How do you measure incompetence? If military leaders underestimate the force requirements of a war by a factor of 31, just seven months before the war begins—is that incompetent?
That's exactly what happened in August, 2005, according to formerly classified documents recently made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Joyce Battle of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. (The request was filed in 2004 but the Pentagon didn't provide the information until last month.)
In a Powerpoint presentation for Donald Rumsfeld, Pentagon planners predicted in August, 2002, that a residual force of only 5,000 American troops would be necessary by December, 2006. With the current escalation, still known euphemistically as the "surge," the actual number will reach at least 155,000.
Planners also assumed that only 30,000 Americans would be needed for the occupation of Iraq by the end of September, 2003—just six months after the invasion.
In fact, the lowest number of U.S. troops in Iraq since the invasion was 108,900 in January, 2004 (see chart above).
These weren't trivial miscalculations, as the following independent analysis (quoted in the National Security Archive's report) makes clear:
"Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tommy Franks spent most of their time and energy on the least demanding task - defeating Saddam's weakened conventional forces - and the least amount on the most demanding - rehabilitation of and security for the new Iraq. The result was a surprising contradiction. The United States did not have nearly enough troops to secure the hundreds of suspected WMD sites that had supposedly been identified in Iraq or to secure the nation's long, porous borders. Had the Iraqis possessed WMD and terrorist groups been prevalent in Iraq as the Bush administration so loudly asserted, U.S. forces might well have failed to prevent the WMD from being spirited out of the country and falling into the hands of the dark forces the administration had declared war against." (1)Planners for "Phase IV"—the occupation—mistakenly assumed that "co-opted" Iraqi army units could be brought into service to help stabilize the country as soon as hostilities ended. Paul Bremer demolished that plan, of course, with his early decision to entirely disband the Iraqi army.
This kind of planning, according to the Powerpont slides (Tab 1, Slide 2), apparently represents "thinking outside the box" but "inside a compartment."
(1) From Cobra II, by Michael R. Gordon & Gen. Bernard Trainor, Cobra II, pp. 503-504, as quoted in the NSA report.
GRAPHIC: MSNBC and AP, from Defense Department data through January, 2006. The title of the graph seems sadly ironic a year later.