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Iraq: The Way Forward, Session 3—A View from the Newsroom [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: George Packer, Author and staff writer, New Yorker, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Public policy scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; author and former Baghdad bureau chief, Washington Post
Presider: Judy Woodruff, Broadcast journalist, former anchor, CNN
October 24, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations Washington, DC


Council on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC


JUDY WOODRUFF:  (In progress) -- to be part of the conversation.  I'm going to introduce them, and we are going to get right into our discussion. 

I'm to tell -- I'm to ask all of you -- the council asked me to remind all of you to please turn off your cell phones, your BlackBerries or any other device that makes noise, before we get under way, because you will be ushered right out of the room if it goes off.  Just kidding.  Just kidding.

First of all, we are so pleased to have with us George Packer, who is well-known to all of us as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.  He's the author of two novels and three works of non-fiction, including, "Blood of the Liberals," which won a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.  He is also the editor of the anthology, "The Fight Is For Democracy."  The reason he's with us today is, of course, because of his book out this month, "The Assassins' Gate."  It has been received with plaudits.  I think Publishers Weekly called it THE Iraq book of the year, and maybe more than that.

So, George Packer, we're delighted to have you with us. 

GEORGE PACKER:  Thank you.

WOODRUFF:  Our other speaker is Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who is a Public Policy Scholar right now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, a neighbor.  Up until October of last year, up until exactly a year ago, he was The Washington Post's bureau chief in Baghdad, where of course he was responsible for all of their coverage, and he oversaw a staff that included more than two dozen Iraqi staffers.  He is currently on leave from the Post to write a book about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.  The book is to be published next year.  And he does plan to return to the Post at the end of the year.  Before the war in Iraq, he was the Post's Cairo bureau chief, and before that, he was their correspondent in Southeast Asia.  And should know that leading up to the war in Iraq, he was in and out of Baghdad for the better part of a year, and in fact, spent most of the six months leading right up to the war in Baghdad covering the weapons inspection story, and others.

So I want to launch right into what we're here to talk about, and start with you, George Packer.  And that is, you know, we are -- the focus of these discussions is to be the way forward.  But I think we really can't understand the way forward unless we have a much better hold -- handle, if you will, on the decision-making that led up to Iraq.

You and I were just talking, before we walked in here, about the whole Valerie Plame investigation and how that is connected to the administration's decision and the history of it.  So I want to ask you, you know, you were one who has asked, how could the administration have ignored some of the advice it was getting.  So talk about how you see that happening.

PACKER:  You know, the deeper I dug into the history of the background of the war, as I was writing "The Assassins' Gate," the more I realized that the Iraq war was very much a part of our own domestic political wars.  And if you sort of go back into the '90s, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, and find that there was a small group of conservative policymakers, some of whom came out of the first Bush administration, others were not officials, they were intellectuals, they were writers, they kept alive an idea of American power at the end of the Cold War that became in a sense the Bush doctrine in 2002.  It was 10 years in the making, in a way, with the fall of the Soviet empire. 

And I go back to a document that came out of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's department at the very end of the first Bush administration in which Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Zalmay Khalilzad, Abram Shulsky, all of them deeply involved in the planning and the execution of the Iraq war, produced a document that said America should reign preeminent, should deter all rivals, and should pursue its interests and its values around the world as THE sole superpower.  And it's sort of a brief for unilateral and unapologetic exercise of American power, especially military power. 

That document was leaked before it could be finished, and the first George Bush tried to soften it.  It was not his world view; it was not the world view of his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, as you can read in this week's New Yorker.  And instead, it sort of became a minor little Washington sort of inside story in 1992.  But if you look back at it, you see it really did lay out a rationale for the kind of thinking that led to the Iraq war.

When those same people came into power in 2001, they had watched the Clinton administration founder on Iraq and eventually, as they saw it, allow Saddam to defy the world, to begin to slip out of the constraints that he had been in after the Gulf War.  They considered that part of the failure of Democratic Party foreign policy to assert American power.

So when the Iraq war was in its planning stages, anyone who was associated with the '90s, with the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, with the things that were learned the hard way as a result of all the post-Cold War interventions of the decade, was kept out of the planning for the Iraq war.  Their advice was not welcome.  They were considered part of that decade of foreign policy failure.  So expert advice from the think tanks as well as from people inside the second Bush administration -- mid-level officials who had gained that experience -- military people who had gained that experience in the Balkans, most famously General Eric Shinseki, who was the Army chief of staff -- it was unwelcome.  And I think it was ideologically unwelcome because in the new era of the Bush doctrine, nation-building was a dirty word.  There would be regime change in Iraq; there would not be nation-building in Iraq.

And while I was researching the book, I found one story of particular interest to the Council on Foreign Relations.  It was told to me by Les Gelb.  And the story goes as follows.  Les Gelb went to Condoleezza Rice in the fall of 2002 with the idea of establishing a consortium of think tanks that would present the administration with a range of information and options --

WOODRUFF:  2002.

PACKER:  -- yep, before the war -- on post-war Iraq.  And Rice said, great, we won't have time to do it ourselves.  Please do that for us, but make sure that the American Enterprise Institute is involved.  So Gelb gathered his colleagues from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the American Enterprise Institute, and had a meeting at the White House with Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley.  And no sooner had Gelb begun to describe this consortium that would lay out options for postwar Iraq than the head of AEI interrupted and said, wait a minute, this sounds like nation-building.  The president is against it.  He ran against it in 2000.  Does he know you're doing this?  And essentially that was the end of the idea of having a consortium.

