Sticking It to the Plan

The Bush administration planned for the invasion of Iraq, but not for its post-war occupation. That assertion has been repeated so often by the president's critics that it has become a political cliché. But it is not correct.

There was plenty of planning for the post-war occupation at senior levels throughout government, says Col. Tom Gross, who was chief planner for Lt. General Jay M. Garner, director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, and then-chief of staff for Ambassador Paul Bremer, Coalition Provisional Authority administrator.

"There was a plan," said Gross, who is retiring from the military. "The administration chose not to accept it. Their plan was to put [Iraqi exile] Ahmed Chalabi in charge and run with it."

Indeed, as former Clinton and Bush administration anti-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's recent testimony to the 9/11 commission revealed, the top staffers at the National Security Council and at the departments of State and Defense do almost nothing but plan, strategize, evaluate contingencies and sometimes get orders to act. But what people who were riveted by Richard Clarke's testimony may not realize is that the most powerful figures in the Bush administration -- from its earliest days -- dispensed with the interagency planning process prior White Houses used to evaluate threats, make decisions to go to war, and plan and carry out those actions.

"The interagency process is dead," said Ehsan Ahrari, an independent strategic analyst based in Alexandria, Virginia, who follows military affairs.

Richard Clarke's testimony to the 9/11 commission described what happened to the interagency process as it concerned fighting terrorism prior to the 2001 attack. According to Clarke's now well-known testimony, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice downgraded the role and reach of Clarke and his staff. Under Rice and unlike the Clinton administration, the anti-terrorism czar said he could no longer aggressively coordinate government agencies and implement the nation's anti-terror policies.

This breakdown in the interagency process can also be seen in the contrast between how prior administrations and the Bush administration prepared for war. Just how the Bush White House broke with past precedent is explained in exquisite detail in a new book by James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet. Mann is a senior writer in residence at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies and former longtime correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

According to Mann, the president's war cabinet -- Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- didn't want to cede any decision-making powers to senior State Department or Pentagon officials. What becomes apparent in Mann's book is that not since Henry Kissinger was both national security adviser and secretary of state for Richard Nixon have presidential advisers held and exercised so much war-making power.

Col. Gross said he saw the impact of that concentration of power while in Iraq as a top aide to General Garner and Ambassador Bremer.

"When Jay Garner and I were there, they made decisions out of the Pentagon that made no sense whatsoever," Gross said. "We'd provide guidance to the OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense). They'd blow it off... Most of my perspective is the political stuff. What sticks in my mind is a cavalier approach to the whole thing."

Gross said there were detailed plans and assumptions -- from both the State Department and the military's Central Command -- about what would be needed to transition from a post-war occupation to a self-rule. He said that at a meeting with Garner, Wolfowitz was told it would take 36 months to put a viable Iraqi government together and that a sizeable American military force of more than 100,000 troops would be needed for five, maybe 10 years. When Garner's office told Rumsfeld that they were ready to write a detailed political-military plan based on those estimates, Gross said "Rumsfeld said no."

Gross said he told Garner that they needed a political adviser, and a top State Department official was brought over to Iraq. From 2001 to 2003, this official ran a special project that worked with Iraqis to envision how a post-Saddam Iraq could be built. "There were thousands of documents, with Iraqis doing it, not Americans," Gross said. "We told Garner we needed a political adviser, so he came over. He lasted 12 hours. Rumsfeld fired him." Gross said he then asked Wolfowitz to "let us have the documents. Wolfowitz wouldn't let us touch one document from the Department of State."

Former senior CIA, NSC and State Department officials contacted said they'd all heard this account.

"I think I know why" Rusmfeld and Wolfowitz acted this way, said Tom Maertens, former National Security Council director for nuclear non-proliferation for both the Clinton and Bush White Houses. "They apparently thought that Chalabi had some sort of popular following in Iraq. They flew in Chalabi with his cronies and they thought that was the new Iraqi government."

As Mann's book makes abundantly clear, the Bush war cabinet -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Armitage, Powell and more recently Rice -- have a decades-long history of distrusting both career diplomats and Pentagon generals who do not believe in American supremacy on the global stage or are reluctant to forcefully use American military power. Thus, the Bush White House purposefully unplugged the so-called interagency process, which in effect had been a system of shared responsibilities -- and checks and balances -- in the way America used its military power around the world.

Gross said Rumsfeld has now given his deputy, Wolfowitz, the job of dealing with Iraq.

It's interesting," he said. "My take is there is now a huge rift between Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. What I think is Rumsfeld's agenda is military transformation. Iraq is a sideshow. What he has done is turned the Iraq keys over to Wolfowitz..."

According to Mann's book, the deputy secretary of defense has been focused on, if not obsessed with, Iraq since the mid-'70s. Then, he served in the Pentagon during the Carter administration and predicted that America's oil supply from Saudi Arabia and Iraq could be endangered by an aggressive Iraq under Saddam Hussein. After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when he was outside government, Wolfowitz wrote numerous papers and articles urging that the U.S. military return to Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein.

"Wolfowitz is the most dangerous guy in America right now," Gross said. "He doesn't listen. The interagency process is broken. The bad thing is nobody will call him out. Condi doesn't say anything about it. Cheney is not going to do anything about it. And Rumsfeld is doing military transformation."

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior editor for

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.