Certainly one of the biggest government planning disasters of the last decade was the so-called War on Terror. Given the tragedy of 9/11, a government response was certainly called for, but the way it was handled by the Bush administration was poorly conceived from the very beginning.
Start with name: “war on terror.” Instead of treating the terrorists as criminals, we treated them as enemy soldiers, which carries with it the assumption that they work for another country. That was completely untrue, which led to all sorts of mistaken policies.
Then there was the attempt to capture Bin Laden, who supposedly planned the 9/11 attacks. While John Kerry claims that the Bush administration missed its opportunity to catch or kill him, not everyone is convinced. Still, it is clear that the administration completely lost interest in Bin Laden in its eagerness to attack Iraq.
The Antiplanner personally considers the war in Iraq to be immoral: the United States should not attack other countries, even preemptively. But whether you agreed with it or not, it was a planning disaster, being based on delusional premises.
First, Rumsfelt totally ignored the Powell Doctrine, making the same mistake we made in Viet Nam of assuming that our superior technology would overwhelm guerilla fighters. The resulting “delusional plan” produced the military equivalent of “cost overruns” — more money, more casualties, and more time than originally projected.
Second, administration planners made no provision at all for the historic rivalries between Shi’a and Sunni, assuming instead that all Iraqis would great Americans as “liberators.” This intelligence failure underscores the intelligence mistakes — or lies — regarding weapons of mass destruction and supposed links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The administration thus engaged in the classic megaproject behaviors of optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation.
The good news is that the later surge was more-or-less successful. Yet Iraq remains a dysfunctional country, and even if it ever becomes a peaceful, working nation, we have to ask whether it was worth the 100,000 (or more) Iraqi civilian deaths or the roughly 4,300 American deaths (plus hundreds more soldiers from other nations).
On top of that is the financial cost, which for Iraq and Afghanistan combined have so far totaled close to $1 trillion — and will be much more when the long-term costs of health care for war veterans is included. If the terrorists’ goal was to disrupt our economy by making us overreact, then the sad fact is that they accomplished that goal and so weakened us — or we weakened ourselves– that they arguably won the war.
Remember the beginning of the decade, when the United States was the economic powerhouse of the world, when Europe was struggling to catch up, when the almighty dollar truly was almighty? Now a euro is worth $1.50 or more, our economy was in a shambles even before the mortgage crisis, and our official national debt (currently $12.2 trillion) is fast approaching our GDP (currently $14.2 trillion) — more than at any time since the end of World War II. This does not bode well for the future, and much of the blame can be laid on the government officials who planned the war on terror.