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Context of 'September 2006: Bush Administration Did Not Intend on ‘Nation-Building’ in Iraq, Author Writes'

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Photo of the cover of the Desert Crossing after-action briefing.Photo of the cover of the Desert Crossing after-action briefing. [Source: National Security Archives]The US Central Command, or CENTCOM (see October 1, 1986), conducts a series of war games called “Desert Crossing” centered on the scenario of Saddam Hussein being ousted as Iraq’s dictator. CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni will later say of the scenario, “I thought we ought to look at political reconstruction, economic reconstruction, security reconstruction, humanitarian need, services, and infrastructure development.” The game concludes that unless measures are taken, “fragmentation and chaos” will ensue after his overthrow. The after-action report finds that regime change may cause instability throughout the Middle East by giving impetus to “rival forces bidding for power” which, in turn, could cause societal “fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines” and antagonize “aggressive neighbors.” Securing borders and civil order may not be enough to restabilize Iraq, the report speculates, if the new government is perceived as either weak, subservient to outside governments, or out of touch with other Middle Eastern governments. The report finds that an exit strategy would be complicated by differing ideas for how a post-Saddam Iraq should be. Any US-supported transitional government will find it difficult to restrain various factions from pursuing their own tribal and sectarian vendettas against one another, the report finds. The game is quickly forgotten; years later, when the Bush administration will begin planning for its invasion of Iraq, the retired Zinni will recommend that his successors “dust off Desert Crossing,” and they will respond: “What’s that? Never heard of it.” [John Prados, 11/4/2006; Roberts, 2008, pp. 125, 233]

Entity Tags: Anthony Zinni, Saddam Hussein, US Central Command, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Future of Iraq dossier cover.The Future of Iraq dossier cover. [Source: Representational Pictures]The US State Department begins the “Future of Iraq” project aimed at developing plans for post-Saddam Iraq. The project eventually evolves into the collaborative effort of some 17 working groups involving more than 200 exiled Iraqi opposition figures and professionals including jurists, academics, engineers, scientists, and technical experts. These groups meet on numerous occasions over the next eight to ten months, preparing plans to address a wide range of issues. The 17 working groups include: Public Health and Humanitarian Needs; Water, Agriculture and the Environment; Public Finance and Accounts; Transitional Justice; Economy and Infrastructure; Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, and Migration Policy; Foreign and National Security Policy; Defense Institutions and Policy; Civil Society Capacity-Building; Public and Media Outreach; Economic and Infrastructure; Local Government; Anti-Corruption Measures; Oil and Energy; Education; Free Media; and Democratic Principles. [US Department of State, 1/22/2002; United Press International, 6/5/2002; US Department of State, 10/4/2002; US Department of State, 10/11/2002; US Department of State, 10/11/2002; Assyrian International News Agency, 10/31/2002; Washington File, 12/16/2002; Washington File, 12/16/2002; US Department of State, 12/19/2002; Washington File, 2/3/2003; Detroit Free Press, 2/10/2003; US Department of State, 2/12/2003; US Department of State, 4/23/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 10/19/2003; US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
Problems and Setbacks - The project suffers from a serious lack of interest and funds. In July, The Guardian reports: “Deep in the bowels of the US State Department, not far from the cafeteria, there is a small office identified only by a handwritten sign on the door reading: ‘The Future of Iraq Project.‘… [T]he understaffed and underfunded Future of Iraq Project has been spending more effort struggling with other government departments than plotting Saddam’s downfall.” [Guardian, 7/10/2002] More than a month after the invasion, several of the project’s 17 working groups will still have not met. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126]