And what that story -- and so Condoleezza Rice was pretty much told by AEI you can't do that; it's politically the wrong thing.  What that tells us is that that thinking -- that ideologically rigidity -- so informed the policymakers who were the lead architects of the war that the thought of the postwar going bad, of all the things that they were being warned about, was simply ignored.  There was no plan B in case the rosy scenario of plan A didn't work.

WOODRUFF:  Give us a brief example of what it was that the administration could have heard that they didn't hear because of what you described.

PACKER:  Well, the most famous one, I suppose, is the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, which has probably been hyped a bit too much because it actually was not a blueprint for running postwar Iraq.  It was simply 17 volumes produced by committees of Iraqi exiles on everything from electricity to policing.  And it was a relatively pessimistic view of how postwar Iraq would look, of what state the American forces would find Iraqi society and infrastructure in when they got to Baghdad.  It was not a plan for running postwar Iraq.  Nonetheless, it would have been helpful.

And what happened to that plan was the State Department official who organized those committees, Thomas Warrick, was supposed to go to Kuwait with Jay Garner's team before the war.  But Jay Garner was called into Donald Rumsfeld's office about a week or two weeks maybe before the war began and Rumsfeld said, do you have a couple of people on your team named Warrick and O'Sullivan?  O'Sullivan is Meghan O'Sullivan who was at the Policy Planning Office under Richard Haass and is now in the National Security Council -- she is the deputy national security adviser.  Garner said, yeah, I do.  And Rumsfeld said, they can't go with you.  And Garner said, they're too valuable to lose, I need them.  And Rumsfeld said, this comes from so high up that I can't say no.  And Garner did a little bit of investigating and found out that it had come from the vice president, who did not like the thinking, the writing, the whole approach to the Middle East of these two State Department officials.

O'Sullivan actually got back on the team because Rumsfeld told Garner something like no one will notice, but Warrick did not go to Baghdad for a year.  I don't think Tom Warrick would have saved the American enterprise in Baghdad, but he might have helped.  And what's more important is keeping him out showed the folly of those in highest responsibility.  Donald Rumsfeld, whose department had demanded and received control over postwar Iraq, was willing to let this man be left behind because he was politically the wrong color.

WOODRUFF:  If this is what was going on in Washington at the time -- Rajiv, you were in the region; as we said, you were spending a lot of that time in Iraq -- how was this playing itself out on the ground in Iraq?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, it started to play out after April 9th, after the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein's government.

And the initial crew of folks who were sent, under Jay Garner, were fairly apolitical.  They were drawn from various quarters of the U.S. government, from USAID, the Army Corps of Engineers.  It was people who did have some subject matter expertise, but they were completely under-resourced, and they wound up -- and having no great plan, that they hadn't worked together, so they got on the ground, and they looked like a bunch of bumbling idiots because they just didn't have the time and the resources to get it together.

Then there was sort of version 2.0, and that's when Jerry Bremer came, the ORHA turned into the CPA, and this was supposed to be the occupation authority, the people that were now going to take the country forward.

Part of the problem in that transition time was, as George has just talked about, this sort of general distaste for nation-building.  It dovetailed with another imperative from some quarters of the administration, and that was we didn't -- some quarters, particularly the Pentagon, the Office of the Vice President and, to some degree, folks in the White House -- they favored having former exiles run the new, liberated Iraq.  Some quarters, it was Ahmed Chalabi.  The CIA favored Iyad Allawi.  We had our Kurdish friends.  We had our Shi'ite friends.

And so part of the reason for not doing more of that planning ahead of time was that there was this assumption that we would be handing the keys over to those folks.  Bremer --

WOODRUFF:  Assumption on whose part?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Assumption on the part of the Pentagon, primarily, but also from the Office of the Vice President and some at the National Security Council.

At no point before the war did everybody get together and agree on what the postwar political plan would be.  That's why we saw Garner out there meeting with various groups, but looking completely rudderless.  We sent Zal Khalilzad, who's now the ambassador there, for a few weeks, and then he was yanked back when Bremer came.  They kept changing plans.  Nobody quite knew what to do.

Bremer gets out there, and he has the mandate of the president to go and figure out what to do.  And his plan was a very expansive one.  He looked at the exiles.  There was a famous meeting with them a few days after he arrived, where he looked at them and said, "You don't represent Iraq," and he had a -- his vision was to create his Governing Council, to bring in lots of internals, Iraqis who hadn't gone to exile, and to look for the next great leader, the next Mandela or the next Xanana Gusmao, in the country.  And one of his great problems was, he was never able to find that and that the Governing Council wound up being run by -- effectively, by those former exiles.

But back to the question you asked.  The way it played out with the CPA was that by and large the people who were sent to work for the American occupation in Iraq for those 15 months were people who were chosen because of political loyalty, not because of a particular subject matter expertise.  I believe that there is no dearth of nation-building talent in this country, people who have worked for the U.N., who have worked for NGOs, but the gatekeepers who -- involved in sending people, the personnel offices in the White House and the Pentagon, valued party loyalty, valued party affiliation far higher than they valued having specific knowledge and -- you know, plenty of great cases of people who were sent over there who were sort of loyal Republican Party hacks, so to speak, as opposed to being people who had had experience in Kosovo, in other places, in Haiti, where we have been involved.

