Snow on Iraq war planning: "I'm not sure anything went wrong"

Military estimated that U.S. would need just 5,000 troops in Iraq by now.

Published February 15, 2007 7:48PM (EST)

From today's White House press briefing:

Reporter: Slides from a prewar briefing show that by this point, the U.S. expected that the Iraqi army would be able to stabilize the country and there would be as few as 5,000 U.S. troops there. What went wrong?

Tony Snow: I'm not sure anything went wrong. At the beginning of the Civil War, people thought it would all be over at Manassas. It is very difficult -- no, Jessica, the fact is, a war is a big, complex thing. And what you're talking about is a 2002 assessment. We're now in the year 2007, and it is well known by anybody who has studied any war that war plans immediately become moot upon the first contact with the enemy. For instance, a lot of people did not think that we would have the success we had moving swiftly into Baghdad. All I'm saying is that -- what happens is, you're looking at a prewar assessment, and there have been constant assessments ever since. A war is not a situation where you can sit down and neatly predict what exactly is going to happen. You make your best estimates, but you also understand that there are going to continue to be challenges, there are going to be things that you don't anticipate, there are going to be things that the enemy doesn't anticipate. And the most important task, frankly, is to continue to try to assess near-term and midterm to figure out how best to address the situation.

Reporter: But this estimate was monumentally wrong. So would the president, knowing what he knows today, still have decided to go into Iraq?

Snow: Yes. The president believes that we did the right thing in going into Iraq. The question is, should you saddle any military planner with an expectation that they're going to have perfect insight into what happens five years later? And the answer is, of course not. And I think if you talk to military planners, they do their very best under a situation. As you know, many reporters who were in the field then probably had different views about how things might be today. The fact is, the war is -- I know it's becoming a cliché, but it's true -- it's a highly complex enterprise. What you end up doing is you make your best guesses going in. It turns out, for instance, their assessment that they would be able to move swiftly into Baghdad was absolutely right. But you have -- it is pretty clear that some of the other assessments were wrong, and you deal with it.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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