Achievements - The $5 million project ultimately produces 13 volumes of reports consisting of some 2,000 pages of what is described as varying quality. The New York Times will later report, “A review of the work shows a wide range of quality and industriousness.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003] The newspaper cites several examples:
bullet “[T]he transitional justice working group, made up of Iraqi judges, law professors, and legal experts… met four times and drafted more than 600 pages of proposed reforms in the Iraqi criminal code, civil code, nationality laws and military procedure.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
bullet “The group studying defense policy and institutions expected problems if the Iraqi Army was disbanded quickly.… The working group recommended that jobs be found for demobilized troops to avoid having them turn against allied forces.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
bullet “The democratic principles working group wrestled with myriad complicated issues from reinvigorating a dormant political system to forming special tribunals for trying war criminals to laying out principles of a new Iraqi bill of rights.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
bullet “The transparency and anticorruption working group warned that ‘actions regarding anticorruption must start immediately; it cannot wait until the legal, legislative and executive systems are reformed.’” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
bullet “The economy and infrastructure working group warned of the deep investments needed to repair Iraq’s water, electrical, and sewage systems.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
bullet “The free media working group noted the potential to use Iraq’s television and radio capabilities to promote the goals of a post-Hussein Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
Impact of the Project's Work - After the US and British invasion of Iraq, Knight Ridder will report, “Virtually none of the ‘Future of Iraq’ project’s work was used.” [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] It was “ignored by Pentagon officials,” the New York Times will also observe. [New York Times, 10/19/2003] Iraq expert and former CIA analyst Judith Yaphe, who is one of the American experts involved in the “Future of Iraq” project, will tell American Prospect magazine in May 2003: “[The Office of the Secretary of Defense] has no interest in what I do.” She will also complain about how the Defense Department prevented the State Department from getting involved in the post-war administration of Iraq. “They’ve brought in their own stable of people from AEI [American Enterprise Institute], and the people at the State Department who worked with the Iraqi exiles are being kept from [Jay] Garner,” she will explain. [American Prospect, 5/1/2003] One of those people is Tom Warrick, the “Future of Iraq” project director. When retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the first US administrator in Iraq, requests that Warrick join his staff, Pentagon civilians veto the appointment. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 10/19/2003] Other sources will also say that the Pentagon purposefully ignored the work of the “Future of Iraq” project. Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who retires from the Pentagon’s Near East/South Asia bureau on July 1, will tell Knight Ridder Newspapers that she and her colleagues were instructed by Pentagon officials in the Office of Special Plans to ignore the State Department’s concerns and views. “We almost disemboweled State,” Kwiatkowski will recall. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] After the fall of Saddam Hussein, critics will say that several of the post-war problems encountered could have been avoided had the Pentagon considered the warnings and recommendations of the “Future of Iraq” project. [American Prospect, 5/1/2003; New York Times, 10/19/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Jay Garner, Judith Yaphe, US Department of Defense, Tom Warrick, Karen Kwiatkowski

