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Mar 12, 2008 1:31 pm


BREMER FAILED TO TAKE THE INSURGENCY SERIOUSLY



Bremer is running around trying to sell his book. He has never been a favorite of mine and I whole heartedly agree with Robert Pollack's critic which I posted bellow.

For me though the heart of the matter was the following exchange between Russert and Bremer. Russert asked: asked about the insurgency he blames lack of intelligence. But he had the intelligence. He had a document which laid out the Baathist thinking. The trouble was that he failed to take it seriously. Hundreds of American soldiers had to die before he believed the document and then it was very late.

Mr. Russert: ...because of the intensity of the insurgency.

Shortly after that interview you went back to Iraq and they found a memo which they presented to you about the insurgency and again, it's in your book and this is a very important document. It's quite interesting."The document...listed orders for point-by-point strategy to be implemented after the probable collapse of the regime beginning with the order of `Burn this office.'

I read the translation. It did indeed call for a strategy of organized resistance which included the classic pattern of forming cells and training combatants in insurgency. `Operatives' were to engage in `sabotage and looting.' Random sniper attacks, ambushes to be organized. The order continued, `...scatter agents to every town. Destroy electric power stations and water conduits. Infiltrate the mosques, the Shiite holy places..." It was a battle plan, a blueprint for exactly what happened.

Amb. Bremer: As we found.

. . . On the insurgency, it is true we discovered this Mukhabarat intelligence service document. I was shown it in July. It was dated a couple of months before the invasion. And it certainly gave a sense that somebody at least in the Saddam regime, perhaps the Mukhabarat, perhaps Saddam himself, had thought ahead to what they would do in the event of a coalition invasion.

And, Tim, one of the things that I felt strongly about was that our intelligence guys--we had a big team there--were mostly looking for weapons of mass destruction. That was understandable. That was one of the reasons to go to war. But I felt and John Abizaid, the commander of CENTCOM, also felt we needed to get better intelligence on the insurgency itself.

And by the end of the year, by the end of 2003, we had a pretty good buildup of experts in counterterrorism and insurgency who were added to our intelligence services in Iraq and that helped us. But certainly at the time we're talking about here in July, we really were just beginning to get a picture of what we were up against.

In 1998 Osama Bin Laden declared war on the US. The Clinton administration failed to take him seriously. He had to destroy the twin towers before the Bush administration agreed to take him seriously. The Democratic Party is yet to be convinced.

Nothing is as costly as underestimating the enemy.

By ROBERT L. POLLOCK January 14, 2006;

My Year in Iraq By L. Paul Bremer III, with Malcolm McConnell

It was May 12, 2003, and"Baghdad was burning." So writes L. Paul Bremer III in the first chapter of"My Year in Iraq." He is describing what he saw as he flew into the Iraqi capital to become, as he puts it,"the only paramount authority figure -- other than dictator Saddam Hussein -- that most Iraqis had ever known."

"The smoke below in Baghdad held all our attention," Mr. Bremer continues -- evidence of what someone else on the plane describes as"industrial-strength looting." When he drives in from the airport, it is along roads"empty" of all but looters."The smoke was denser here," he writes of the center of Baghdad. And just in case anyone misses the point of such scene-setting, he titles his first chapter"Chaos." Such was the state of the country he found.

But was it really? When I first arrived in Baghdad -- about 10 days before Mr. Bremer -- what had impressed me was not the empty roads but the busy traffic. I could see a column of smoke here and there, but it wasn't anywhere"dense." There were still a few looters about -- I'd watched Sgt. Darren Swain of the Third Infantry Division catch some of them near an apartment bloc on May 10 -- but the"industrial strength" action was over.

What's more, I was comfortably traveling the city without security. I often dined at the al-Sa'ah restaurant, a former Baathist hangout that was still in business despite standing mere feet from the crater that marked the second of two failed"decapitation" strikes against Saddam. Elementary schools were open. And within several days I would watch as Baghdad University conducted its first post-Saddam faculty election. Most reporters I know who were working in Iraq around the time of Mr. Bremer's arrival look back on that period as something of a honeymoon, not" chaos."

It is understandable, perhaps, that Mr. Bremer would want to exaggerate the challenge he faced from the get-go, considering the troubles that came to plague Iraq under his watch. But it is also unnecessary. It may well have been inevitable that Mr. Bremer would leave the country somewhat worse than he found it, at least in terms of security. There were still remnants of Saddam's Baathist regime organizing out there, after all, and Syria and Iran were obviously not eager to see their neighbor become peaceful and democratic.

