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Why “No Plan” Was the Plan in Iraq

PNAC manifesto 2nd plane

Last night, Kevin Drum passed along a stunningly matter-of-fact interview in, of all places, the Hampton Roads Daily Press with retiring Brigadier General Mark Scheid, who was in charge of the logistical planning for the Iraq invasion:

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn’t stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

(See?  And people think Rummy is stupid or crazy.)   Kevin reacted to the interview by saying, "This is the clearest evidence I’ve seen yet . . . that all of Bush’s talk about democracy was nothing but hot air."  Which left Atrios perplexed:

I still have no idea why we invaded Iraq. I really don’t.

Fortunately, I think I can help Duncan out.  As I wrote just over three years ago, "the war’s goal wasn’t to project American ideas into the Middle East — it was to project American power there."  But there’s more to it than that.

I explained further in a post in late December of 2003:

The neoconservative/Bushite game plan for transforming the region is based not on the inspiring example of a hypothetical democracy in Iraq, but on the ongoing and credible threat of further American military actions.

If you take a look at pre-September 11th neoconservative documents like the Project for a New American Century’s 1997 statement of principles or its 2000 report on defense strategy (link is a PDF download), you’ll see an obsession with expanding U.S. military capabilities and "protecting American interests" overseas, with only a passing reference to democracy.

September 11th was the triggering event that let the neocons Dubya had surrounded himself with take the PNAC plan for a "Pax Americana" (a phrase the 2000 report uses several times, describing it as a "strategic goal") off the bookshelf of right-wing war porn and turn it into America’s official foreign policy.

How does that tie in with the lack of post-invasion planning for Iraq?  Here’s how I explained it in January 2004:

You see, besides just the need to go to war, there was something about how the war was conducted that the responsible-planning folks couldn’t be allowed to interfere with. . . . In fact, the phrase back in April was that this was a demonstration conflict — quite literally, we were making an example of Saddam Hussein, one that would make other nations think twice about challenging us.

Part of this example was the much-ballyhooed "shock and awe" bombing campaign, which would demonstrate just how much firepower the U.S. could deliver with terrifying precision. But another part of it was going in alone, with a bare minimum of soldiers and no postwar commitment.

After all, "You’d better not cross us, or we’ll spend the better part of a year haggling in the UN to build an international coalition, then tie most of our army down for years rebuilding your country" isn’t all that terrifying a threat, is it? That’s why the Bushite power axis adopted an alternate message: "Cross us, and we’ll knock your head sideways so fast you’ll have no idea what happened. We don’t need anyone’s permission, we don’t need a huge invasion force, and we don’t need to clean up any mess afterward."

That was the message the Iraq war was intended to communicate. And that’s why we went in the way we did — without a net, so to speak. Because it couldn’t look like a lucky accident if things went well; we had to show that we knew how easy it would be … and how easy it would be to duplicate those results in any country we chose.

Unfortunately for the neocons (and the rest of us), things didn’t turn out that way.  Here’s how I ended that same post:

Of course, in truth we’ve wound up demonstrating much the opposite — but those are the breaks, I guess, if you’re a neocon. Besides, those guys always have a fallback position. Maximum chaos in Iraq just demonstrates how dangerous the world is, and how we need ever-higher defense budgets and more military bases to keep it under control, doesn’t it? And now that America’s made a commitment to get involved over there, why, it would be cowardly to turn our backs now! So they can claim victory either way … it’s just the innocent people caught in the middle (here, and in Iraq) who lose.

Come to think of it, those are pretty much the arguments the war-hawks are making now, isn’t it?  I’ll tell ya, being able to tell the future just sucks sometimes.

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (