The McClatchy wire story is breathless:
The war in Iraq has become ”a major debacle” and the outcome ”is in doubt” despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon’s premier military educational institute.
The story is picked up by our friends on the left, as a much-desired indication that we’re still losing in Iraq despite all the evidence that we’re winning. The wishes of the left aside, how can that be? It isn’t, writes Joseph Collins, the author of the study:
The Miami Herald story (“Pentagon Study: War is a ‘Debacle’ “) distorts the nature of and intent of my personal research project. It was not an NDU study, nor was it a Pentagon study. Indeed, the implication of the Herald story was that this study was mostly about current events. Such is not the case. It was mainly about the period 2002-04. The story also hypes a number of paragraphs, many of which are quoted out of context. The study does not “lay much of the blame” on Secretary Rumsfeld for problems in the conduct of the war, nor does it say that he “bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” It does not single out “Condoleeza Rice and Stephen Hadley” for criticism.
Here is a fair summary of my personal research, which formally is NDU INSS Occasional Paper 5, “Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath.”
This study examines how the United States chose to go to war in Iraq, how its decision-making process functioned, and what can be done to improve that process. The central finding of this study is that U.S. efforts in Iraq were hobbled by a set of faulty assumptions, a flawed planning effort, and a continuing inability to create security conditions in Iraq that could have fostered meaningful advances in stabilization, reconstruction, and governance. With the best of intentions, the United States toppled a vile, dangerous regime but has been unable to replace it with a stable entity. Even allowing for progress under the Surge, the study insists that mistakes in the Iraq operation cry out in the mid- to long-term for improvements in the U.S. decision-making and policy execution systems.
(Collins was specifically commenting on a version of the story running in the Miami Herald, which actually managed to make it worse by calling it a “Pentagon study” in its headline.) So the study says little about the current state of affairs — although it cites “progress under the Surge” — and mainly concludes that we made a lot of mistakes. An analysis of those mistakes so they can be corrected is useful, but it doesn’t make much of an anti-war headline. I can see why the media likes their version better.