WASHINGTON (IPS) - For the second time in as many months, a report by a key Pentagon advisory group has implicitly taken the administration of President George W. Bush to task for major failures in pre-war planning, particularly with respect to Iraq.
A 220-page report, quietly released late last month by the Defense Science Board (DSB), concludes that the administration clearly underestimated the number of troops and cost required to achieve its political objectives in Iraq.
The report, entitled "Transition to and from Hostilities", explicitly contradicts a key assumption of top Pentagon officials before the Iraq war that Washington could quickly reduce its troop presence after ousting the regime of President Saddam Hussein.
"[W]e believe that more people are needed in-theater for stabilization and reconstruction operations than for combat operations," asserts the report, which based its conclusions on a study of U.S. military interventions over the last 15 years.
Moreover, the DSB task force, which interviewed scores of current and former U.S. officials with experience in war-fighting, counter-insurgency, peacekeeping and reconstruction, found that stabilisation of "disordered societies, with ambitious goals involving lasting cultural change, may require 20 troops per 1000 indigenous people."
Washington currently has 150,000 troops in Iraq, a presence that translates into only six troops for every 1,000 Iraqis - far short of the roughly 500,000 troops the task force indicates would be necessary. A 5 to 1,000 ratio may be sufficient to stabilise "relatively ordered" societies for which the U.S. is not seeking to achieve "ambitious goals", such, as presumably, implanting a democratic, pro-Western government.
"The United States will sometimes have ambitious goals for transforming a society in a conflicted environment," according to the report. "Those goals may well demand 20 troops per 1000 inhabitants ... working for five to eight years. Given that we may have three to five stabilization and reconstruction activities underway concurrently, it is clear that very substantial resources are needed to accomplish national objectives."
The report also concludes that the State Department is much better equipped to organise and oversee reconstruction operations than the Bush administration, which had given the job in Iraq initially to the Pentagon, had recognised. It calls for the Defence Department to support substantially increased resources for the State Department to meet that mandate.
The DSB consists of volunteer experts - mostly from the private sector - chosen by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to advise him on key issues on which they have special expertise. In many cases, Rumsfeld follows its recommendations.
Indeed, following the submission of its originally classified report last fall, Rumsfeld issued a directive instructing the military's regional commanders to "develop and maintain" new war plans specifically designed to address stabilisation and reconstruction issues, another major recommendation highlighted in the report.
The latest report follows another on "strategic communication" by the DSB made public in November. That study also challenged a number of core assumptions about the administration's "war on terrorism", especially its insistence that radical Islamists "hate" the United States because of its "freedom" and democratic practices, rather than concrete U.S. policies in the region, such as its staunch support for Israel against the Palestinians, the invasion of Iraq, and its backing for Arab autocrats.
Warning that Washington was losing the propaganda war to the Islamists because of its perceived "arrogance, opportunism and double standards", the report argued that the administration's insistence that it wants to bring democracy to Islamic societies was "seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy" based on a faulty assumption that Arabs are "like the enslaved people of the old Communist world".
The latest report does not specifically address either the "war on terrorism" or the situation in Iraq, but its conclusions are certain to fuel the ongoing controversy over whether Pentagon civilians led by Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Policy, Douglas Feith, effectively "lost" the Iraq war by ignoring warnings from the State Department, the intelligence community and the uniformed military that stabilising the country would require many more troops than they wished to deploy.
Before the war, the Pentagon civilians, backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to exclude the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from post-war planning and operations largely because of their belief that the two agencies would promote Sunni Arab nationalists in the place of Saddam Hussein. They, on the other hand, supported exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who they believed was committed to a thorough de-Baathification of Iraq and staunch alignment with the U.S. and even Israel.
They also believed Chalabi's repeated assurances that US troops would be greeted as "liberators" by virtually all Iraqis, rather than as "occupiers", and so planned to quickly draw down the 140,000 troops who invaded the country to only about 30,000 by early 2005.
In one particularly notorious case, Wolfowitz publicly ridiculed estimates by the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, that "several hundred thousand" troops at least would be required to stabilise the country.
Rumsfeld, who had downgraded a special Army institute devoted to peacekeeping and stabilisation shortly after taking over the Pentagon, also wanted to make Iraq a model for a "transformed" military that, with massive firepower, precision weapons, superior technology and mobility, could quickly overwhelm the enemy.
While the military objective was indeed quickly achieved, the absence of a sufficiently large force, let alone one experienced in peace-keeping and stabilisation operations, created a major security vacuum that was filled over the following months by an insurgency which, according to the head of Iraqi intelligence last week, has grown to some 30,000 full-time fighters backed by 200,000 supporters.
Instead of focusing on Iraq, the DSB task force examined US combat operations since the end of the Cold War and their aftermath and found that more troops not only were required for stabilisation than for combat, but that stabilisation operations have typically lasted for five to eight years.
The Pentagon, according to the report, "has not yet embraced stabilization and reconstruction operations as an explicit mission with the same seriousness as combat operations. This mind-set must be changed."
In addition, it went on, the Pentagon had failed to establish a strong working relationship with the State Department, whose regional expertise, knowledge of culture, diplomatic skills, and contacts with international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were critical to achieving success in post-conflict situations.
"The orchestration of all instruments of U.S. power in peacetime might obviate the need for many military excursions to achieve political objectives; or, failing that, at least better prepare us to achieve political objectives during stabilization and reconstruction operations," the report notes in an apparent critique of the both the administration's rush to war and the Pentagon's post-war performance.