The headline from this article in today's Washington Post is that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz conceded that a number of the administration's assumptions about the occupation of Iraq turned out to be unduly optimistic.
Wolfowitz summed up his implicit defense thus: "There's been a lot of talk that there was no plan. There was a plan, but as any military officer can tell you, no plan survives first contact with reality."
I credit Wolfowitz for his candor. But here's why this explanation doesn't really add up.
Under any set of circumstances this was an extremely ambitious undertaking. There would inevitably have been setbacks and course corrections once hypotheses gave way to realities.
The issue though is not that there are reverses and course corrections, but the extent of them and, even more than that, which way they trend.
Let me explain what I mean in this context by "trend."
In the lead-up to the war there was a broad battle between Pentagon civilian appointees and folks at State, CIA, in the uniformed military, and even career folks at DOD -- those who hadn't already been shipped off to the Hill or NDU -- over what the occupation would look like and what would be required to make it a success.
(I discussed this issue with regards to the CIA in my column this week in The Hill.)
The big issues were how many troops would be needed to secure the country, how much low-level armed resistance would continue after the war, how quickly and under what auspices a new government would come into being, the optimal degree of internationalization, among many others.
Give the Post article a good read, because it contains a lot of good information and a solid overview. But if you read it and other similar articles I think it's hard not to come to one conclusion: that on almost every one one of these key issues the predictions and preferred policies of the career/State/ CIA/uniformed military faction turned out to be far closer to the mark than the thinking that was coming out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) -- the people who ended up in charge of shaping the actual policy.
Some neo-cons and advocates of the Pentagon civilians will argue that an almost equally significant problem was that the NSA, Condi Rice, never forced everyone to get on one page and agree on one policy. So what you had was different parts of the national security bureaucracy devising and pushing contrary policies right up till the last minute, and generally fighting wars with each other while they were supposed to be getting ready to fight a war against Iraq. And there's some measure of truth in this criticism.
The neos also make the argument that if it had been left to the career/State/ CIA/uniformed military faction we probably never would have invaded Iraq in the first place -- though that's not quite the argument ender it was a few months ago.
At the end of the day, though, it just doesn't cut it to say that no plan is perfect and that you never know quite what you'll find until you're actually in country. Because a lot of people did have a fairly good idea of what we'd find in the country, or at least a much better idea than the folks at OSD.
Unfortunately, those folks at OSD spent the last two years pummeling those other dudes into the ground.