The New Rules: ‘Hard Lessons’ from Iraq, for Afghanistan and Beyond

The New Rules: ‘Hard Lessons’ from Iraq, for Afghanistan and Beyond

Last February, the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction published a comprehensive 456-page historical analysis of the Iraq reconstruction experience entitled, "Hard Lessons." The IG, Stuart Bowen -- who was there from the beginning, assuming the post actually before the invasion -- was kind enough to send me a copy this week. Having now read it, I must say it's an incredible piece of data collection and analysis, even if, in my opinion, its concluding optimism about the U.S. government's recent efforts to better prepare itself for the next "Iraq" -- already upon us in the form of Afghanistan -- is truly unwarranted.

"Hard Lessons," despite the plethora of unavoidable acronyms, is a compelling read. The recurring theme of the report's exquisitely detailed narrative is that of somebody finally "taking charge" -- a description patently disproven by the sheer volume of its use to describe the procession of all those who tried to do so:

- First the Pentagon took charge of the government's fragmented -- and largely ignored -- prewar planning of the postwar reconstruction. Why? The White House's "liberation" thesis -- the notion that our conquering military would be able to quickly hand off political control to the grateful Iraqis -- was coming under increasing, if ineffective, bureaucratic assault. So many impressive studies, so few actionable recommendations, so little time for real debate. As the report laments, "The reality was that most policymakers considered reconstruction a minor issue."

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