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Correcting the Record
Myths V. Facts:

Debunking The Washington Post's Editorial on Iraq, “How To Lose A War,” (Oct. 4, 2006)
October 6, 2006

In an Oct. 4, 2006 editorial, “How to Lose a War,” the Washington Post makes a series of unfounded accusations, based largely on three books on Iraq written by its reporters. A few of the most egregious errors of fact are corrected below:

INCORRECT WASHINGTON POST CLAIM:  “President Bush and his most senior aides meanwhile stubbornly refused to listen to advisers who warned of the consequences of their policies.”


  • The president listened to the advice and recommendations of a broad range of people with differing views on how to approach the situation in Iraq. The suggestion that he may have disagreed with some advisors does not mean he ignored them.

  • Senior leaders thought carefully about the consequences of entering Iraq and what could go wrong. Bob Woodward himself makes this argument in his previous book, “Plan of Attack.”  He wrote:

    • "At an NSC meeting during this period, Rumsfeld was thinking about what could go wrong. He began doodling a list that grew to some 15 items. ... Among the items: Another state could try to take advantage of the U.S. involvement or preoccupation with Iraq. ... There could be higher than expected collateral damage. ... Iraq could experience ethnic strife among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds as had happened before. ... The list had grown to 29 items."
  • Further, the suggestion of a static and unyielding approach to Iraq also fails to take into account continuous adjustments in strategy on the battlefield: 
    • The program for training and equipping the Iraqi army was revised substantially to stand up a force better suited to internal security and fighting terrorists.
    • The Coalition Provisional Authority’s (CPA) initial plan to transfer sovereignty and hold elections was moved up to an earlier date, in response to the desire of the Iraqi people to take charge of their own country.
    • The reconstruction and aid program for Iraq was adjusted to focus less on large, long-term infrastructure to funding smaller projects that could be implemented quickly with immediate impact in the community, while also providing jobs for young men who might be tempted by the insurgents or militias.

:  “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld monopolized administration planning for Iraq ... Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon excluded the State Department from reconstruction planning, then failed to produce any plan of its own.”


  • Planning for the contingency of a postwar Iraq was an interagency process, in which officials from the State Department, USAID, Treasury Department, National Security Council staff, Office of Management and Budget, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Department (DoD), U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and others met many times a week -- at senior levels and working levels -- beginning in the summer of 2002.

  • An ad hoc group of the interagency Deputies Committee met regularly -- typically twice a week -- on Iraq-related issues, including post-war planning.

  • In July 2002, an assortment of working groups began forming to conduct and coordinate post-war planning, including:
    • Interagency Iraq Political-Military Cell (NSC, State, DoD, CIA, OVP):
    • Interagency Executive Steering Group (NSC, State, DoD, CIA, OVP):
    • Interagency Humanitarian/Reconstruction Group (NSC, State, DoD, CIA, OVP, Treas, DOJ, USAID)
    • Interagency Energy Infrastructure Working Group (State, DoD, CIA, DOE)
    • Interagency Coalition Working Group (State, DoD)
      • In January 2003, DoD created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA): an expeditionary interagency office with officials from all departments and agencies in charge of detailed planning and, if necessary, implementation.
      • The State Department was well represented on the staff of Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (U.S. Army, Ret.) in ORHA and in the CPA. Senior State Department officials served as advisors heading Iraqi ministries prior to the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government on June 28, 2004. The vast majority of senior staff members with Coalitional Provisional Administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer were from the State Department, Coalition partners, other U.S. government agencies, or volunteers from the private sector, not DoD.
      • Again, Mr. Woodward’s previous book supports this. Rather than ignoring post-war Iraq, Mr. Woodward writes: "Rumsfeld had been pushing everyone to prepare estimates on the reconstruction needs and costs." 

INCORRECT WASHINGTON POST CLAIM:  “Staff members for Mr. Bremer's authority too often were picked on the basis of Republican political affiliation, rather than experience or competence -- with the result that people in their twenties were handed control over matters such as the Iraqi government budget.”


  • The role of the White House personnel office in the hiring process for Iraq was quite limited. It was but one of several sources of hiring for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

  • Most of those hired were career employees of DoD, the State Department, other government agencies, and personnel from Coalition partners (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Romania). The leadership team and senior staff of the CPA included several former U.S. ambassadors from the career foreign service.

  • Additionally, those who staffed the CPA represented a broad mix of people with experience in government and the private sector. They included Democrats and Republicans, and encompassed people who had worked in both the Bush and Clinton Administrations.  Some examples:
    • An undersecretary at DoD under President Clinton was a high-level aide to Paul Bremer and participated in the decisions regarding the Iraqi army.  
    • A former Clinton political appointee who had served as a deputy in the DoD Comptroller’s office under Secretary Bill Cohen controlled CPA finances and Iraqi monies.

  • The Post’s one specific allegation -- that a person “in their twenties” was handed control over “the Iraqi government budget” -- is false. The individual in question did not manage the Iraqi budget, she executed it, and the earlier claim by a Post reporter that she “had no background in accounting” has since been corrected by thePost. In fact, this person had a substantial background in accounting and an M.B.A. from one of the best business schools in Europe.

INCORRECT WASHINGTON POST CLAIM:  “Having dispatched too few troops to Iraq at the beginning of the war, Mr. Rumsfeld has perpetuated this signal failing for 3 1/2 years.”


  • Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the civilian leadership at DoD has relied heavily on the advice of commanders on the ground -- those who lead and see daily operations firsthand -- to determine troop levels.

  • Secretary Rumsfeld supported troop levels as high as 400,000 if they were needed during the initial planning of the war.
  • U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks decided to launch a campaign that emphasized speed rather than mass. This was designed to bring down the Hussein regime quickly, and thus prevent many of the possible negative consequences of invasion that were widely predicted at the time, such as:
    • Saddam Hussein’s deliberate burning of oil fields.
    • Large-scale refugee flows.
    • Food or medical humanitarian crises.
    • Destabilization of neighboring countries because of a protracted war.

The civilian and military leadership have had to balance the tension between having enough troops to provide the security necessary for economic and political progress to go forward, while not having so many troops that it breeds Iraqi resentment and dependency.  It is a difficult question in which fair minded people can disagree. But to point to “more troops” as a panacea for Iraq’s difficulties is simplistic and does not take into account realities on the ground.

  • On July 9, 2003, Gen. Franks said in Senate testimony:

“We have about 145,000 troops in there right now ... There has been [the] suggestion that perhaps there should be more troops. And in fact, I can tell you, in the presence of [Secretary Rumsfeld], that if more troops are necessary, this secretary’s going to say ‘yes.’ I mean, we have talked about this on a number of occasions.”

  • On June 27, 2005, Gen. George Casey, Commander of Multi-National Force --  Iraq, said the following:

"I just want to assure you and the American people that if we need more troops we'll ask for them. Right now, we don't."

  • On September 18, 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander, said the following:

"... this notion that troop levels are static is not true, never has been true, and it won't be true. We will ask for what we need when we need them.”

Tens of thousands more troops have been added to the force providing security in Iraq. They have been Iraqi troops -- more than 300,000 of which have been trained and equipped -- who our commanders agree are the key to success in Iraq over the long term.
Last Updated:
10/20/2006, Eastern Daylight Time
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