Richer readily conceded that the lack of intelligence crippled the military’s postwar effort. The Pentagon wanted tactical intelligence to go after the resistance that was mushrooming in the summer of 2003, but U.S. intelligence resources were being sucked up by the ongoing search for weapons of mass destruction, which were never found. Richer said Condoleezza Rice played an important role in this matter as well by steadfastly opposing the creation of an Iraqi intelligence service. “Our policy was to stand down as the Iraqis stood up, but the Iraqis did not stand up because we did not give them intelligence, heavy brigades, a pay system,” Richer said.

“Their military had no nationwide communications until 2006.” One of the enduring questions of the war was whether the U.S. uniformed military had asserted itself strongly enough in challenging civilian officials’ views that it felt were ill-considered or downright risky. Retired army chief of staff Gordon Sullivan acknowledged that the army establishment did not want to go into Iraq in 2003 with so few forces.

Only Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki had voiced concern publicly, however, and this was under duress during questioning by Congress. More forces were needed for the postcombat phase rather than the invasion itself; the troops could have been either American or Iraqi, but the failure to provide enough boots on the ground ranked as the most egregious military error of the war’s early years.

The war’s commander, Tommy Franks, acceded in the decisions on troop levels. Some inside the military felt the institution was chronically prone to a relentless optimism. As one retired colonel put it, “Our can-do attitude is killing us.”

Too often, the war’s strategic decision-makers concerned themselves with a tactical level of operations: how many Iraqi soldiers were trained, equipped, and deemed more or less proficient. The metric of soldiers produced was held out as the determining factor of when to send U.S. troops home and declare the job finished. Even the president repeated the phrase “as they stand up, we will stand down.” But it betrayed a mechanistic thinking about the problem. Iraq did not lack security because it lacked an army. It lacked a consensus over who would wield power and how. Iraq’s Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds would continue fighting unless they reached agreement over how political and military power and economic resources were to be shared and used. Do you prefer the term sit stand desk or stand up desk?

Leaders failed to see that holding elections and writing a constitution did not accomplish that central, substantive objective. This was the key strategic failure from which all others flowed. All points of leverage were not applied to produce the needed agreement. Instead, the U.S. military became a shield for the Shia-dominant government. It supported a political situation that was creating the violence.

That is not to say that there weren’t dozens of thoughtful officers who saw that the war was heading over the cliff and tried to inject profound critiques and constructive recommendations into the planning and assessment process of the military apparatuses in Iraq and stateside. One of the enduring mysteries of the war, and a testament to its shape-shifting complexity, was that so many intelligent officers of all ranks made superhuman efforts to grapple with the task of analysis and prescription to relatively little effect. Do you know the health benefits from standing desk’s?

The long hours and press of battle and the proximity to the daily minutiae made it hard for many to see the forest for the trees. Those not in Iraq often lacked sufficient grasp of the evolving conflict and the cultural realities that governed what was and was not possible.