Between Iraq and a Hard Place-Bremer's Story

By Carafano, James Jay | Army, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Between Iraq and a Hard Place-Bremer's Story


Carafano, James Jay, Army


Between Iraq and a Hard Place-Bremer's Story My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III with Malcolm McConnell. Simon & Schuster. 419 pages; black & white photographs; index; $27.

They had a great term for describing the nature of postconflict operations after World War II. They called it the disease and unrest formula. Basically, the planners believed there were three tasks that had to be accomplished during an occupation. These were essential to avoiding mass death from disease or starvation and preventing the country from devolving into chaos and revolution. The three tasks were: avert a humanitarian crisis; establish a legitimate government; and establish domestic security forces that could support the government. Once those tasks were concluded, the planners reasoned that the occupiers' job was done and it was up to the nation to rebuild itself. It is not a bad strategy for winning the peace. During his tenure as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, Paul Bremer got two out of three right. His memoir, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a 'Future of Hope, is a clear-eyed, straightforward account of why that happened.

Initial postconflict planning efforts took place at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) under Gen. Tommy Franks (it also had responsibility for planning combat operations) and the U.S. State Department. That proved unsatisfactory and only months after the war, the Pentagon established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) under retired Gen. Jay Garner. His task was to coordinate all the nonmilitary aspects of the occupation. With an inadequate plan, not enough time, insufficient resources and scant integration with the scheme for military maneuver, ORHA was quickly overwhelmed. Enter its replacement: the CPA under Ambassador Paul Bremer.

When Bremer arrived, despite the lurid press coverage of rioting in Baghdad and the halting first efforts at coordinating humanitarian relief, the first task of the disease and unrest formula was already under way. While there were major issues regarding the state of critical infrastructure, such as power and water, the threat of floods of refugees and mass death from exposure and hunger had already been averted.

Bremer's challenge was the second two missions: governance and security. The bulk of Mi/ Year in Irai] focuses on the ambassador's efforts to organize a legitimate Iraqi government, negotiating with the factions within Iraq, lobbying for support back in Washington, D.C., and sparring with a restive Congress and combative press corps. It was no easy task, and Bremer lays out in some detail the formidable obstacles and uncertainties he faced in trying to steer Iraqis toward democracy. It was a significant achievement for which he should receive due credit.

Bremer's account also goes a long way toward understanding why it took as long as it did. The notion that a legitimate government could have been thrown together in Iraq overnight was wildly unrealistic.

My Year in Iraq explains as well why the efforts to establish domestic security, the third critical task, fared so poorly. First, the initial plan was based on the assumption that the Iraqi institutions could be used to govern the state once the leadership was removed. That proved false. They were rotten to the core and evaporated the moment Saddam's statue came down. Of course, in every war assumptions prove unfounded, but here is where the United States fell short-it did not rapidly adapt to the new strategic requirement. While the coalition, through trial and error, struggled to stand up Iraqi security forces, their enemies laid the groundwork for a protracted terrorist campaign-and their enemies were ready first. …

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