Thursday, December 7, 2017

How Arguments Over Iraq Invasion Plan Were Fought Through Press Leaks

On November 21, 2001, President Bush asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to start revising the war plan for Iraq. Rumsfeld was unhappy with the plan because it was largely a replay of the 1991 Gulf War. The Pentagon chief believed the war could be implemented much more quickly and with a smaller force than the hundreds of thousands the military wanted. This caused a large controversy within the Defense Department, which spilled over to the rest of the administration and ex-military men as well. Tensions grew so high that Rumsfelds supporters and critics began leaking highly detailed elements of the war strategy to the press to try to win points for their side.

Bob Woodward in Plan Of Attack documented all the iterations of the war plan Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made the Central Command (CENTCOM) head General Tommy Franks go through. The first version called for 500,000 troops and 7 months of preparations. General Franks was constantly told to cut the invasion force and the number of days necessary to launch the campaign. The general went along, but there were many critics within and without the Pentagon. Those two sides launched a running battle with each other in the media.  

Starting in the spring of 2002 there were several articles that argued for and against Rumsfelds plans. On April 28 for instance, the military leaked a story to the New York Times that said the U.S. was considering anywhere from 250,000 down to 70,000 troops for the Iraq war. In July, another piece appeared in the Times based upon a CENTCOM document that was given to the paper that went over air strikes coming from up to 8 countries and Special Forces and CIA operatives carrying out covert operations in western Iraq to hunt down SCUD missiles and WMD. The next month, administration officials told Time that the war would be simple and quick, and that the military questioned using a large invasion force. (1) Finally, a Time article from January 19, 2003 had sources complaining about Rumsfeld taking over the deployment orders for the invasion that included comments from Gulf War commander Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf who said that Rumsfeld was interfering too much. The situation got so bad that the Defense chief ordered an investigation into CENTCOM. Gregory Hooker who was involved in the war plans believed this was not only futile because most of the stories were coming from sources in Washington, but delayed the strategizing as well.

Rumsfeld was able to win this battle of wills with a small invasion force and a quick build up. The episode showed how divided the Bush administration was over the war plan. It also highlighted how American administrations hate leaks, but are perfectly willing to play that game when it suits them.


1. Duffy, Michael, “Theater of War,” Time, 8/12/02


Duffy, Michael, “Theater of War,” Time, 8/12/02

Eisenberg, Daniel, “’We’re Taking Him Out,’” Time, 5/5/02

Hooker, Gregory, Shaping the Plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom, The Role of Military Intelligence Assessments, Washington D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005

Schmitt, Eric, “U.S. Plan For Iraq Is Said To Include Attack On 3 Sides,” New York Times, 7/5/02

Shanker, Thom and Sanger, David, “A Nation Challenged: The Military; U.S. Envisions Blueprint on Iraq Including Big Invasion Next Year,” New York Times, 4/28/02

Thompson, Mark and Duffy, Michael, “Pentagon Warlord,” Time, 1/19/03

Woodward, Bob, Plan of Attack, The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2004

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