The best way to

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The best way to get out of a hole is generally to stop digging — at least, that’s the first, critical step, without which nothing else matters.

Along those lines see this critical passage from Christopher Dickey’s review of Rick Atkinson’s In the Company of Soldiers in yesterday’s Times

The coalition invasion force was less than half the size of the one that liberated Kuwait in 1991, because that was all that was needed to defeat Hussein’s eviscerated services. But professional soldiers realized a lot more boots on the ground would be needed to maintain order once the dictator went down and the occupation (”the O-word”) began. The soldiers’ concerns were ignored. The wishful assumptions of the Pentagon civilians about the after-war were just as wildly off base as their intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. ”The abrupt transition to anarchy was a disaster not only for Iraq but also for the United States,” Atkinson writes. ”Pentagon planners in early May had predicted that U.S. troop levels would be down to 30,000 by late summer; instead, at Christmas the figure was 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq, with another 30,000 in Kuwait.”

Mull on that for a moment.

The people who planned and advocated for this war hadn’t the slightest idea what they were getting into. All the plans, all the <$Ad$>assumptions, all the notions of what would flow from this came from that basic inability to grasp the reality of what they were entering into.

Think about it: down to thirty-thousand troops — a smattering for a country the size of Iraq — only three or four months after the end of fighting. Think how mind-bogglingly off the mark that was.

Some of this comes into perspective in a column Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley wrote in the Washington Post on the eve of the war (Feb. 28th, 2003).

It shows that the administration had done a lot of planning. They just had no idea what to plan for. Hadley’s main points are plans to deal with humanitarian disasters in the country.

If you put yourself back in that mindset the Bush politicals had as of early 2003, the idea was that the great mass of the Iraqi population would be in sync with what we were doing and eager to participate. Our role was being there at the ready to help them deal with crises brought on by the war or by the internal degeneration of the country in the years before it: ready to ship in water, food, help repave the roads, technical assistance getting their economy in order and reformed, etc. That’s what we’d be there for. And thus we could pull most combat troops out after a few months.

The idea that we’d need a vast army of occupation — hopefully one with some multinational flavor — to make everyone keep their heads down while we went about with the serious and risky business of nation-building simply didn’t occur to them. Thus the treatment of Shinseki.

Here are the second through seventh grafs of Hadley’s piece …

Securing this liberty and sustaining it in a post-Hussein Iraq will be a huge undertaking. But we are well prepared. Planning has been underway for months, across every relevant agency of the U.S. government.

The goals for which we plan are clear. First, along with our coalition partners, we must ensure the rapid flow of humanitarian relief into Iraq. The current humanitarian situation in Iraq is tenuous. For food, most Iraqis rely on rations from the oil-for-food program. But the Iraqi regime’s manipulation of the program has led to mortality and malnutrition rates worse than before the Persian Gulf War.

Hussein has a history of manufacturing humanitarian crises. We must be prepared for this — and we are.

The U.S. government is stockpiling nearly 3 million Humanitarian Daily Rations to meet emergency food needs. We are also stockpiling blankets, water containers, essential medicines and other relief items capable of helping up to a million people. Much of this material is already in the region, and more is on the way.

To distribute these and other materials, we will rely primarily on civilian relief agencies. We are counting on the efforts of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent, as well as various nongovernmental organizations. These groups have the expertise, personnel and equipment that can literally mean the difference between life and death. We will fund and facilitate their efforts to the greatest extent possible.

In circumstances where no U.N. agencies or nongovernmental organizations are available, the U.S. military may be required to provide limited relief. Such relief will be under the guidance of civilian experts, with the goal of getting civilian agencies into these areas as quickly as possible.

To coordinate all this activity, the U.S. government is training a 60-person civilian disaster assistance response team, the largest in U.S. history. Made up of humanitarian emergency professionals from several agencies, the team will soon have representatives in Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar.

This crew simply didn’t understand what they were getting into. It was an intelligence failure even more difficult to grasp than the fiasco over WMD — and in this case it stemmed entirely from administration political appointees in the face of unanimous contrary advice from everywhere else in government.

They’ve never copped to that misunderstanding, even to themselves. That team can’t save the situation.

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