The Corner

The Insurgency a Surprise?

I’ve gotten lots of e-mails contending that we had the fly-paper theory in mind before the war. Some people have pointed out that Bush said “bring it on” as evidence we knew what we were doing in advance. Sorry. I think that was just bravado. I went back through my two big magazine pieces on Iraq to remind myself of what people told me about the beginnings of the insurgency. Here are the key bits:

–The Baathists lived to fight another day, in an insurgency that was yet another surprise. The New York Times recently reported on an intelligence document that allegedly warned of an insurgency. But that warning was in the final sentence of a 38-page report. It was not one of the report’s key findings. “As far as I know,” says an official familiar with the pre-war information, “I don’t recall anyone at State or the CIA talking about this kind of insurgency.”

–That was just a taste of the broader Sunni disaffection from the new Iraq that would help fuel the insurgency. It really began to bite in August 2003. “We started getting hammered, and we’re saying, ‘What’s going on here?’” says an administration official.

–”We weren’t looking for it,” an administration official says of the insurgency. “The Army was not ready to fight an insurgency.” Some generals, not all by any means, were still primed for a conventional fight of the sort we planned for against the Soviets in the Cold War or waged against Saddam in the Persian Gulf War.

–Maj. Gen. Raymond Ordierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle from April 2004 to the beginning of 2005. “We suspected some resistance would be left,” he says, “but we were a bit surprised by the insurgency. We had to adjust how we did business.”

–”Some say we missed the insurgency entirely, but that’s a bad rap,” says General Dempsey. “We saw this thing building, but it just takes time to build relationships in that culture.”

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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