Decision-making strategies


Counterpoint photo. And the ingredient coconut sport is…?*

This is a civics moment (well, okay, more than a moment).

Go to this page to download the RAND report After Saddam: Prewar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq, which focuses on the period 1 May 2003 through 30 June 2004, a mere 13 months of the years our military has been there. This report is paid for by your tax dollars, filtered through the US Army.

The United States did not plan well for the complexities and violence of post-Saddam Iraq. Although many U.S. government agencies invested a lot of time and effort in identifying possible reconstruction requirements for postwar Iraq, the basic plan for war largely pushed these requirements aside. Indeed, in overlooking the need to enforce security in the immediate aftermath of Saddam’s fall, the warplan may well have contributed to the problems U.S. forces face. (p. 233)

In short, the heavy hand of the Bush administration messes it up for all of us. Big time.

In the end, the Army advises itself:

Planners must start with strategic guidance from the civilian leadership on where they want to be, strategically, when the war ends. They can then work backward to points of major conflict, shaping plans for those in ways that contribute to the larger and longer-term strategic goal. (p. 242)

The RAND report is not the same document as the nearly 600 page (plus appendices, timelines, etc.) On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign. That document was released yesterday by the Army’s Combined Arms Center, formed in late 2005 at, of all places, Fort Leavenworth (and also paid for by your tax dollars). Download On Point II here (it’s a big file and takes a while even with broadband). (The cover art rather jarringly focuses on people and patriotism.) This one is billed on the web page as:

…the US Army’s first historical study of its campaign in Iraq in the decisive eighteen months following the overthrow of the Baathist regime in April 2003.

It is essentially the Army’s critical review of itself, and is based on interviews of officers. The timeframe begins with Bush’s announcement that major combat operations were complete. That was in May 2003. Yeah, over five years ago.

The difficulty in Iraq in April and May 2003 for the Army, and the other Services, was that the transition to a new campaign was not well thought out, planned for, and prepared for before it began. Additionally, the assumptions about the nature of post-Saddam Iraq on which the transition was planned proved to be largely incorrect. (p. 568)

What the occupation forces had to deal with was a changing situation, changing on many fronts, including non-military ones. And their decision-making apparatus was not structured to deal with a constantly changing situation. Hence, the analysis focuses on transition (On Point II, p. 7: “A central theme emerging from this work is transition.”). I daresay an army that is constantly reinventing itself is ill-prepared to deal with the big picture.

Analysis is good. But we’re all, including the Iraqis, stuck with the outcome of a long series of bad decisions. There’s really no significant way to penalize the Deciders who brought this about. In this country, we citizens hand over decision-making to various officials, some we vote on and many we have no hand in choosing, and we really don’t have much input after that. (And the cynical side of me wants to add that if you take the time to read the concluding chapters of each of these documents, and really think about them, you may have spent more time than the Shrub did really thinking about getting us into this mess—meetings don’t count.)

This is a long enough entry for now. But one more thing: I do not think that the child of an anthropologist would have done this.

* Apparently “coconut sport” is English for macapuno, in small type on the label. This web page says that macapuno are aberrent coconuts, commonly associated with the Philippines, that lack milk and have gelatinous meat. Commenters concur that the bottled version is a poor imitation of the fresh, “real thang.” Here’s good general info on coconuts. And, from Wikipedia, “Fresh inner coconut husk can be rubbed on the lens of snorkelling goggles to prevent fogging during use.” Who knew?

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