WOODRUFF:  Talk about, George -- if the administration had listened to some of this advice that you say was available, what could have been done differently that would have made a difference today in the way this thing has played out?

 PACKER:  Yeah.  It's -- all of these criticisms are not necessarily a case for "this was bound to succeed, and succeed brilliantly, if only they had listened to these people," because I think -- and I think now much more than I did at the time, because, frankly, I didn't know enough to know, and Iraq was something of a closed room for most of us in this country -- but anyone who spent time there understood that our forces were stretched far too thin, that there simply weren't enough of them.  The soldiers told you that all the time.  All the time.  Especially the lower-ranked.  As you got farther down from sort of the political levels of senior officers, you heard it.  I heard it from lieutenants, I heard it from captains, heard it from sergeants. 

So, whether or not we could have sustained a force of 300,000, which is a pretty difficult question given our commitments elsewhere, we were behind from the beginning.  We were in a deep hole within days or even hours of the fall of Baghdad.  Chaos broke out.  We didn't stop it.  And I think that goes directly back to that ideological conviction that we were not going to be an occupying power, that Iraqis were going to somehow create democratic structures on their own in this void, that all the lessons we'd learned over 10 or 15 years -- from Panama, to the Balkans, Timor -- somehow didn't apply to Iraq and there didn't need to be a strong hand enforcing security as the precondition for anything else happening.

So once that failed, you really could say the American venture in Iraq was doomed in its more -- sort of its more glorious guise from the first hours after the fall of the statue because we did not secure the country immediately.  All the armed Iraqi forces that were anti-democratic as well as anti-American rushed in to fill the void.  And the population -- I met a lot of these people, I know Rajiv did too, who wanted security far more than they loathed occupation -- I mean the entire Iraqi middle class was open to the idea that the Americans would have to stay for a while to help rebuild.  The idea that -- which is now something of an alibi for neoconservatives -- that if only we had handed power over at the very start to the Iraqis as they wanted, things would have gone fine, that's a fantasy.  Iraq would have been consumed with even more chaos than it was.

If we had shown the Iraqi middle class that we were serious about bringing benefits to them immediately, then I think we would have had a chance of creating some kind of stability and allowing political forces to work.  Instead, it became an armed conflict that never ended and that we're still living with today.

WOODRUFF:  But you're talking about a completely different structure, mindset, architecture, plan at the very highest level.

PACKER:  Absolutely.  This was doomed in Washington, not in Baghdad.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  George has talked about the security side of things, and I think it's also instructive to look at this politically.  And right now everybody is consumed with the question of what is our Sunni strategy, how are we going to bring the Sunnis into the fold post-constitution.  It's instructive to go back to those days even before the war, when the State Department or the NSC was meeting with Iraqi political leaders in exile.  And they were the faces that we all know -- Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi.  There was Abdul Aziz Hakim from SCIRI; there were the Kurdish leaders; there was no Sunni of stature there.  The United States has lacked a Sunni strategy from even before the war began.  And that's a problem that bedevils us today.  Now, we can say, who could --

WOODRUFF:  Because of Saddam Hussein.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Because of Saddam Hussein, because any Sunni leader who had any legitimacy was cut down.  Some of this is intrinsic, there's nothing you could have done, but the U.S. government allowed itself to be, in my view, overly swayed by the Kurdish and Shi'ite factions before the war, and there wasn't enough done -- there were folks at State, Tom Warrick from the Future of Iraq project is one of them, who wanted to bring in more Sunnis into this process and was shut out, and that then continued throughout the CPA.  And we're seeing the results of that today.

WOODRUFF:  Okay.  There's a great deal of agreement now on at least some of what went wrong; not complete agreement, but certainly a great deal of agreement.  Let's make a wrenching turn here, though, and try to talk about what the theme of these series of discussions is.  And that is, how does the United States -- what is the best thing for the United States and what is the best thing for the Iraqi people going forward, based on what you know?  George Packer --

PACKER:  Well, I think anyone in my position has to preface the answer by saying I don't know.  And the reason I say that is I don't know what's going on with Iraqis, and neither does any other Western journalist or even official in Iraq, because Iraq is a place where you can't leave your compound without elaborate plans and security.  And how can you possibly gain enough access to people in Fallujah, as Rajiv was saying, or in Mosul, and find out, what do they want, what's actually going on in their neighborhoods.  From what I gather, what's going on in mixed neighborhoods is a low-grade civil war in which mostly Shi'a are being ethnically cleansed from Sunni neighborhoods, for example, in Western Baghdad or in Southern Baghdad.

WOODRUFF:  So we're talking about the Sunni Triangle, basically --

PACKER:  With Baghdad as -- containing all the elements of the country.  But also in Mosul, wherever there are borders of the ethnic groups -- Diyala -- and the area just below Baghdad, Mahmudiyah, known as "the triangle of death" now. 

So what I gather is going on now in those areas in just day-to-day life is a really amazing level of violence in which one's ethnicity is the key factor, and -- or one's sect.  So what seemed like a complicated enough insurgency has grown even more complicated.  It's an insurgency that is becoming a civil war in which we seem to be on one side, the side of the Shi'ite Kurdish government, and against the Sunnis, who locked themselves out of that government.  It's a very complicated position to be in.

