Who messed up Iraq? Donald Rumsfeld is the usual nominee. For conservative hawks, attacks on the U.S. Defence Secretary provide a way to attack the war without attacking the larger administration. And for liberal opponents of the war, attacks on Rumsfeld provide a way to attack the war without attacking the military that planned and executed that war.
Now comes an important new book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon and retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor. Their story bears hard on Rumsfeld. But it daringly points a finger at a normally blame-proof figure: the general who actually planned and led the Iraq campaign: General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command during both the Afghan and Iraq wars.
It was General Franks who adamantly refused to engage in post-war planning for Iraq. Long before George W. Bush was elected president, CentCom (then led by Gen. Anthony Zinni--a future opponent of Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam) had drawn up a contingency plan for war with Iraq. This plan was a huge and heavy Colin-Powell-style plan, which contemplated the use of at least 380,000 troops. It deviated in almost every way from the plan actually adopted in 2003--with one exception. To quote Gordon and Trainor: "There was a gaping hole in the occupation annex of the plan. CENTCOM would have the responsibility of general security. But there was no plan for the political administration, restoration of basic services, training of police, or reconstruction of Iraq." The principal author of the Zinni plan: his deputy, Tommy Franks.
As the war plan moved from the realm of the contingency to the realm of the real, Franks continued to refuse to think about what would happen after the shooting ceased. Gordon and Trainor again: "Franks told his commanders that his assumption was that Colin Powell's State Department would have the lead for the rebuilding of Iraq's political institutions and infrastructure."
In October, 2002, however, Franks' assumption was invalidated: At Rumsfeld's insistence, the President agreed that the Department of Defence would assume overall responsibility for the postwar occupation.
Rumsfeld's civilian deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, welcomed this responsibility as an opportunity to put Iraqis in charge of their country's reconstruction. But there was only one organized group of Iraqis able to serve as a transitional, provisional government: Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC). And General Franks fully shared the fierce, almost unreasoning, hatred for the INC that pervaded the State Department and CIA.
The INC, for example, proposed to recruit a brigade of Free Iraqi forces to enter Iraq with the coalition. "Franks remained unenthusiastic, to say the least. After a briefing from [Feith's aide Bill] Luti on his pet project, Franks turned to Feith in a Pentagon corridor, letting him know where he stood: 'I don't have time for this f--king bullshit,' Franks exclaimed."
Franks wanted to race to Baghdad as rapidly as possible. To achieve his plan, he bypassed thousands of Iraqi Fedayeen fighters. These black-garbed guerillas ambushed and killed American soldiers--and then faded into the landscape. The Americans could not chase or identify them because Franks' determination to travel light had sent U.S. forces into battle with few or no interpreters.
In late March, Franks' deputy commander, John Abizaid, discreetly asked the INC for help. Chalabi offered 1,000 men. Gordon and Trainor point out that while Franks had previously disdained Luti's proposal to train a carefully screened Iraqi force, his command now proposed a variant of the plan "conceived in haste to deal with unexpected difficulties."
But by the time the INC men landed in southern Iraq, the emergency had passed, and Franks had reverted to his previous attitude. "The fighters arrived with virtually no provisions and no welcome. They were ushered into a busted-up hangar. . . . For weeks, [the local commander] scrambled to find a way to arm and equip them. . . . They never played a significant military role."
Franks flew into Baghdad on April 16 to meet with senior U.S. commanders. He told them they should prepare to pull out within 60 days. "Franks laid down the rule that was to guide the next phase of the operation: The generals should be prepared to take as much risk departing as they had in their push to Baghdad." Franks intended to hand over responsibility to a new Iraqi government. But he himself had guaranteed that no such government was waiting to go.
Franks lived by his own "quick out" principle. He retired from the army in July, 2003, selling his memoirs for a reported $5-million, booked a busy speaking schedule, and joined the board of the Bank of America.
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