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February 15, 2007


The fantasy life of these people has been well documented at this point (although, I am glad/disturbed to see as much more of it as you can dig up).

The question remains how they gained the power to play out their fantasies. The US system provides the power of hundreds of millions of people to anyone with the desire to grab it. Why do you think this sick story won't be repeated the next time the country is shocked?

I note that many here seem to be strong supporters of the democrats. What are they proposing that in any way makes it any less likely that the next group of lunatics will not just be able to repeat this?

Creating paper barriers to the use of power is worthless. Paper as strong as the constitution was no match for these bumblers. The US system is based on the restraint of the leaders, nothing else. The next 50 years promise to send this world into further nightmares if we keep collecting huge stores of power and leaving them out there for any 'believer' to play with.

I said in previous comments that I support power and consequences. There are no consequences that an individual can bear which balance this kind of power. The only option is to unwind it and certainly stop building it up.

But there is no point of view from which the failure to plan for the occupation makes any sense at all.

Well, there is. Two.

If the objective in invading Iraq was not to take possession of the oil reserves, but to throw the country into such chaos that no one could possess the oil reserves under Iraq - then it makes sense. If you're an oil magnate whose first objective is immediate profit for shareholders, without any concern for anything else. Does this describe anyone in power in the Bush administration?

If you're a nutty Rapturist Christian who thinks that Armageddon will and should come in your own lifetime, then - in a really twisted, eff'd-up way - taking a fragile but stable country in the Middle East and throwing it into civil war with the intent of destabilizing neighboring countries...

OK, while I can believe the first, the second would only occur to me because there apparently are nutty Rapturist Christians who think Muslims are devil-worshippers who are at least in middle-upper echelons of the Bush administration. I can't quite believe it.

The first, though? Yeah.

Well so much for those conpiracy theories about plans for permanent bases, eh?


Results 1 - 10 of about 24 from obsidianwings.blogs.com for "permanent bases".

oops? Faces feeling a bit eggy over there?

Am, did you know that you can post HTML as a text link, so that what appears isn't (as here) a broken link across the page, but a short line of clickable text, like this?

Also, did you know that if you want to make people feel embarrassed at having got it wrong, you really need to make clearer what you think we need to feel embarrassed about?

I do advise you to consider both these points. The first will make your comments more readable, the second, more effective rhetorically.

oops? Faces feeling a bit eggy over there?

Nope. As Jesurgislac pointed out, you're going to have to show me what you mean by that.

To catch up on the "permanent bases" issue, though, if the giant outcry against permanent bases was in actuality an objection to what our military calls permanent bases (as opposed to an actual, planned permanent military presence in Iraq on bases that we continue to own), then: yes, y'all were right, but what the concern with is now a headscratcher.

Outside of that unlikely situation, I think a little more explanation is in order.

Or what the concern was with, instead.

Note to self: a) more coffee is required prior to posting, and b) also reading those notes to self about posting before coffee.

Now, I'm no West Point graduate, but...

Jesus Christ, that's not a military plan, that's a wishlist. My CEO's presentation at my company's annual planning meeting had more concrete detail than this.

A few notes, since a lot of this requires a more detailed understanding of how the military operates.

First and foremost, these are briefing slides, not the plan itself. While I share the disdain many feel towards the overuse of PowerPoint in preparing military operations, it is a major error to assume that these slides represent the sum total of the planning for the war and its aftermath. Slides sum up key points only. The detail work is in the orders and OPLANs which are typically huge volumes with annexes covering all the major areas.

Two, the word assumption has a very specific meaning when used by Army personnel. An assumption in planning is something you have to make in order for your plan to work. It must meet two tests: it must be valid and necessary. Necessary means that the assumption needs to be true in order for the plan to proceed. Valid means that it needs to be something that would reasonably occur. It can be argued that a number of these assumptions were invalid (and I'm not sure if all of them were necessary), and that is where the problems come in.

