Thursday, October 07, 2004

One of the most controversial moves during our occupation of Iraq was Paul Bremer's dissolution of Saddam's old Iraqi army, which instantly filled the streets with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, trained, armed men with a massive grudge against us. The controversy isn't over the wisdom of the move itself -- just about everyone agrees now that it was a bad idea. But there hasn't yet been a clear account of who was responsible.

Until now, as Michael Froomkin finds one in a Newsweek article which, among other things, a meeting between Bremer and his predecessor, Jay Garner, about the wisdom of the move:

According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, “That’s another 350,000 Iraqis you’re pissing off, and they’ve got guns.” According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: “Before you announce this thing let’s do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let’s line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.” Bremer replied: “I don’t have any choice. I have to do this.” Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. “The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people.

(Emphasis added).

Predictably, Newsweek buried the lede; this is towards the end of the article. But if you've got a blog, you don't have to.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am surprised that this report by Fineman has not had much more prominence in the blog world and mainstream press. Disbanding an army with hundreds of thousands of troops, forcing them to return to their homes - many with weapons - and face unemployment, at a time when it was already clear that there was a definite prospect of lawlessness, was clearly one of the most incompetent acts of the Administration. As Kerry said, generals have to win the war, but the President has to win the peace. Why was this done? The probable root cause was the process this President adopts in his decision making. Was there any debate about this in the White House? Was the role of the Iragi army ever considered before the war began? There are no reports of the White House wrestling with this issue at all. A major and potentially dangerous decision was made on simplistic terms, based on gut feel, without any of the debating that one would expect from a commander in chief contemplating, launching and then conducting a war in a faroff foreign land. A simplistic response to a complex situation, made without foresight and adequate deliberation. And this despite the lessons from history. We are all familiar with the debates that Kennedy had with his staff and military advisors at the time of the Bay of Pigs, and after that debacle, at the time of the Cuban crisis when America was on the brink of war. There was the heat of discussion, the airing of views, bitter debate by impassioned men with differing views, and then - and only after such debate - a decision by America's commander in chief. That is leadership. That is competence. That is what a country expects from its commander in chief. If Fineman's article is right, this single disasterous decision by the President sowed a legacy of death and injury, and defeated the swift victory of the troops in the field. And this single decision has now lead to a rush to train Iragi troops to take over some of the burden. Is there any way to confirm the thrust of Fineman's report? Whoever made this appalling decision should be accountable.

11:20 AM  

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