The Frontline link I posted up there has some really fascinating interviews with people who were involved or witness to the first year of the occupation. Essentially, the entire decision-making process was flawed, mainly because the administration chose to listen to neoconservative ideologues who really were convinced that this would be a cakewalk. So dissenting views were shut out. There was no Plan B, as Cait says. There was hardly a Plan A.
The whole damned thing was more of a pipe dream than anything else. Truly scary reading. And it matches up with the critique of decision-making in the White House offered by former insiders, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
Here's an excerpt from the interview with career diplomat James Dobbins:
[Why do you think they didn't hear the criticisms?]
I think that the main reason that the administration didn't address the doubts, the potential difficulties, was they short-circuited the interagency process. The way a president and his senior staff gain knowledge and consider all the alternatives is through a process, a structured process of adversarial debate, in which you bring all of the people who have opinions and a stake in the outcome to the table and let them argue through the different alternatives.
The administration chose not to do that. The president made his mind up early, before he had fully heard all of the arguments. Responsibility for preparations for the post-conflict phases were transferred from State and the [U.S.] Agency for International Development [USAID] to the Defense Department. So the National Security Council [NSC] staff did not prepare and then guide a process of adversarial debate between advocates and critics of the policy, between those who thought it would be easy and those who thought it would be hard. They didn't question the assumptions. They didn't look at the underlying assumptions and red-team them, in effect. The failure to do that meant the president and his senior advisers were less informed than they should have been.
Now, one can understand why they chose not to do that. I think they chose not to do that, in part at least, because they felt that a spirited debate within the administration wouldn't stay within the administration; that it would slop over into the international and domestic debate and make it more difficult to secure international and domestic support. That's probably true. It might have made it more difficult. But I think that had there been such a debate, had State and Defense and CIA been asked to critique the plans, to question the assumptions, and had there been a greater scrutiny of particularly the resource implications of the post-conflict phase, if you will, or the post-conventional conflict phase, one would have come to a much more realistic appreciation of what was likely to happen.
I think responsibility ultimately has to lie with the president. He made two critical decisions as we understand it, both of which tended to short-circuit a more structured, formal and intense debate. One was the basic decision to prepare for a military intervention and set and train the deployments and the diplomacy, which would make an intervention virtually irreversible. ...
The second decision was a decision made somewhat closer to the intervention, I think about three months before it, when the president decided to take ... all of the nonmilitary responsibilities for the reconstruction phase -- that is, a responsibility for holding elections, creating a central bank, rebuilding the economy, creating political parties, building a civil society -- to take all of those responsibilities away from the agencies of government that had been doing them, perhaps never well, but increasingly better for the last 50 years, and give them to the Department of Defense, a department that had no expertise, no experience in these complex and difficult areas. ...
If you give all responsibility to a single Cabinet officer, then you as president only get two kinds of messages back: Message A is "Everything's OK; don't worry, Mr. President," and message B is "I need more money." Those are the only messages you'll ever get. That Cabinet officer is never going to come to you as president and say: "Mr. President, I've got a real problem here. I don't know how to solve it. Could you give me some advice?" He's not going to do that. He's going to solve it ... based on the intellectual resources of his single department. He's not going to go to another agency head and ask him for advice either.
So you've narrowed the circle of people upon whom the decisions rested, and in doing that, you narrowed the amount of expertise and the amount of enlightenment that you are likely to receive as a result. ...
Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks, who's investigated the run-up to the war:
... Was there robust debate in this administration about this war? ...
There was a robust debate about Iraq before the invasion, but it had a perverse effect, which is there are so many experts inside the U.S. government who thought this was crazy to invade Iraq, [that] it was the wrong thing to do at that point on the war on terror, that the Bush administration began to feel kind of beleaguered. Every time they asked an expert for advice, they said, "Don't do it; this is crazy."
You had the opposite of what you historically have had in this country in wartime, which is a narrowing of support, a narrowing of the base and a narrowing of expertise. Every time somebody said in a meeting, "That's kind of wrong," or, "That's not really what the experts think," that person was not invited back to the next meeting. ...
And from the interview with Anthony Cordesman, an expert in the Middle East and national security:
Now, out of that decision came perhaps the most serious problem that emerged: Neither at the political level in the Department of Defense nor at the military [level] did anybody want to be involved in stability operations. This was not the mission, and indeed, at that point in time, the Department of Defense was trying its best to avoid nation-building and this kind of political involvement.
At a higher level, people simply believed what exiles and others were telling them: that once you got rid of Saddam, everything would be all right. Iraq was an oil-rich country, had large reserves of oil-for-food [program] money. It was really very well-educated, and the problem was simply Saddam. They ignored the Iran-Iraq War; they ignored Iraq's political history; they ignored the economic impact of war and sanctions. They wanted to believe, and that created a climate where nobody was prepared to take any kind of mission seriously.
In fairness to [Lt.] Gen. [Jay] Garner and to Ambassador [L. Paul "Jerry"] Bremer, one of the most important things to understand here is, the United States government never made a serious, integrated effort to anticipate what would happen after Saddam fell. It simply assumed everything would be all right.
A kind of overarching optimism?
Or overarching ignorance. One of the things to remember: This is a country of 27 million people. It's the size of California. It has radically different sectarian and ethnic groups with totally different cultural values and expectations from the United States. The fact that there's a Western-educated elite at the top, particularly in the exile community, which must be something on the order of one-tenth of 1 percent of the population, may sometimes give the impression that there's an identity. It doesn't exist, and we don't know what to do. The truth is, no one knows what to do. ...