When Baghdad was liberated in April 2003, a wave of looting swept the city and the countryside—illustrating what happens when a nation emerges from decades of dictatorship, and demonstrating the need for the U.S. military to develop better plans to prevent such lawlessness in future wars. We cannot afford to prepare for stability operations after a war has begun—preparation must begin long before the first shot is fired.
Virtually every knowledgeable commentator on Operation Iraqi Freedom has observed that coalition forces achieved great success during the "major combat" phase of the campaign, but thus far have failed to meet expectations during subsequent stability operations. 1 Indeed, U.S. military defeats in the past half-century—Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq (thus far), and Afghanistan (perhaps)—share this common thread. In the field against other militaries the United States always has prevailed. Defeat has come from the inability to establish stable and viable postconflict societies. The Vietnam comparison can be overstated—there are as many differences as similarities. Nevertheless, as retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former commander of Central Command, observed when comparing the two experiences, both suffered from "a lack of planning . . . and underestimating the task." 2