Where the Iraq War Went Wrong
Solving a 20-year-old mystery about the US occupation
Welcome to Doomsday Scenario, my newsletter where I explore whether things are actually as bad as they seem. I’m writing today to share a significant new “second draft” of history that I just published.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the two most infamous decisions of the Iraq occupation — CPA Order #1 and CPA Order #2, both of which US viceroy Paul Bremer signed in his first days in Baghdad that disbanded the Iraqi military and ordered the “de-Baathification” of the Iraq government.
The orders today are shorthand for America’s failed effort in Iraq, synonymous with the unraveling of the occupation. They’re seen as the fateful first steps that led to the insurgency and years of spiraling chaos, destroyed lives, and political instability, orders that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yet for 20 years, it's been a mystery where exactly those orders came from, so this spring Foreign Affairs asked me to solve the mystery: Who did write CPA Orders 1 and 2?
Thanks to a fresh dive into archival material, memoirs, and a dozen interviews with top officials, I found the people who actually wrote the orders and talked with them about the original reasoning behind the orders.
It turns out to be a pretty interesting—and instructive—story of US policy-making, one where the best of intentions and changing facts on the ground collided with the factions and secrecy of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy in an sadly now all-too-familiar series of lies, misrepresentations, and haphazard planning.
Notably, I found that neither order ever went through the normal interagency process — and that both orders, created inside Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon — were surprises to the other top officials of the Bush administration, who in both cases actually started the war with the opposite plans in place and approved at the White House.
Here's the new piece, just published in Foreign Affairs.
I hope you'll give it a read — it provides some significant new insights into how (and why) the Iraq occupation went south and America still needs to reckon with the damage left behind.
PS: I hope too you’ve been listening to LONG SHADOW: RISE OF THE AMERICAN FAR-RIGHT. This past week’s episode is probably my favorite of the season, and one that couldn’t be more timely and ripped-from-the-headlines as we live through the recent Fox News meltdown and Tucker Carlson’s firing.
This fourth episode of the season takes us through how the right-wing media exploded in the1990s and the seeds of today’s conspiracism were laid by Rush Limbaugh, BillCooper, and his protégé/frenemy Alex Jones.
You can find LONG SHADOW wherever you get your podcasts, or listen and subscribe right here on Apple, Spotify, or YouTube: