A colossal miscalculation of what the United States would face after the shock and awe of the initial firebombing campaign was complete. Miscalculations that seemed to have spawned countless trial and error governance experiments executed on the fly to fix mistakes even as scores of innocent civilians were mowed down by roving Sunni/Shia death squads. To borrow from the science of project management, when one conceives of a project without a coherent project plan or roadmap, one is forced to adapt to the 'whack a mole' approach to running the same. Just as soon as a problem pops up, the response to tackling the problem turns out to be tactical, imprecise, short sighted and novel in every instance.
The ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ nature of the invasion did not account for any strategic thinking with respect to the larger picture at hand – that Iraq was a country full of living, breathing people just like you and me. Instead, the focus on removing Saddam and the elaborate framework that he had built to syncretize power so consumed the war planners that governance of the country and its people were relegated to being nothing but afterthoughts. Afterthoughts that have come to haunt us in the form of flying shoes sailing unceremoniously on mainstream television. In many ways, one hopes that the fiasco in Iraq will serve as a constant and present reminder towards large nations to think twice, breathe deeply and weigh options before starting to meddle in places where they have little idea of local mores, customs, sects or culture.
The following incident featuring the creator of the phrase 'known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns' vividly illustrates the sheer ignorance with which a senior strategist like the United States Defense Secretary went into Iraq.
On the eve of the invasion, as it began to dawn on a few officials that the price for rebuilding Iraq would be vastly greater than they had been told, the degree of miscalculation was illustrated in an encounter between Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, and Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant general who had hastily been named the chief of what would be a short-lived civilian authority called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
The history records how Mr. Garner presented Mr. Rumsfeld with several rebuilding plans, including one that would include projects across Iraq.
“What do you think that’ll cost?” Mr. Rumsfeld asked of the more expansive plan.
“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Mr. Garner said.
“My friend,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.”
In a way he never anticipated, Mr. Rumsfeld turned out to be correct: before that year was out, the United States had appropriated more than $20 billion for the reconstruction, which would indeed involve projects across the entire country.