by Lindsay Swisher
On November 1st, 2017, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) hosted a viewing of the documentary “No End in Sight” chronicling the two-year period following the American invasion of Iraq. The documentary featured Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy , who was the senior State Department official in Iraq in 2003. After the film screening, Dr. Rochelle Davis, Director of the CCAS, interviewed Ambassador Bodine about her experiences in Iraq.
Bodine started by speaking of the importance of this film. She said it addresses, “the history, everything, and really brings it down to just about every essential fact people need. It is remarkably comprehensive and accessible, and powerful.”
The discussion quickly turned to the major mistakes that were made by the U.S. government during the Iraq War. According to Bodine, “What truly was [remarkable], and I think it comes through in the movie, was how almost consciously we did not plan this war. There were three fundamental mistakes. One was the decision just to go in – there was no basis for this, and it was called the war of choice. The second was the decision on the number of troops, less than half of what any military planner believed was necessary. And the third of course, the cataclysmic one, was that we had no plan. We TRULY had no plan.”
She expanded, providing her own opinion on the issues of coordination within the U.S. government. “The people who did the Future of Iraq Project understood what needed to be done. There were Iraqis who understood what needed to be done. And what we had was this very small group of idealogues, a small closed box who were going to impose democracy, which is I think an oxymoron, and create it in some image, and so we set ourselves up for failure,” said Bodine. The Future of Iraq Project was a series of meetings held by the State Department from July 2002 to April 2003, resulting in a 13-volume report that provided strategic recommendations for the post-Saddam Hussein transition in Iraq. According to the National Security Archive, Department of Defense officials deny the claim that the report was largely ignored.
Bodine then shared the key lessons she learned from the American occupation in Iraq. First, she said, ““There has to be a demand for an open, transparent decision process.” She also said that, “The media did not really play its role in challenging assumptions,” and that as a result, “we as a people, as represented by our Congress, and represented by our media, need to be vigilant, and need to be vocal and need to be heard. Because I think we can see with the current administration that it is very easy to slip back into this.”
Given these many challenges, Bodine remained hopeful, saying, “I have ultimate faith in the Iraqi people being able to put their country back together again.”