In order for the projected timeline to occur, certainly the assumption the DoS would have an interim government ready to go by D-Day was a necessary assumption. But that assumption was clearly not valid, and it is a major failure of GEN Franks and his staff not to have made clear just what these assumptions meant. Had the planning been done properly, GEN Franks would have explained that he needed the DoS to meet this goal for his plan to succeed. (There are other assumptions that could be questioned, but that one stands out because it was under the control of the U.S. Had it been made clear this was a lynchpin of the operation, and if it's an assumption, it is, the administration should have known that it needed to do everything in its power to make this happen prior to D-Day and that if it could not, the operation might fail.)

Andrew, as always your insights into military affairs are valuable here.

This reminds me of the movie Bottle Rocket where Owen Wilson's character had this absurd 50-yr plan they would follow after robbing a bank and all these great htings would happen

This reminds me of the movie Bottle Rocket where Owen Wilson's character had this absurd 50-yr plan they would follow after robbing a bank and all these great htings would happen

"How the Department of State was supposed to promote the creation of a broad-based credible provisional government by then when Rumsfeld kept excluding all their experts from planning meetings is a bit of a mystery."

Well, only a bit.

Read conservative think tank position papers, conservative blogs, conservative GOP editorialists, and House and Senate GOP campaign rhetoric through the 1990s and into the 2000 election and this, along with abandoning the U.N. and other international institutions, was the literal, spelled-out, plan. Folding the State Dept. portfolio into DOD was and is policy.

You could go back and read John Birch rhetoric from 50 years ago and find the same wording.

Change the word "experts" to "elites", or "liberals", or "those with allegiances to someone else besides America", and the rest of the mystery dissolves.

Republicans didn't win the 2000 and 2004 elections. The true bohunk, rednecked face of America did, from school board to White House.

The Southern strategy comes to foreign policy.

Well, since I haven't read Cobra II yet, these slide should make a nice supplement when I do.

many good comments on this thread, but I want to go back to "am" and the comment about permanent bases. Not that it is entirely relevant, but where do you think the 5,000 troops who were still going to be in Iraq at the end the invasion were going to be stationed? Perhaps in Iraqi Army bases? The US was not going to leave Iraq at the end of 4 years. They were going to keep a contingent of forces there to ensure the Iraqi government didn't backslide.

I think Andrew was spot on as far as he went, but there are several assumptions in the briefing which do not seem to reach his criteria of "if X then Y" analysis. I think two others stand out for me: "opposition groups will work with us" and "co-opted Iraqi units will occupy garrisons and not fight either US forces or other Iraqi forces"

Andrew: thanks. I should have made it clearer that these are the slides, not the actual plans. (Thank heavens for small mercies.)

As far as I can tell -- and I think I read through all the tabs of PowerPoint slides at the archives -- there isn't the beginning of an explanation of how the various goals in Phase IV are to be achieved, or of how the military might respond if they weren't.

I also note, for the benefit of those of you who have wondered whether or not we believed that Iraq had WMD, that in this slide that's one of our assumptions.

Nope. The slide says the wmd capability will be eliminated, not that there are wmd to be eliminated. The WMD were smoke and mirrors from day 1.

Umm...the first slide listed clearly lists 'Iraq has WMD capability.'


I considered the former issue, but the CIA was making that very claim in the leadup to the war, so I didn't consider it a military failing to accept that analysis. Your mileage may vary, of course, and you're correct that it was a bad assumption, but it's not as grievous an error as the failure to emphasize the need for DoS involvement before the war, in my opinion.

The second assumption was true as far as it went. Iraqi Army forces didn't start striking at U.S. forces until well into the occupation. Had the DoS assumption not failed so miserably, that assumption might have held true.


Based on what I've read in Cobra II, GEN Franks didn't see the occupation as his problem, so it is unsurprising there's nothing seen there.

Andrew: yeah; it would be less surprising, to me, if Rumsfeld hadn't practically gone to war with DoS in order to get all the post-war stuff under his command.

"Cool! We've finished stabilization within 2-3 months of the end of major hostilities"

But note that the plan called for 270,000 troops with which to accomplish this . . .

Kevin Drum makes the good point that the assumption about Afghanistan transitioning to phase III pretty much destroys the administration's claim that Iraq did not in any way distract us from Afghanistan. (At least, it does if we note that that assumption is false.)