All I can say is our domestic, political realities are so out of sync with what Iraq needs that I don't have much confidence that whatever course we pursue next year will be the right one.  I think pressures to withdraw will grow strong enough in the Republican Party that the idea of a 10-year commitment to Iraq -- which is pulling it out of thin air, my sort of best guess at what it would take to make sure Iraq doesn't become a failed state in the heart of the most volatile region on Earth with consequences far, far beyond anything that Southeast Asia left us with when we withdrew from Vietnam -- I don't know our body politic is up to the job, and I don't think the administration has prepared the public in any way, from the beginning, for how serious a commitment we would need to make.  And they're now going to be paying the price of their failure to do that as the public pressure to withdraw grows.

WOODRUFF:  Rajiv, can you give us any more hopeful -- (laughter) -- a picture, based on your reporting?  You're working very hard right now on your own book.


WOODRUFF:  You were in Iraq for well over a year.  But based on what you know, based on the journalists you know who have been there and are there now, number one, what do you think the prospects are; and, number two, are the American people getting the story?  I mean, what little traveling I'm doing, people are always saying to me:  You in the press are not telling us the good things that are going on in Iraq.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  True.  Let's separate these two.  Let me do the journalist question first.  Yeah, you know, we can paint all the schools we want to over there, but it's not winning us any more friends by the day.  And, you know, I dare say the billions of dollars we're continuing to spend there on reconstruction projects aren't fundamentally affecting people's sentiments both to the United States or to the Iraqi government.  I think it's money that's just going down a sinkhole at this point.  But it is stuff that is beneficial to the country and will be helpful to them over the long term.  And if we sort of get around this sort of short-term "winning over hearts and minds" thing and looking at sort of building the seeds for something of the future, there is a benefit to all of that. 

I would posit that a lot of these projects -- people say, oh, why didn't you cover the opening of this new power station in Mahmudiyah?  Well, it's "the triangle of death."  You know, as a bureau chief there, I wasn't going to risk putting my people's lives on the line to go down for a photo op.  As nice as it might have been, it's simply too unsafe to get around and tell a lot of these stories.  And so a lot of the coverage is, unfortunately, skewed by the fact that the on-the-ground realities of committing journalism in Iraq are such that you really can't get out and do much of anything. 

Now, I've rarely been sort of a voice of optimism in all of this, but I think, you know, at the present time, there is some hopeful signs that we can draw from going forward here.  Admittedly, we now know two provinces overwhelmingly rejected the interim constitution.  It was about 90-some percent -- 96 percent in Anbar and 80-some percent in Salahuddin, which is home to Tikrit, Saddam's Hussein's hometown.  We're still waiting on Nineveh, which is home to Mosul, but it doesn't look like they will be able to muster the requisite two-thirds.  There's an elaborate recount going on over there.

But what does this say?  It says that 32 percent of voters in Al Anbar showed up to cast ballots.  Now, that's a huge increase from the January elections.  There is talk in the Sunni community about more actively fielding candidates at the elections at the end of the year.  That's fundamentally a positive sign.  I mean, if the insurgency is going to be broken, it's going to be broken -- there's so secret here -- by splitting the Iraqis and the foreign elements and making Iraqi Sunnis, Iraqi Arab nationalists, ex-Ba'athists and Sunni Islamists all start to feel like they have a place in that new nation.

Now, I think that, you know, it was a hopeful sign that the Shi'ite and Kurdish constitution negotiators have decided to allow a process of amendments to the constitution and kind of attempt to open up certain sections for some additional discussion.  I'm not at all hopeful that they'll fundamentally -- they'll be fundamental changes that will please the Sunni minority, but the fact that Sunnis are talking about heading to the polls and the fact that we will now see an election December that will be based on provincial representation, this something that was a huge mistake in January where they decided to create a single electoral district.

Now, the U.S. government, the Bush administration will say, well, that's what the U.N. advised us, that we didn't have a census; it wasn't possible to do this.  Well, there hasn't been a census up 'till now.  The Iraqis are going to do what they wanted to do back then, which is use the food ration cards to give some rough guesstimate of who lives in which province and to do it that way.  But what it will mean is that there will be some seats set aside in Sunni provinces, so even if, let's say, it's too violent in some places for an election to be held, at least they will know that they have some share of representation in the new National Assembly.

WOODRUFF:  All right.  On that positive note, we'll start questions, but I want George to get a chance to respond.  And we have microphones, I think, that we want you to step to.

PACKER:  I completely agree December will be the biggest test so far.  The mistake would be -- and the administration has been making this mistake all along -- to take these political benchmarks as somehow reality itself, as opposed to creating the conditions for an improved reality.  The war which they kept expecting to wind down after each benchmark was met never did.  In fact, it kept intensifying.  So my worry is we're going to see, essentially, the declaration of victory, and then we go home, as Senator George Aiken once said, because of those political benchmarks being met.  I feel we're being prepared as a country for the narrative that they have now got their government; it includes Sunnis; the constitution has been passed; it's their show.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  And Saddam Hussein is on trial, so now we've accomplished mission, and we can start pulling people back come February or March.

PACKER:  Exactly.  Exactly.  But those have never made a short-term difference in the war.

WOODRUFF:  Do we have microphones?  We will come to you.  This hand.  Could you stand up and tell us your name.  Give us your name, and there's the mike.