It's also important to understand that some of the most controversial decisions Mr. Bremer would make during his 14 months in Iraq -- not least his early moves to ban senior Baathists from government and formally to disband the Iraqi army -- were undoubtedly the right ones. Mr. Bremer convincingly explains that such moves were necessary to keep the Kurds and Shiites as allies and to signal to all Iraqis that the U.S. really meant what it said about a new, democratic order. Mr. Bremer also debunks the idea that he and the Bush administration threw out a State Department plan for reconstruction and excluded Foggy Bottom from the decision-making process.

But on the political front, Mr. Bremer stumbled badly. In"My Year in Iraq," he claims that he was under persistent pressure from some Pentagon figures, who indulged a"reckless fantasy" that Iraqi sovereignty could be rapidly returned to the"unrepresentative" group of"exiles" who had formed the core of the anti-Saddam opposition. This argument is something of a straw man. The issue wasn't so much one of sovereignty as one of putting an Iraqi face on the occupation. And Mr. Bremer could easily have done so by giving the Iraqis more governing responsibility and a more prominent place in the spotlight -- all while reserving the right for the U.S. to intervene in extremis. Instead, he kept the spotlight on himself. Even as late as December 2003, seven months after his arrival, Mr. Bremer was still the"we" who famously announced"we got him" when Saddam was captured. Such missteps badly delayed the development of Iraqi self-government.

A senior American military commander once described Mr. Bremer to me as something of a" control freak." The urge for control is on full display in"My Year in Iraq." Mr. Bremer fulminates over inconsequential"leaks" and complains when free Iraqis dare to express opinions at odds with his own. Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to be"incorrigible" for contending that the Iraqi political process should move more quickly than Mr. Bremer envisions. Indeed, Mr. Bremer's unhappiness with challenges to his authority leads him to accuse two of the most capable and secular-minded leaders in Iraq -- Mr. Chalabi and Jalal Talabani (the less"tribal" of the two most prominent Kurds) -- of"intriguing" against him.

Nor is Mr. Bremer shy about denigrating, as he has before, the rest of the 25 Iraqis who emerged as members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council in the summer of 2003. Echoing what he and his spokesman, Dan Senor, frequently told reporters at the time, Mr. Bremer accuses the council members of"lax work habits," calling them so incompetent or indecisive that they (yes, he really writes this)" couldn't organize a parade, let alone run the country."

Even now, Mr. Bremer wonders at all the bad press that came out of Iraq during his tenure. But even as the security situation deteriorated, he himself was routinely giving reporters a bleak picture of the country's political prospects. And, strangely, he was reluctant to replace his"unrepresentative" council of Iraqis with elected ones -- until pro-democracy pressure from Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani made it clear that he had no other choice. Eventually, too, Washington intervened, shortening the long leash that Donald Rumsfeld had given Mr. Bremer and placing him under the daily supervision of Condoleezza Rice, then the U.S. national security adviser, and her new"Iraq Stabilization Group."

Iraq surely paid a price for Mr. Bremer's foot-dragging. It was clear by early 2004 that it would be impossible to pull off elections that June, when Washington had decided it did want to transfer sovereignty from the Americans to the Iraqis after all. So Ms. Rice threw something of Hail Mary pass, calling on Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat from the United Nations, to do the job that Mr. Bremer had been reluctant to tackle: i.e., name an interim government. The resulting administration of Ayad Allawi, to its credit, did see the country through to elections finally in January 2005. But it also lost those elections to what was essentially the core group of the old Governing Council.

In short, the gang that" couldn't organize a parade" is now running the country -- Mr. Talabani (now Iraq's president), Massoud Barzani (Kurdistan regional president), Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (leader of Iraq's largest political bloc), Ibrahim al-Jafaari (prime minister) and Mr. Chalabi (deputy prime minister). That Mr. Bremer dismissed these men as not"representative" enough to form even a caretaker administration meant that the better part of two years was lost for building post-Saddam institutions. Had Mr. Bremer allowed the country's eventual leaders to flourish earlier, Iraq might now be doing a better job at providing basic services and ensuring its own security.

It is impossible to finish"My Year in Iraq" without thinking that President Bush might have avoided a lot of difficulty -- and saved a lot of time -- if he had kept in place retired Gen. Jay Garner, the civilian point-man in the invasion's immediate aftermath. Gen. Garner knew the key figures in the Iraqi opposition and had a kind of humility that Mr. Bremer never seemed to possess. Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, had similar qualifications and might have also played a constructive role early on.

Instead, we were given Paul Bremer playing proconsul. For all his experience in the field, he failed, ultimately, to be a diplomat -- to see his role as that of a facilitator more than an administrator. Perhaps a better title for his book would have been"My Lost Year in Iraq."



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