The Bush White House broke every fundamental rule of good management.
In the years and decades to come, library shelves will fill with historical analyses of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. There will be lots of time - and lots of reasons - to debate why so many things went wrong in Iraq. Was it blind ideology? A fatal flaw in Bush's psychological makeup? Should we blame a conspiracy of Iraqi exiles? Was the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein a fool's errand from the beginning?
All these threads have merit, but there is also a more prosaic explanation: The Bush White House broke every fundamental rule of good management.
This is not what America expected from a president with a Harvard MBA and an administration loaded with experienced Washington insiders. We didn't expect to agree with every path Bush & Co. chose to take, but we figured they'd at least know how to chart a course from here to there.
The first book to explore this organizational dysfunction, and still one of the best, is Ron Suskind's ``The Price of Loyalty.'' Published in January 2004, it tells the story of Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, who was stunned that decisions were made without discussion, that policy analysis was neglected, that internal communication was haphazard.
For a sobering look at where this mismanagement leads, catch ``No End in Sight,'' a devastating documentary on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There are no jokes, no sex and no stars, and you aren't likely to find Charles Ferguson's film at a cineplex near you. It's too depressing for wide release.
As with Suskind's book, what's most damning in Ferguson's film is the testimony of insiders. People who were in the Pentagon, in the State Department and on the ground in Baghdad in key positions of responsibility, talk at length about decisions made and not made, decisions that turned a victorious invasion into a bloody quagmire.
Within six weeks of entering Baghdad, Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer, charged with running the occupation, made a series of spectacularly wrong calls that will plague Iraq and the U.S. for a generation. They allowed Iraq to be looted, signaling to Iraqis that the Americans don't care about them, their quality of life or their historical treasures. Under ``de-Baathification,'' they fired the people who ran the government and the economy. They fired the army, the only group capable of delivering security to Iraq. They chose not to guard the arsenals where thousands of Saddam's weapons were stored. They instituted mass arrests of military age men, putting them in places such as Abu Ghraib.
U.S. decision-makers ignored offers of assistance from the United Nations. They rejected assistance from Iraqi military leaders, who offered thousands of trained, armed security forces to keep the peace. They put the job of rebuilding Iraq into the hands of U.S. contractors and young Republican activists instead of unemployed Iraqis.
Without an Iraqi government, Shiites turned to the mosques and radical clerics, who created militias to restore order in their neighborhoods. Thousands of fired Iraqi troops and civil servants created an army of angry, impoverished men, well-armed and well-trained, who soon turned their anger on their occupiers. With good reason, Ferguson calls it ``Bremer's insurgency.''
How could they have gotten nearly every decision wrong?
For starters, Bush ignored principles of management any business operator should consider elementary, including:
-- Seek out the best information and put it to use. The State Department's 11-volume post-invasion plan was pointedly ignored by Rumsfeld.
-- Weigh decisions carefully and keep key players in the loop. Neither Colin Powell nor the U.S. colonel in Baghdad working with Iraqi generals were directly informed of the decision to disband the Iraqi army, let alone asked for advice.
-- Listen to the experts. Bush acted against the advice of his own generals and diplomats in setting troop levels and post-war planning.
-- Hire people with the knowledge to do the job. Barely a handful of the Americans running the occupation spoke Arabic. Americans with experience in the Middle East were intentionally kept out of Iraq. Jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority were awarded on politics and cronyism, not on merit.
-- Experience counts. Of those who made the most important decisions - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz - none spoke Arabic, none had worked in the Middle East and none had combat experience.
-- Read the memos before deciding. While Dick Cheney was saying the insurgency was in its last throes, U.S. intelligence agencies prepared a detailed report on the insurgency that came to the opposite conclusion. Knowing Bush's disdain for long reports, the authors boiled their findings down to one concise page - a page Bush never read.
Success in Iraq was always a long shot, but Ferguson's film argues that failure was not a foregone conclusion. There were plenty of competent people in the federal government - and in Iraq - ready to do their best. They were tragically thwarted by a single incompetent manager in the oval office.
Rick Holmes is opinion editor of the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.