QUESTIONER:  William Hauser.  My question is addressed to both of our panelists.  In 1966, General James Gavin wrote an essay in The Atlantic Monthly recommending a -- what he called -- an enclave strategy, that is, the United States controlling the first and second world portions of Vietnam and letting the third world churn -- third world portion churn.  In last quarter's Foreign Affairs, Andrew Krepinevich recommended a similar strategy for Iraq.  My question for either or both of you is, is there anybody in our military defense structure thinking along those lines now, as far as you know?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  I venture to say there are people who are thinking about it, but it's not being implemented, I think, for a couple of reasons, foremost of which, is we don't have the troops to do it.

I mean, we could do -- implement a strategy like that in parts of Al Anbar province, and I think it might be moderately successful.  If we were to take a town like Hit, for instance, and get a thousand Marines in there and seal off the roads and have people living in there, demonstrating that we can bring some reconstruction assistance, and demonstrating to people -- I mean, the fear factor is so enormous.  I mean, if a guy sitting there in Hit knows that his neighbor is building RPGs and -- or building IEDs and has RPGs in his house, he's not going to go and tell anybody about it, because whatever Marine patrol that's there, that might be protecting his neighborhood during the day is going to be heading back off to some base at night, that there -- there's no sense of any personal security, because we don't have enough boots on the ground to do it.

I think it's a wonderfully innovative strategy.  I think it should be tried.  But I just don't think we have the resources.

WOODRUFF:  How many troops would it take?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  I don't have a good estimate on that, but far more than we have now.


Back there, to the back of the room, right here.  And you know, if you could stand up and give us your name --

QUESTIONER:  Zygmunt Nagorski.  Following up on Bill's question, there is an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, by Melvin Laird, comparing Vietnam to Iraq.  Do you feel that we are going the same road?  Do you feel that the escalation of public opinion against Iraq would lead to withdrawal, whatever cost it will take, of our troops?  Would it perhaps undermine the presidency as well?

 PACKER:  I've never seen Iraq and Vietnam as the same, and I distrust historical analogies because they usually are simply ways to avoid harder thinking about the present, except in what you just put your finger on.  I do think that our representatives, who are answerable to the public, are going to be feeling a lot of pressure in the lead-up to the 2006 elections to, as people say, show us the plan, which -- I think behind that is, how are we going to get out?  The plan is always the plan for getting out.  And as I said, I just don't think the public was ever prepared for the amount of commitment that this would take.

But that's where the comparison ends.  I mean, politically, as well as militarily, Iraq is very, very different from Vietnam.  And the most basic difference is, the insurgency is confined to a minority and will always be confined to a minority.  And politically, that minority is on the losing end.  I mean, they cannot win politically, whereas I think the Viet Cong won politically while -- when we still had a few thousand advisers in South Vietnam. 

The other way in which there may be some resemblance -- but it's almost a reversal -- is, I think we're going to pursue a kind of rewinding of Vietnam in Iraq.  We will see more and more of the larger units withdrawn until we're left with a few thousand advisers, as we were at the beginning of Vietnam, training Iraqi troops.

I think that the military in Iraq have basically figured out that this is a serious insurgency that requires a serious counterinsurgency.  It took them almost two years to figure that out.  And from what I hear, the training effort has gotten a lot better over the last six months to a year.

The problem is, by then, the insurgency had gained so much traction.  As one of the experts said to me, we thought that our security was the most important thing in Iraq.  It wasn't.  It was the Iraqi population's security.  That's where the battle was going to be -- over the population.  The insurgents understood that.  We didn't.  And so they have undermined public security in a way that was bound to work against us. 

I think the military understands all of that now.  It's just that domestic politics is no longer in a position to allow them to stick it out.

WOODRUFF:  Okay.  Let's just -- over here.

QUESTIONER:  I want a historical question, actually --

WOODRUFF:  Give us your name first, please.

QUESTIONER:  Patrick Theros, U.S.-Qatar Business Council, former ambassador.  A historical question:  I was a political adviser at Central Command a few years before the war.  Every contingency plan we had included keeping the Iraqi army intact, under our control.  Who and -- why we decided to disband the army, the security services and the senior bureaucracy?

PACKER:  That is a question that I have not been able to answer to my own satisfaction.  And the fact that we don't know that shows how much is broken in the policymaking process over Iraq.  As far as I can tell, back at the Pentagon when the Iraqi army simply disintegrated, Douglas Feith and Walter Slocombe, who he was bringing in as Jerry Bremer's military adviser, adviser on military affairs, decided, well, it's demobilized itself, we're going to make it official.  And Bremer -- I don't know whether they instructed him or whether it was his own initiative.  When he got to Baghdad, it was about the second thing he did, before he had talked to anybody on the ground.  It was one of those decisions made in Washington that just had tremendously far-reaching effects in Iraq.

WOODRUFF:  You have a --

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Yeah, real quickly.  There was a decision made by the National Security Council a week before the war began not to disband the army.

PACKER:  Right.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  And that was clearly made.  And I'll be writing about it in my book. 

And then during the war, CENTCOM dropped millions of leaflets urging Iraqis not to fight.  But not just that; what they urged them to do was to go home.  We dropped leaflets that showed a man sitting at a table with his family eating, and said -- you know, it said something to the effect of don't fight the coalition forces, go home.  So people did.  Then picking up the story as George tells it, in the Pentagon, Feith and Slocombe, who was Feith's predecessor, look around and say, well, all the garrisons are empty, the army's dissolved itself.

