupation of Iraq of 30 to 90 days.

"Every day you get past three months, you've got to expect peacekeepers to have a bull's-eye on their head," the sources explained.

Even at the time, a spokesman for Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith suggested that three months might be too optimistic. It was probably wiser to think five or six months on the outside, Lt. Col. Michael Humm said.

At the time, Pentagon officials also claimed that Iraq's oil wealth would make it unnecessary to ask other countries for financial help with reconstruction. "I don't see the need for panhandling like that," the Pentagon source said.

A month later, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz issued his own warning of how tough the occupation would be. Ruling Iraq, he said, would be like ruling liberated France after World War II.

He and his colleagues ought to be fired. Not only did they believe those fantasies, they also made their ideological pipe dreams the basis of our postwar planning, and today we're reaping the consequences.

Just last week, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni fiercely lambasted our postwar planning, warning that "there is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together." As a result, "we're in danger of failing." His audience, comprising Navy and Marine officers, broke out in prolonged applause.

A day or two earlier, someone in the Pentagon had leaked a top-secret analysis -- commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- that had also been harshly critical of the Pentagon's occupation planning.

In response, defenders of postwar planning in essence ask, "Who knew . . . ?"

Who knew Iraq's oil industry was so decrepit? Who predicted guerrilla war? Who knew it would cost so much? Who knew that the Iraqi army, which we disbanded back in May, would have been so useful in keeping peace?

Well, a lot of people knew. The administration simply did not listen.

Nine months ago, the well-respected Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that we were sorely ill-prepared for an occupation, listing 10 key steps the United States had to take before invading. Not one was achieved.

The CSIS report cautioned that Iraqi oil proceeds could not begin to cover reconstruction costs. It warned that the Iraqi army had an important role to play, and recommended a donors conference be convened even before war began.

It stressed, in underline and in italics, "Do not underestimate post-conflict security needs."

Another report, this one by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy, also stressed the importance of maintaining the Iraqi army, and it too warned against "a great deal of wishful thinking about Iraqi oil." Released in December, it estimated that up to $100 billion would be needed to reconstruct Iraq.

But perhaps the most perceptive work was done by the U.S. Army War College, the military's own think tank. Its report, issued in February, reads like an after-the-fact autopsy:

 "Having entered into Iraq, the United States will find itself unable to leave rapidly, despite the many pressures to do so."

 "A small number of terrorists could reasonably choose to attack U.S. forces in the hope that they can incite an action-reaction cycle that will enhance their cause and increase their numbers."

 "If the United States assumes control of Iraq, it will assume control of a badly battered economy."

 "To tear apart the [Iraqi] army in the war's aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society."

Most chilling of all, however, is the report's conclusion:

"Without an overwhelming effort to prepare for occupation, the United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

Like I said, these guys ought to be fired.

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