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jay Garner.Jay Garner. [Source: US Army]The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) is created by the Pentagon to direct the post-war administration of Iraq, and signed into existence by President Bush. Its head, retired Army General Jay Garner, ostensibly reports to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith (see Fall 2002), but Garner will later say that once he is in Iraq proper, General Tommy Franks of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) “will be my boss.” ORHA is later renamed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). David Kay, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a former UN weapons inspector, had initially been selected to head the office, but he declined the invitation. Associates of Kay tell the New York Times that Kay felt the new agency seemed relatively uninterested in the task of promoting democracy. [New York Times, 2/23/2003; New York Times, 4/2/2003; Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134] Garner is considered an excellent selection, having led the relief effort for the Kurds of northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. But he faces an uphill battle, as ORHA’s functionality is plagued from the outset by a severe lack of time, uncertain funding, and incessant interdepartmental strife, particularly between the State and Defense Departments. Most ORHA workers will not have reported for duty by the time the invasion begins. And attempts to recruit experts from other agencies will be blocked by Feith and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who impose strict ideological and bureaucratic restrictions on Garner’s selections for his staff. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, US Department of State, George W. Bush, Jay Garner, Thomas Franks, David Kay

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Jay Garner, a retired general selected by the Pentagon a month before to direct reconstruction efforts in Iraq, is replaced by diplomat Paul Bremer III as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Bremer is thought more capable of dealing with the increasing rebellion and lawlessness in Iraq. [CNN, 5/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Jay Garner, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA - see April 17, 2003 and After and January 2003) notes in an internal report that while it lacks an accurate personnel count, it “believe[s] it had a total of 1,196 workers” in Baghdad, about half the authorized number. The Pentagon made up the shortfall by turning to the White House Liaison Office to recruit workers. The Liaison Office normally vets political appointees, and is staffed by right-wing ideologues with little practical experience outside Washington. As a result, the Liaison Office has sent hundreds of recruits to Baghdad who, in the phrasing of the CPA Inspector General, have “inconsistent skill sets.” Author and public policy professor Alasdair Roberts later notes that what the recruits lack in experience, ability, and qualifications, they make up in dogmatic adherence to right-wing ideology. One telling example is the group of CPA workers who manage the multi-billion dollar budget for the Iraqi government. Few, if any, have ever been to the Middle East, nor do any of them speak any of the region’s languages. None have any experience handling budgets of any real size. They are a group of recent college graduates, all in their twenties, who had submitted resumes for unrelated, lower-level jobs through the conservative Heritage Foundation. Roberts later writes, “The inexperience and partisanship of many CPA workers encouraged them to seize the moment and pursue reforms that were unneeded or impractical,” implementing what Roberts calls a “radical reconstruction of Iraqi society” based on neoconservative and fundamentalist dogma, with no understanding of, or concern for, Iraqi society. Many of the proposed reforms are later shelved as unworkable and dangerously provocative; one plan, to privatize Iraq’s state-run enterprises, is set aside for fear that it would lead to “popular unrest.” Most of the staff spend little time in Iraq before returning home; one CPA adviser calls them “90-day wonders getting their tickets punched that said, ‘I’ve been in Baghdad.’” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 127-128]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Alasdair Roberts, White House Liaison Office, Heritage Foundation, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

In his book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, author and New York Times media critic Frank Rich writes that President Bush never entered Iraq with any idea of “nation-building.” Bush “never talked about building a democracy in Iraq” during the planning and marketing of the invasion, Rich writes. “The reason he didn’t talk about it was not that he was consciously trying to keep a hidden, hard-to-sell motive secret. The record shows that, for once, Bush’s private convictions actually did match his public stance. Neither he nor the administration had any intention of doing any nation-building. The war plan was an easy exercise in regime change, a swift surgical procedure, after which the Iraqis would be left to build their own democracy by spontaneous civic combustion, like Eastern Europeans after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Americans would hang around in small numbers, perhaps, to protect the oil ministry—the only institution they did protect after routing Saddam. Every single administration action of the time confirms that nation-building was not in the cards. That’s why General Jay Garner was picked as the top American official after the fall of Baghdad (see January 2003): The White House wanted a short-term military emissary rather than a full-dress occupation administrator because the job description required only that he manage a quick turnaround of power to the Iraqis and an immediate exit for American troops. That’s why [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the war cabinet bought a Tommy Franks plan to draw down those troops from 130,000 to 30,000 by the fall of 2003. It’s also why the only serious prewar plan for rebuilding Iraq, the State Department’s ‘Future of Iraq’ project, was shelved by the White House (see April 2002-March 2003). General Anthony Zinni’s ‘Desert Crossing’ plan for Iraq occupation, which he bequeathed to Franks, his successor, was also shunted aside (see April-July 1999). Any such bothersome little details were entrusted instead to the Defense Department’s Douglas Feith, whose only (non) qualification was that he had been a loyal provider of cherry-picked Iraq intelligence to [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Cheney’s then-chief of staff Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby before the war.… Had nation-building been in the White House’s plan, surely someone would have bothered to investigate what nation was being rebuilt.” Even after Garner’s replacement by Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer (see May 11, 2003), nation-building wasn’t on the agenda. The two heads of “private-sector development” in Iraq were, in Rich’s words, “a former Bush campaign finance chair in Connecticut and a venture capitalist who just happened to be [then-press secretary] Ari Fleischer’s brother.” The CPA was staffed by “twentysomethings with no foreign service experience or knowledge of Arabic simply because they had posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation (see June 25, 2004).… The ‘nation-building’ that America finally did undertake was an improvised initiative, heavier on PR than on achievement, to justify the mission retroactively. Only then did the war’s diehard defenders disingenuously grandfather it in as a noble calling contemplated by the Bush White House from the start.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 213-214]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Anthony Zinni, Douglas Feith, George W. Bush, L. Paul Bremer, Thomas Franks, Jay Garner, Frank Rich, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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