Now the critics say, well, these people would have come back if we had simply asked them to.  There were at least two firms that had been hired by the Pentagon to work on demobilization activities; they were in Kuwait with ORHA ready to go.  The critics believe an information operations campaign could have been mounted very easily that would have told Iraqis to come back to their bases.  What likely would have happened would have been that perhaps more than 100,000 Shi'ite conscripts would have chosen not to have come back, they would have demobilized themselves, fine; but then your Sunni officer corps could have been registered, could have been vetted and could have been told that they would at least have some job going forward. 

They could have been paid.  If you'll remember, a big problem with dissolving the army was they were dissolved and they weren't told until some weeks later that they would actually get paid, so for a while, these people felt that they had no job, no future, no part in the new country.

WOODRUFF:  We have a lot of hands.  Right here.  Go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Howard Wiarda from CSIS.  I'd like to go back to Judy's initial question to Mr. Packer about the context in which these decisions initially took place and the assumptions on which they were based.  And I guess I should say, in terms of truth in packaging, that I'm a former senior scholar at AEI way back in the 1980s, when we really did run the country.  (Laughter.)  And secondly, a former Defense Department official.

I think there are two things that you didn't quite mention that were very important.  One is a very strong mindset on the part of Mr. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld that the military organization is the only capable, well-organized, disciplined, sufficiently intact organization free from politics, able to carry out these kinds of missions, a sense that's very widespread that Defense can get things done, State is so screwed up that it can't -- or CIA, whichever -- that it can't possibly accomplish the mission.  I think that was very, very strongly ingrained in the key decisionmakers.

And the second assumption, I think, is that -- although I don't have inside information -- that's why I'd like your comments -- that once a conflict starts, the conflict itself should be entirely run by the military.  And that goes back to the Vietnam War and the certain sense that, you know, if only the politicians, like LBJ, hadn't intervened, we still would have won in Vietnam.  And I think Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have both absorbed that notion.  In other words, it's contrary to Elliott Cohen's argument in his recent book that politicians should always control the military process.  In this case I think we started from just the opposite presumption, which is that the military should be given a free hand, and that Mr. Powell and the civilians should be kept out of that once the military conflict really began.

PACKER:  The problem is we have civilian control over the military, and the civilians in the Pentagon were the most politicized group in the administration.  The Pentagon did have control over the post war.  There's an argument to be made that it should have, as you just laid out.  But it wasn't Tommy Franks who was in charge, it was Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith who were making the decisions that officers in the field had no control over and that were undermining things that they were trying to do in Mosul and in Anbar province. 

But the bigger question you raise about the separation of political and military -- I'm an amateur on this; I don't have your experience.  But from what I've seen in Iraq, we cannot keep making the same mistake of imagining that they can be separated.  What we needed in Iraq was a political-military plan, which is actually laid out in a document signed by Clinton called PDD-56, that essentially mandated that the government would organize itself in such a way that the civilians in the government would be in control of this messy, post-war interventions, with continuous collaboration with the military.  Instead, George Bush, in his very first presidential director, abolished PDD-56, so that in a sense, the civilian branches of the government were not put in a position where they would have any effect on post-war Iraq, it was left to the Pentagon.  But the Pentagon was politicized.  The Pentagon had a small group of civilian officials who were nothing but political and who didn't understand anything about the military side of it.  And meanwhile, Tommy Franks made the opposite mistake.  He thought war is engineering; it's not strategic, it's just bringing troops in, toppling the regime and then getting out.  His predecessor, Anthony Zinni, I think understood better just what the strategic consequences of toppling that regime would be.


CHANDRASEKARAN:  Let's look at the post-war real briefly.  Under Rumsfeld you had Abizaid -- Sanchez/Abizaid reporting up to him, and you had Jerry Bremer here reporting up.  They only met at Don Rumsfeld.  And, you know, the way it played out on the ground, it's strange to say this, but at times it was the military folks that were far more pragmatic about occupation than the civilians.  It was guys like General David Petraeus up in Mosul who realized de-Ba'athification was a fatal error, and he disregarded a lot of Bremer's edicts and CPA policy to try to bring people back into the fold. 

Civil-military relations as they played out on the ground in Iraq were incredibly poisonous.  Veterans of previous conflicts have said that they hadn't seen civil-military relations this bad anywhere else.  And it started with Bremer and Sanchez, who couldn't stand each other.  Be prepared for Bremer to skewer Sanchez in his upcoming book.  And it went all the way down.

WOODRUFF:  Why was it worse?  Why was it worse here?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Because neither side respected the other.  The civilians thought that the military guys were just a bunch of, you know, tank drivers.  And the people who were responsible for sort of post-war police, they were the proconsuls  who would make policy.  The guys out in the field, the soldiers and the Marines, looked at the people in the CPA in the Green Zone as people who were living in a "La La Land," who were coming up with policies that had no relation to what life was like on the ground:  freezing out Ba'athists, sort of talking about large-scale privatization -- stuff that there's no reality.  But the civilians were quartered in the Green Zone, you know, they didn't get out a whole lot.  And my apologies to the CPA people who might be here.  But, you know, they traveled a bit, but nowhere like the military.  They really didn't have a chance to interact with Iraqis the way the military did.

WOODRUFF:  Okay, another question over here.  This gentleman right here.

QUESTIONER:  Henry Precht.  Who are the Iraqi military and security forces?  Are they are a minestrone of all forces mixed together?  Are they --

PACKER:  Yeah, I think -- yeah.  I think you're on to something.  The best of them --

QUESTIONER:  Are we guaranteeing a civil war by supporting units of Shi'a and Kurds against Sunnis?  That's my question.