Thanks. I hate to be just part of the thank-you chorus, so I feeled compelled to add:

Yes, of course this is a simplistic PowerPoint briefing. It's a briefing. We do these all the time, and by now it's fairly rare for the guys being briefed to mistake the briefing of a system design for, for example, a System Design Document.

Which in itself is really a simplification of all the documents that feed into it, which discuss the engineering at finer levels of detail. It's why they're called briefings, although they're rarely all that brief.

None of which is intended to defend any of the assumptions, notional outcomes, etc that have since turned out to be wrong. And I'd not be much surprised that there isn't much (if anything) to the counterinsurgency plan, given that we didn't see much in the way of execution.

Andrew: is most planning in the military this acronym-heavy? I mean: it's like a second language, or something.

If memory serves, didn't the State Department have a detailed post war plan that was shunted aside?

I have very frequent contact with the military, and sometimes I can't understand them very well. Yes, acronym-heavy, in my experience. There should also be a pronunciation guide:

SPO: spoh

There's even more arcana, sometimes, that even I don't understand yet. Sometimes people are referred to by alphanumeric designators. Or maybe that refers not to a person, but the person who happens to head an organization.

And then there's acronym overlap: ATP could be Advanced Targeting Pod, or Authority To Proceed, or Acceptance Test Procedure, or possibly other things.


Yes. As I work my way through ILE (the Intermediate Leaders' Course) I am experiencing a barrage of acronyms above and beyond those I already knew. For example, I have learned that the NSS feeds directly into the NDS, which in turn ties into the SPG and the CPG/SCG. The JSR, meanwhile, feeds into both the NDS and the NMS, which in turn leaders to the CPR, the JPD, and the JOpsC. And that's only the beginning.

...so, one could conceivably be involved in an ATP on ATP, after having obtained ATP.

Andrew: about the lack of Phase IV stuff: my first instinct was to agree. Certainly it makes sense to me that a military plan (let alone a PowerPoint briefing on one) wouldn't include e.g. details about how exactly "recovery" was supposed to work.

Nonetheless, a couple of points. First, I think that while there are a bunch of contingencies covered that concern possible actions by Saddam, there is nothing about the possibility of an insurgency. That's so odd that I can put it down to only two possibilities: (a) our planners are idiots, or (b) they had some reason for not bringing it up. Rumsfeld just not wanting to hear about it leaps to mind as a possibility.

Second, and more to your point: the failure of our efforts to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq is something that requires a military response, and so even if it's not the military's job to do it, I would have thought that there would be a place in such a briefing for a plan about what to do if it didn't work out. At least a slide of Assumptions, like the one there is for the plan as a whole, saying: look, if whoever is supposed to do these vital things doesn't do it, this won't work.

(I mean: if I understand this correctly, which is always a big question, the idea is to plan not just for (a) what the military will do about stuff under its direct control, and (b) what the military's identified enemy, in this case Saddam's government, will do, but also for (c) other things that might require the military to change its plans -- e.g., actions of third parties, failures by other parts of our government, insurgencies, etc. At least, I hope this is true, since otherwise the planning process seems to have a great big hole in it.)

Unsurprisingly, Andrew's way more fluent in acronymese than I. I speak a kind of pidgin that's heavily laced with English.

Or, from Good Morning Vietnam:

Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.

Andrew: not to pester you with questions, but: has anyone considered the possible effects of communicating in acronyms on the actual prosecution of war? Do people ever get confused about which ATP is which, and do something awful? Or (more likely), does the business of thinking in terms of meaningless collections of letters ever get in the way of thinking of things as real, messy objects? Does it make people more inclined to detach themselves from the actual reality on the ground and enter a strange world of floating letters? Does it have any effects analogous to the difference it can make to think of prisoners as numbers rather than as names?

I just suddenly got all curious. I suspect that English would be preferable.


The planners may well have failed to note the possibility of insurgency because a) the Army doesn't like dealing with insurgencies and b) that tendency probably made us less likely to anticipate them. The plan was to be in and out quickly. As best I can determine, there was no contingency plan for staying in Iraq for long. That may be because Franks wasn't thinking that far ahead because he was leaving, because the planners were overconfident, or because those plans simply haven't been released yet.

