Packer, originally an Iraq War supporter, has produced an excellent summary of how we got into Iraq ("isn't possible to be sure") and the consequences of doing so. He begins by concentrating on the group most responsible for the U.S. invading Iraq - the neocons.
Packer writes that the neocons originated in the Vietnam-era, sensing that the U.S. had gone wobbly. This feeling was followed by the fall of Saigon, the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and South American insurgencies. Elliott Abrams (Asst. Sec. of State for Latin America) added "promoting Democracy," which President Reagan adopted. Thus, "morality" replaced concern for "U.S. national interest" and others' concern for "imperial overreach."
The end of the Cold War was not time to withdraw for neocons, but to extend. New threats were seen in European allies, Chinese and North Korean communists, Arab dictators, Muslim terrorists, resurgent Russians, and weapons proliferators. American power everywhere was seen as the cure. These hardliners (including Cheney) had no use for international alliances if they got in the way of U.S. freedom to act for "benevolent global hegemony." Meanwhile, the U.S. ended up in Bosnia and Kosovo for humanitarian reasons and not in Iraq - despite it having oil, having committed mass murder, and having unconventional weapons.
Packer goes on to state that on 9/11 within minutes of fleeing his Pentagon office, Wolfowitz told aides he suspected Iraqi involvement, while that same after noon Rumsfeld wondered to his aides about taking out both Saddam and UBL. Three days later with the President and others at Camp David, Wolfowitz kept returning to Iraq as the most important target for the U.S.
Rice told a presenter about a year prior to invading Iraq not to bother with reasons not to invade Iraq - Bush had "already made up his mind." Thus, we boxed ourselves into war before knowing why - other than Bush's original outrage over Hussein trying to kill his dad. Nonetheless, Bush's advisors had a great deal of experience in prior administrations, and when 9/11 arrived, they reached for what they had always known - focusing on threats from well-armed enemy states, and answered with military power. Packer senses that if Bush II had had Bush I's advisors this would not have happened.
One of the more bizarre pre-war plans was for Chalabi to lead 6,000 Iraqi exiles trained to fight in Hungary. Only 70 showed up.
Rand, the Army War College, and others concluded postwar Iraq would require a large number of troops for an extended period, and international cooperation. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, believed prior postwar reconstructions in the 90s had bred a culture of dependency - Iraq would follow the minimalist approach of Afghanistan. Army Chief of Staff Shinseki was the only one to speak publicly (asked twice at Congressional hearings), and estimated 500,000, Days later he was refuted by Wolfowitz - without data, seemingly via theology - per Army Sec. White). Marine Gen. Zinni (Franks' predecessor) similarly had called for a 500,000 man invasion force. (Packer also notes that Franks was prohibited from getting Zinni's advice.)
In April, '02 the State Dept. saw a need to begin postwar planning, and recruited Iraqi exiles with expertise in various fields and organized them into 17 committees. Rumsfeld, however, won the bureaucratic struggle for control, and set up his own group led by Gen. Garner - and then required him to "uninvite" leaders from the State Dept.'s effort, per Cheney. Others from State were more benignly excluded by holding up their clearances. Regardless, President Bush focused entirely on the military plan during the 16 months prior to the invasion (per Woodward's book) - somehow the universal desire for freedom would solve everything after that.
Early on Rumsfeld made it clear that he didn't care about timely payment of Iraq civil servants (burden on U.S. taxpayers), and that disorder in the cities was useful leverage for obtaining other nations' troops. (Looting damage was subsequently estimated at $12 billion - about the amount supposedly to be raised by a year of Iraqi oil sales.) Garner was not sold on Chalabi, and after publicly commenting neutrality on the topic, was immediately undermined and constantly herded by the White House to put Chalabi in charge. Regardless, Garner only planned on a 90-day effort, and focused on large numbers of refugees, chemical weapons, burning oil fields, and massive civilian causalities - none of which happened. (Meanwhile, the CIA was working to prevent Chalabi's takeover, and Garner's group had only $25,000 to resurrect the Iraqi civil administration - per White House Office of Mgt. and Budget!)
It quickly became apparent that Garner's efforts were not working out, and he was replaced by Paul Bremer. Within four days of taking over he dissolved the Iraqi army, fired large numbers of Baathists from civil service (formerly only the top 1% had been excluded), and stopped the formation of an interim government. The first two actions were probably initiated by Cheney, per Packer, and eliminated a major source of Iraqi national pride and changed their view of us from liberators to occupiers.
Early on U.S. leadership deluded itself with the belief that postwar it was merely dealing with a small number of former regime loyalists. After wasting a year, it then pressed for training new Iraqi soldiers, privatized the activity and claimed 150,000 "graduates" - only to later find that only about 6,000 had received any sort of substantive training.
Shifting to the causes of the insurgency, Packer believes that that Islamic hostility to intruders was the greatest factor, helped by numerous U.S. actions that were greatly resented.
Packer concludes: "Those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence. Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability . . . When things went wrong, they found other people to blame."
Summarizing, "The Assassin's Gate" is a deeply disturbing account of American government gone very wrong.