Writing in the New York Times last Thursday, John S. Burnett gave a snapshot of the current disorder. Reporting from southern Iraq, he wrote that among other ills:
"Lawlessness is endemic. Alongside the highway, boys scale electric poles with wire cutters (the electric cables have copper that can be sold) while their elders look on. To the south, in Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-sea port, young men climb atop trucks chartered by the World Food Program, casually tossing down 100-pound bags of flour to their friends waiting below, while a Spanish military unit guarding its ship stands by impotently only yards away. There is no police force of any note here -- and if a policeman had a gun and was to fire, he would just start his own interfamily war."
In an interview on June 17, an unnamed senior British official at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad told the Daily Telegraph of London that it was, "The single most chaotic organization I have ever worked for."
"The operation is chronically under-resourced and suffers from an almost complete absence of strategic direction," according to the official.
Last week, Patrick Cockburn, a British journalist particularly knowledgeable about Iraq, reported from Baghdad that the few Iraqis who have joined the authority describe the American officials administering Iraq as living in an air-conditioned fantasy world.
The head of the authority, L. Paul Bremer, speaking at an air-conditioned press conference, said that with a few exceptions, Baghdad was receiving 20 hours of electricity a day.
"'It simply isn't true,'" said one Iraqi, shaking his head in disbelief after listening to Bremer. "'Everybody in Baghdad knows it,'" Cockburn reported him as saying.
The day Burnett's account appeared, John Hamre -- the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prestigious Washington think-tank -- who had been deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, left for Iraq. He did so at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a CSIS spokesman told United Press International.
Hamre was heading a team of five that will spend about 10 days attending meetings in Baghdad and touring the country. As informal advisers, the team's task is to assess the reconstruction effort in Iraq for Rumsfeld and Bremer.
The Hamre mission came as U.S. military and diplomatic experts charged the Bush administration with bungling the post-conflict situation in Iraq.
"There is no longer anyway to tap dance around the responsibility of the administration for what more and more looks like a monumental bog up," Thomas Houlahan, told UPI. Houlahan is the Washington-based director of a military assessment program for James Madison University at Harrisburg, Va. He is also a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and staff officer with the 18th Airborne Corps.
The planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Houlahan says, "was very slipshod and not up to the standards of the U.S. Army."
Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador who has just returned from two months in Iraq, has said much the same thing.
Carney, with long experience in post-conflict zones, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the White House failed to think through post-war plans and that there was a lack of resources and of priority for reconstruction efforts.
A grievous flaw in the initial U.S. post-conflict effort, the BBC reported him as saying, was that the reconstruction team was under the command of military officers who either did not understand or did not give sufficient priority to rebuilding Iraq. Reconstruction efforts were further hampered by a lack of troops, he said.
A well-known writer on military, Ralph Peters, told UPI there has been what he called a Stalinist refusal by the administration to admit that anything in its plan for Iraq could go wrong. Peters is a retired lieutenant colonel with a background in military intelligence.
Referring to the looting that followed the fall of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, Houlahan says U.S. irresponsibility, however unintentional, rises to the level of violation of the rules of war. "Once you are in a city, you are responsible for it," he said.
Asked how the White House and Defense Department went wrong, Houlahan answered that, "Virtually no thought at all went into what to do in Iraq after the war."
Rumsfeld, he said, "made the whole operation more difficult than it needed to be and increased the risks to the soldiers."
One result, Houlahan said, was that, "We are using armored forces for peacekeeping, when we have light divisions doing nothing."
Houlahan did not spare the military. "There are too many senior leaders in the armed forces who are boot-licking yes-men," he said. "If serious and well-presented objections had been raised, Rumsfeld would not have created so many problems."
Damage was done to the Army's structure in the Clinton years, Houlahan argued, in good part by the Army itself. Heroes of the Gulf war were passed over for promotion as too controversial. Instead, as he sees it, politicians in uniform got the promotions.
Peters, asserting that neo-conservatives such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others were behind the war, said they "talked themselves into believing a scenario in which the Iraqis would magically restructure themselves."
"The neo-cons underestimated the probability of resistance from Baath elements," Peters says. "Iraq has a population of about 23 million; 1 or 2 million had a real stake in the Baath system and of these tens of thousands remain emotionally committed to it."
Yonah Alexander of the Potomac Institute for Policy Analysis takes a similar view: "The White House and Pentagon thought that once a knockout blow was delivered to the Iraqi forces, they would be able to tell the Iraqis what to do."
So, Alexander says, there was no organization prepared to insure security and carry out reconstruction.
There is a window of opportunity to make good on the country's liberation, Alexander says, but it is closing fast.
Houlahan shares the same sense of urgency: "We need to get our act together in a matter of weeks, not months."
There is irony in Rumsfeld seeking advice from Hamre. According to CSIS, Hamre was chosen because Rumsfeld liked a CSIS report, published before the war, on what to do in post-conflict Iraq.
The report contained 10 recommendations by Hamre and Gordon Sullivan, president of the Association of the United States Army. The first was: "Create a Transitional Security Force that is effectively prepared, mandated, and staffed to handle post-conflict civil-security needs, including the need for constabulary forces."
Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration appear to have completely ignored the recommendation.