PACKER:  You have hit a real problem with the training effort, which is that we're essentially dealing -- the best units are -- have always been the ones that were ethnic militias and put on new uniforms and fought largely for the idea of their group, not for the idea of Iraq.  Iraqi nationalism is, at this point, one of the weakest forces in the country.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  But, you know, the Americans, to their credit, are trying to create these multiethnic, multireligious forces.  The worry is next year, as American troops start coming back and increased responsibility is placed on the Iraqi security forces, and you have a persistent insurgency, and you have a Shi'ite Kurdish-dominated government and they start to have problems in places, and their multiethnic, multireligious security forces perhaps aren't up to the task -- what do they do?  And one great worry -- and something that I think is highly plausible -- is they go to the people they know.  They go to the Peshmerga, who now might be wearing nice uniforms as members of the national guard, but they're still Peshmerga; they go to members of the Badr Corps and other Shi'a militias, who are perhaps deputized as also members of the national guard or the army, and they bring them in to do stuff because they're loyal, they're capable.  But that -- the result of that, I think, is eminently clear to all of us here.

WOODRUFF:  Ken Pollack, over here.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks, Judy.  I'm Ken Pollack from Brookings.

First, I want to start by saying, George, at Gideon Rose's insistence, I read your book several weeks ago.  I read it in a weekend.  It is magnificent.

PACKER:  Thank you so much.

QUESTIONER:  Congratulations on it, and I thank you for writing it.  It is absolutely sensational.

PACKER:  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  With that in mind, I want to ask a question to both of you, to pick up on things that you've both been saying.  And I want to ask you the question that I can't answer for myself, and, George, you've already said, we don't know the answer to it, but I'm going to ask it anyway.

PACKER:  Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  For me, it's the most underreported issue out there.  It's the point that Rajiv was just making -- the growth of the militias; the fact that the nascent civil war, which has been going on for at least a year now, the security vacuum that we created is driving the average Iraqi, Shi'a, urban Sunni, et cetera, into the arms of the militia.  And the question that I've got for both of you, and I think is still the most important question out there in terms of the future of Iraq, is have we lost the average Shi'a?  Have we lost the average urban Sunni?  If we could turn this thing around, if we were willing to put in the troops and make the effort and provide security for the Iraqi people -- which you're absolutely right, is the most important thing that we have failed to do, the most important thing that we need to do -- is it too late?

PACKER:  I guess one -- I don't know.  But one test will be in December, when I think we will see a ticket -- I think we'll see a ticket that will be a nationalist ticket that will probably be led by Ali Allawi, but that may include some Shi'a who were part of the Sistani-blessed ticket last January, but who have grown really quite disenchanted with Shi'ite sectarian politics under Prime Minister Ja'afari.  And it may even include a few Kurds who have the courage to go their own way, and most important, it will include more secular-minded, more moderate Sunni.  If that ticket can actually coalesce and do better than Allawi did last January, then we'll know that there is still an idea of Iraqthat is alive.  I don't want it all to rest on Allawi because he's a deeply flawed politician in many ways, but almost by default he's become the standard bearer for that idea of Iraq.  If that doesn't succeed in December, if what we get is essentially a repeat of January, except this time Anbar and Salahuddin elect fairly hard-core, extremist Sunni politicians, then I'm -- I think it's -- we're talking about a generation to try to repair the damage of fragmentation that we're seeing now.  And I do think we're in that -- those last months of a chance for it to hold together.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  I agree with everything George just said.  I just want to add a few things.  I don't think an additional commitment of troops will work.  I think there will be significant enough blowback, even from those good Iraqis in the middle who just want peace and stability and a relatively moderate government. 

Where I think the administration needs to go from here, the constitution, as it was written, is largely a framework.  There are a lot of elements that are left to be filled in by legislation.  The most important one of which is regional autonomy, and that is -- that's going to be something the new National Assembly will discuss and within six months has to come up with a law on that.  And that really is the root of a lot of Sunni concern here.

And one of the great concerns I had in the lead up to this constitutional referendum was that the administration seemed to be far more intent on meeting a deadline, on getting any document on time, as opposed to a good document late.  And I think what -- they still have a chance at trying to win back some of the Sunnis by putting pressure on the Shi'ite and Kurdish politicians to come to an agreement, come to terms on a law on regional autonomy, on some of these other issues that are seen as being fair to Sunnis.  I mean, right now as it stands, there's a way to read that constitution, and say that all future oil revenue or revenue from new exploration might largely or disproportionately go to the region's from whence that oil was pumped.  And that's of enormous concern to not just Baghdad, within the broader Sunni kind of layer of that country.

So if anything, I think our policy vis a vis Iraq needs to be recalibrated to try to find greater methods for bringing the parties together for compromise, particularly on that issue.

WOODRUFF:  The gentleman back there who put his hand up just now.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you very much.  My name is -- (inaudible) -- from --

WOODRUFF:  Could you stand up, please?

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  My name -- (inaudible) -- from (inaudible) newspaper.  I have quick -- two questions about -- the first one about the situation in the South, in the Shi'ite.  I mean, it's hard -- you reported what's happening on there.  And I mean, I read a poll today in one of the newspapers indicating that even people there are not happy with the occupation, what they call British occupation, even in that case.  And my second question, do you think that the Bush administration is thinking of the regional consequences of all this Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurdish, divides because at the end of the day, Iraq is surrounded by other neighbors too?