I see the State Dept...oops, I mean "DoS"...has Powerpoint too.

This 2004 McClatchy article seems to be a good summary on the post-war planning debacle.


I don't really know if that issue has been brought up in the past. I have never worked above the brigade level, and the use of acronyms at the tactical level is, while still pronounced, fairly specific. I can't think of acronyms offhand that include more than one definition, so there is not that likelihood for confusion. At the higher levels, I suspect that there are a number of issues with the degree of abstraction that is required to think about the strategic level.

I think the military and environmental law should have an acronym-off...The thing is, though, in environmental law you always have time to look it up. So I suspect you guys win.

Andrew and Slarti, I'd like to hear a little more about the link between the briefing/slides and the plan in light of the quotes from Ricks's Fiasco at the National Security Archive (hilzoy's link on "slides"):

"It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense... In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides... [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides."

"Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD's [Office of Secretary of Defense] contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology -- above all information technology -- has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war. To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness."

Is this what you mean by the problems with the overuse of PowerPoint? Because it sounds as though the complaint is that the slides are substituting for a plan.

I guess it's not really disputable that war planning was woefully inadequate, the question is how woeful.

Do people ever get confused about which ATP is which, and do something awful?

A lot of that is context I think. You know what it is based on the situation and the context of the conversation.

Ask him (Andrew) about unofficial acronyms (FUBAR, SNAFU, REMF, TARFU, etc.) – they are a lot more fun… Hmm – the letter F appears in most of the ones I can remember…

Andrew: The planners may well have failed to note the possibility of insurgency because a) the Army doesn't like dealing with insurgencies and b) that tendency probably made us less likely to anticipate them. The plan was to be in and out quickly.

As they say, military intelligence is a contradiction in terms....

Also, who was it said "No plan survives first contact with the enemy"?

When I run events the things I try to think of and prevent are the things I really, really don't want to happen.

Obviously, given that Bush was determined to attack Iraq even though all information that either Defense or State could give him was that the US military was not capable of doing so successfully because there simply aren't enough troops and there especially aren't enough trained troops, there was not a lot that the military could do about the fact that it failed. Especially as a big part of the reasons for the insurgency was completely outside military control - I mean the determination of the Bush administration to block any incipient Iraqi democracy until they had all Iraqi national assets except for oil sold off to the highest bidder.

On the planning/Power Point distinction, the Nat. Sec. Archive quotes Cobra II (the plan, not the book) author Lt. Gen. McKiernan:

It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense... In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides... [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides.

sorry- crossed wires with Weiner

Also, who was it said "No plan survives first contact with the enemy"?

While the quote is often attributed to Clausewitz, it actually comes from one of his pupils IIRC.

Matt and Sven,

While I obviously cannot speak for the General, I think the problem is twofold: one, a slide presentation is a simplification of things, and when in comes to a military operation like Iraq, it is a vast oversimplification. Unless the people being briefed a diligent in questioning the briefer to defend and explain the premises, a lot of assumptions can slip through without anyone challenging them. Two, briefing effectively via PowerPoint requires a degree of skill to bring up the major issues that need to be addressed. In this case, it seems clear that GEN Franks failed to point out the importance of the assumptions being made, and nobody else challenged him on it, so the plan went merrily forward into execution.

Sven, the technical term is "weiner-pwned!" ;-)

Thanks for the response, Andrew.

Heh. Not all that different from the grandiose plans we flunkies used to churn out for presentations on market presentation.

I always loved how we would invariably show rapid expansion in the market, of which we would capture the bulk.

Nothing ever goes WRONG in Powerpoint Land. I think of it as magical fairy tales we pass on to each other in the usually-vain hope that some of them might actually come to pass.

As a Tech Writer for a gov't contractor, yeah the acronyms are everywhere. I generally can fill up about a page and a half listing them in an appendix when I'm done.

And occasionally there's confusion, but generally only when you cross-pollinate spheres of influence. Such as myself, who has a finger in every pie.

yah, us environmental lawyers have a staggering array of acronyms. but since the DOD has bullets and i have a computer, they win.

(frex, the SoL on an EIR prepared under CEQA is 30 days, but only if the NOP is properly filed with the Registrar.)


