America's Role in Iraq, a Vigorous Defense

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 5, 2006 | Go to article overview

America's Role in Iraq, a Vigorous Defense


Byline: Gary Anderson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Many, if not most, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom call the period from May of 2003 to May 2004 the "Lost Year." Not surprisingly, Ambassador Paul Bremer did not choose that as the title of his memoir of his time as proconsul in Iraq.

The lost year exactly coincided with his tenure there. The book is an unapologetic defense of his stewardship. Mr. Bremer undoubtedly made some bad calls on his watch, but having read his account, I come away with a clearer understanding of why he did what he did and how he came to his decisions.

Mr. Bremer made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of decisions during his tenure. The vast majority of them were good for Iraq, but several of the really big ones were disastrously wrong; they were made early on, and we are still trying to recover from them. His edicts on disarming the Iraqi Army and on de-Baathification had an impact that helped fan the nascent insurgency into a roaring bonfire.

However, given Mr. Bremer's explanation, it is hard to see that someone in his position, and with the information that he had available, could have done better. The intelligence estimates from the military played down the potential of the insurgency and stated flatly that the Iraqi armed forces had disintegrated beyond recall.

We now know that both of these estimates were disastrously wrong, but that is the information he had to work with. In addition, he claims that he had firm guidance from his bosses in Washington to carry out both missions.

Mr. Bremer had a mandate to act decisively because Washington was under extreme pressure to bring to chaos that followed Saddam's ouster to an end. He believed that, by acting decisively, he could reverse the perception that the Coalition had lost control of events.

However, the loss of the Baathist technocratic leadership and the security expertise of military officers provided fuel to the insurgency. Worse still, many of these unemployed officials became leaders in the diverse but surprisingly well-funded insurgent movement.

Much the same can be said with the nearly fatal events of April 2004 when he decided to near-simultaneously crack down on Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and Muqtada Sadr, the Shiite firebrand, thus instigating a near perfect storm of Sunni-Shiite reaction. The disturbing thing that remains unexplained is that Mr. Bremer made these decisions with little or no consultation with coalition field commanders who had better working knowledge of the situation on the ground.

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