Thank you, sir.

 PACKER:  I was in Basra for the January elections, which now seems like a kind of a halcyon time in Basra, because you're right, the South, since the election, it was happening; you could see it was happening when I was there.  But since the militias have really consolidated power and are now turning on each other, I think what we're going to see more and more in the South is fighting among the different Shi'ite militias.  We've already seen a little bit of it.

What do the ordinary people of Basra think?  I mean, again, very hard for us to know, but I heard enough people saying "We don't like the Iranians.  We don't like the Americans.  We want our own country" to think that the -- sort of the doomsday scenario of they all have some genetic predisposition to align themselves with either a power across a border or with their own sect is a little too -- it's too determinist.  I mean, I still think that Iraqi identity is up for grabs.

But the second thing you pointed to is, in a way the macro -- the biggest macro level is the complete realignment of the Middle East that this Iraq war has begun to produce in which the old Sykes-Picot boundaries that brought Kurds, Sunni and Shi'a together seem to be in danger of falling apart; whether Iraq is going to return to some sort of original identity in which each of those groups falls back to its own.  I'm not quite such a Huntingtonian as that because I think 80 years of living together actually does change people, and I know enough Iraqis personally who really do believe in the idea of Iraq as the only hope.  Every other scenario is just a terrible disaster, that I don't -- I haven't written it off completely.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  George, how well did Allawi do in Basra, 20 percent or so?

PACKER:  Allawi got 20 percent.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  That's really interesting because you look at the demographics of Basra, he probably could do better come this December.  I mean, there definitely is a group in the South that is not sort of aligned with the Hauzi-Najaf (sp) or with greater Iranian influence.

PACKER:  It's the middle class.  It's technocrats; it's the educated Iraqis; it's the group that has had least voice in the two and a half years since the war.  The group that we really needed most has been least empowered, and in December, we'll see whether they have any chance to elect a majority coalition or a plurality coalition.

WOODRUFF:  Okay.  We have time for one last question.  Right here.  Yes?

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Phebe Marr, USIP.  One quick question to our panelists.

What about Sadr?  We're all supposing the middle class, with the Iraqi identity, may save us, but there's another potential out there of a nativist, somebody who doesn't like Americans, and who champions the poor.  And where I come from, that's kind of a winning ticket in an election.  So I wonder if you can all address the sort of potential hidden agenda out there for another force with Sadr.

PACKER:  Where do you come from?

QUESTIONER:  Where do I come from?

PACKER:  Yeah.  You said, "Where I come from, that's a winning ticket."

QUESTIONER:  Well, New York.  (Laughter.)

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Iraq's gorgeous mosaic, right. 

Well, unfortunately, I think you know more about Iraq than all of us combined in this room.

PACKER:  Absolutely.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  But my take on it is, don't write off Muqtada.  You know, I wrote him off a couple of times in my time there, and I thought even after the military activities in Najaf in August of 2004, his movement might have been sort of so dismantled and so demoralized.  But all indications are that Sadr's men are alive and well and in large numbers, not even so much in Basra, but in Amarah, in Nasriyah -- you know, even back up in Sadr City.  In Kut, in some of those smaller cities throughout the south, he really is the power broker.  And it's interesting to see that, A, the large Shi'ite parties don't want to directly take him on because they worry about giving the young, disaffected men on the street -- forcing them to choose one or the other.  So he's just sort of left to be there.  Nobody wants to confront him.

The other fascinating thing is, in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum, there was some talk that Sadr might be kind of getting in bed with the Islamic Scholars Association and the Sunni nationalists in an effort to both defeat the constitution and to lend voice to the call that Americans should leave. 

I think he's a potentially potent force.  I think that the Shi'ite leadership, unfortunately, has not found -- the mainstream Shi'ite political leadership, as well as the religious leadership in the Howza,   has not found an effective way to deal with him, nor have the Americans.  And I think that as these months progress and as, you know, reconstruction somewhat stagnates in the south, as employment stays where it is, his movement only continues to grow and pose a future threat.

WOODRUFF:  I want to give each of you, as we close, a chance just to sum up what's the final message you want this audience to take away.

PACKER:  I guess, it could get a lot worse.  That would be my -- as we rush to find a way to get out, it could get a lot worse without us.  We are an aggravating factor.  We are also a buffer, and we're increasingly a buffer as the insurgency looks more and more like a civil war.  And this is not a war that we will be able to extract ourselves from without just unbelievable consequences for years to come. 

If our leaders can begin to speak to us like grownups, as they haven't since the idea for the Iraq war was first launched, perhaps they can explain to the country why Iraq is going to be so important.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  I think we squandered an incredibly valuable opportunity to help bring Sunnis into the fold in the process of drafting this constitution, but I don't think it's too late.  And I think as we move forward in these next many months, the issue as we start to look at drawdowns of troops, the U.S. policy has to be focused in a way that the next steps from this constitution be the efforts to go back and put some amendments in there, and regional autonomy and other thorny issues, as final status of Kirkuk, for instance, we need to come to it with a more open mind and in a way that attempts to bring Sunnis back into the fold, realizing just how difficult of a challenge that is, realizing that they don't have a real legitimate political leadership, but nevertheless not deferring to many of the default positions of the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaderships in an effort to meet artificial deadlines.

WOODRUFF:  Rajiv Chandrasekaran, George Packer, you've given us a lot to think about.  Thank you both very much.  (Applause.)









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