I understand that there was an edited version of this powerpoint created for viewing by several members of the White House staff, perhaps even the President:

(military xlation: IU that there was an EV of this PP Ced FVB SMOTWHS, PE the POTUS).

Francis, what do you think of Cercla as a girl's name?

(a running joke I have with my husband)

I always thought that naming a daughter "Petty Cash" could make for all sorts of check cashing possibilities.

I also note, for the benefit of those of you who have wondered whether or not we believed that Iraq had WMD, that in this slide that's one of our assumptions.

To make explicit what I believe you're implying, if we were certain that Iraq had WMD, there would be no reason to expressly state that this was an assumption. On the other hand, if we were certain that Iraq did not have WMD, there would be no reason to assume that it did. So this suggests to me that the military believed that Iraq had WMD but certainly was not certain.

So this suggests to me that the military believed that Iraq had WMD but certainly was not certain.

Assuming they were using the term 'assumption' according to doctrine, that is a correct.

Cynicism on)The government speaks in aconymese to keep the rest of the population in the dark.(Cynicism off) That said, in a military briefing scenario, the audience usually knows the meaning of the shorthand on the slide, especially if they are part of the JCS working with the OSD, getting a briefing from the DIA, which has been blessed by the CIA, based on information gleened from msgs intercepted by the NSA.

I take Andrew's various points about the specificity of the word "assumptions" in a military context, but nonetheless it seems to me that the shorter Bush admin war planning philosophy is: If nothing goes wrong, nothing will go wrong.

Check out SEEPROGRESS the new video channel for the Center for American Progress a non partisan progressive think tank.

Watch it on YouTube at

What if our most powerful weapons were ideas?

since the DOD has bullets and i have a computer, they win

No, since the DoD has bullets and a computer, they win.

Unless that computer is Skynet, in which case everyone loses, for a while.

I worked for a company that briefly broke into the Top400 list after we bought a new computer. There was only one person that ever used that computer, and it had nearly a half million dollars worth of RAM.

Finally, since daughters seem to be a strong subthread, yesterday my five-year-old asked my wife how babies are made. Insistently. Completely unconnected with that, my wife told me yesterday that she wants to adopt again. I've learned with her, though, that I need to let notions like that age for a while before I start needing to do something about them.

I attend briefings at the DASA / Army HQ level from time to time, and there can be a frighteningly uncritical acceptance of acronyms. You'll see people using terminology without knowing what it really means; they end up using it as a shorthand to reflect unspoken assumptions.

For example, "DOTMPLF" refers to a comprehensive requirement to evaluate systems against Doctrine, Organization, Tactics, something that starts with M, Personnel, Logistics, and something that starts with F. I listened to two briefers talk about the need to "'run this system through 'DOT-MIPL';" when I asked them later what DOT-MIPL meant, neither could tell me, they just knew it was a standard.

You'll also hear people talk about the need to operate within the 'Business Transformation' or 'Broad Enterprise Architecture', with no idea of what that actually means.

The acronyms then take on a life of their own, and become a constraint on actions or innnovations because they are always held up as a barrier, but no one knows what they really mean. Very sad.

One of the many, many things wrong with Richard Clarke's latest spy novel was all the scenes composed entirely in acronymese.

I always have problems with UA (Unmotivated Acronyms)

The military knew what they were doing. Experts knew what to do. Rumsfeld and Bremer, working for who knows, made sure none of that happened. Iraq was a failure by design. Can you imagine what a real democratic Iraq would look like? Iran, with some Syria thrown in. "They" didn't want that. "They" wanted confusion and chaos. And permanent bases, right on top of all that oil, and right next to Iran.

Lots of military people were optimistic because they had plans in place. Those plans were FUBARed by the bosses.

Hilzoy, why didn't you post the summary slide:

Phase 1: Invade Iraq
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit!

For the record: ATP = adenosine triphosphate (the stuff all living cells run on)

If I remember correctly, Rumsfeld threatened anyone with immediate firing who would bring up any problems concerning the aftermath of the invasion. An insurgency could be reasonably considered a problem and mentioning the possibility could therefore have been detrimental to one's career.

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