Rumsfeld's Mirage: Illusions of a Speedy Post-War Exit from Iraq

Geisinger, Thomas, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Zelikow, Philip, AS-History, University of Virginia
Geisinger, Thomas, Arts & Sciences Graduate, University of Virginia

The Iraq War was one of the most impactful and damaging foreign policy decisions in US history. The early historiography of the war often critiques the US government for failing to properly plan the post-war occupation and steward the transition to democratic government in Iraq. Setting aside the question of the legality or necessity of the war, this essay argues that the US did not originally intend to occupy Iraq at all, envisioning only a limited role in the new Iraqi government. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld advanced an agenda involving a relatively small invasion force and a rapid transition to a divided and unorganized Iraqi opposition to dictator Saddam Hussein. Encouraged by the early apparent success of regime change by force in Afghanistan in 2002, Rumsfeld attempted to apply the same logic to the Iraq problem. Throughout pre-war planning, Rumsfeld and like-minded defense officials systematically thwarted US government attempts to prepare for a more ambitious investment in post-war Iraq. In so doing, they created the illusion that an early American exit after removing Saddam was possible. When Baghdad fell into chaos immediately following the fall of Saddam's regime and the fractious Iraqi opposition proved unready to govern, the US government then belatedly committed itself to a full-scale occupation of Iraq for which it was not then prepared.

MA (Master of Arts)
Iraq War
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