I asserted this week, as I always do, that disbanding the Iraqi military in 2003 was the single dumbest mistake the US has made in foreign policy. That is, it was incredibly destructive (making a large and especially bloody insurgency inevitable) and it was obviously not a good idea at the time. The US interagency process had worked out a bunch of ideas about keeping the guys in uniform (at least a large chunk of the 400,000 or so folks) doing reconstruction, policing, etc. But Paul Bremer, on his own or under orders from Rumsfeld (the finger-pointing continues, but I would put money on Rummy),* chose instead to fire the entire Iraq army and to stop payments to veterans and war widows and orphans.
In my time in the Pentagon (two years before the fiasco that was the post-war planning and operations in Iraq), one of the things we worked on was getting a few thousand men removed from the various sides of the Bosnian conflict, well aware that demobilization is an inherently risky process. Creating large groups of unemployed, resentful young men trained in war and knowledgeable about the disposition of the tools of war is and has always been a bad idea. While some of the folks responsible defend their decisions in No End in Sight, a great documentary (see clip after the break), the decision was considered as incredibly stupid at the time, with members of the US military utterly shocked and appalled (not awed) by the decision.
So, it gets my vote for the dumbest decision ever (perhaps not the worst decision ever, but I might vote for that, too) in US Foreign and Defense Policy. What say the readers?
* Either way, it shows how broken the process was that we do not have a clear accounting of responsibility here