Iraq: Because Rumsfeld Needed Better Targets

Reviewing a new book about Donald Rumsfeld in Sunday’s Washington Post, CNAS honcho Nathaniel Fick gets at one of the often overlooked but mustn’t-be-forgotten aspects of why the Iraq war happened.

Fick writes that “the two biggest questions about his tenure at the Pentagon — why the United States invaded Iraq, and why it so bungled the aftermath of the Hussein regime’s fall — are often answered with only the simplest of explanations: ideology and hubris.”

In this meticulously researched and compelling book, veteran Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham acknowledges these contributors to the national-security travails of the Bush years, but he highlights another as well: the secretary of defense’s unwavering commitment to military transformation, his vision of a leaner, more lethal Department of Defense. The early phases of the war in Afghanistan apparently vindicated this concept, while the prospect of war in Iraq promised a wider proving ground for it — but the nasty counterinsurgency campaign that followed threatened to undermine it.

Among the various elements of “transformation,” Rumsfeld envisioned a lighter, faster, and more deadly combat force with high-tech support providing a comprehensive view of the battle space. And after 9/11, he really wanted an opportunity to reestablish U.S. credibility by unleashing such a force — he was after a “teaching moment” for anyone who doubted American power.


As Richard Clarke told CBS in 2004, invading Iraq was immediately discussed after 9/11:

As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

“Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq,” Clarke said to Stahl. “And we all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

“Initially, I thought when he said, ‘There aren’t enough targets in — in Afghanistan,’ I thought he was joking.

Rumsfeld’s belief in a technologically transformed military, and his desire for an appropriate stage upon which to demonstrate that military’s deadly effectiveness, dovetailed with the neoconservatives’ fantasy of quickly and simply knocking off Saddam Hussein’s regime and installing a friendly government in its place. And the result was that we’ve spent six years (and counting) and about a trillion dollars (and counting) demonstrating the limits of American military power.