In the aftermath of national catastrophes, people have a natural tendency to look for an explanation based on a single point of failure. Such explanations are often unhelpful in devising subsequent policy. Simplistic lessons drawn from World War I persuaded the United States to embrace isolationism and Europe appeasement, both of which contributed to World War II. The lesson many Americans drew from not opposing Hitler sooner -- "no more Munichs" -- became a powerful rationale for the United States' entanglement in Vietnam in the 1960s. The subsequent national rejection of counterinsurgency missions -- "no more Vietnams" -- greatly hampered U.S. military performance in Iraq. If the current debate over the United States' failure in Iraq is to yield constructive results, it will have to go beyond bumper-sticker conclusions -- no more preemption, no more democracy promotion, no more nation building.
Individuals have been the first target of criticism: President George W. Bush, of course, but also Vice President Dick Cheney; Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense; General Tommy Franks, the former commander of U.S. Central Command; Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy; L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority; and George Tenet, the former CIA director. All except two of these individuals have been out of office for some time: the Bush administration is already on its second defense secretary, third CIA director, third commanding general in Iraq, and fourth top diplomat there -- and thus far, none of these changes has reversed a worsening situation. This suggests that the source of at least some of the United States' difficulties in Iraq transcends particular personalities.
Meanwhile, the White House, Congress, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA have engaged in continuous blame shifting over Iraq. President Bush and Congress have accused the intelligence community of misleading them about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Tenet has responded that the administration's senior