Bremer Disputes Bush Account On Dismantling Iraq Army
President George Bush’s credibility gap problem seems even bigger because he’s now being directly disputed for an assertion made in a new book — disputed by a key figure in the U.S. occupation of Iraq:
A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to â€œdissolve Saddamâ€™s military and intelligence structures,â€ a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.
Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been â€œto keep the army intactâ€ but that it â€œdidnâ€™t happen.â€
The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bushâ€™s comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House.
There is a sense of deja vu in reading this story.
It smacks of the same assertion the White House made after Hurricane Katrina, basically shifting blame on FEMA Chief Michael Brown for not sufficiently alerting the administration.
But a video later came out showing that Mr. Brown HAD warned the administration, and with considerable alarm. (This site had posted a photo of a horse’s posterior in an early Katrina post on Brown but when this video came out we wrote an open apology to Mr. Brown and said the video now meant that the photo referred to yours truly for the original post).
This is the same situation — on this time it entails a letter but not a video:
â€œWe must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished,â€ Mr. Bremer wrote in a letter that was drafted on May 20, 2003, and sent to the president on May 22 through Donald H. Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense.
After recounting American efforts to remove members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein from civilian agencies, Mr. Bremer told Mr. Bush that he would â€œparallel this step with an even more robust measureâ€ to dismantle the Iraq military.
One day later, Mr. Bush wrote back a short thank you letter. â€œYour leadership is apparent,â€ the president wrote. â€œYou have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.â€
On the same day, Mr. Bremer, in Baghdad, had issued the order disbanding the Iraqi military. Mr. Bush did not mention the order to abolish the military, and the letters do not show that he approved the order or even knew much about it. Mr. Bremer referred only fleetingly to his plan midway through his three-page letter and offered no details.
And there’s more.
We ran THIS POST recently on Robert Draper’s new book “Dead Certain” — a book that Mr. Bush cooperated in producing by giving an interview. We noted at the time that sources usually have a reason to cooperate with a reporter and wondered if helping shape a legacy and history wasn’t one of them.
The Times piece and Bremer’s info to the Times suggests that could have been the reason:
In an interview with Robert Draper, author of the new book, â€œDead Certain,â€ Mr. Bush sounded as if he had been taken aback by the decision, or at least by the need to abandon the original plan to keep the army together.
â€œThe policy had been to keep the army intact; didnâ€™t happen,â€ Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, â€œYeah, I canâ€™t remember, Iâ€™m sure I said, â€œThis is the policy, what happened?â€™ â€
NOTE: Once again a Bush administration official can’t recall. Should the next President be required to take a memory course?
According to the Times, Bremer has been angry because he has felt he is being made a scapegoat (again, similar to what Brown experienced):
Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for months as other administration officials had distanced themselves from his order. â€œThis didnâ€™t just pop out of my head,â€ he said in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that he had sent a draft of the order to top Pentagon officials and discussed it â€œseveral timesâ€ with Mr. Rumsfeld.
The White House response:
A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House is not commenting on Mr. Draperâ€™s book, said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan had proved unworkable.
â€œThe plan was to keep the Iraqi Army intact, and thatâ€™s accurate,â€ the official said. â€œBut by the time Jerry Bremer announced the order, it was fairly clear that the Iraqi Army could not be reconstituted, and the president understood that. He was acknowledging that that was something that did not go as planned.â€
But the letters, combined with Mr. Bushâ€™s comments, suggest confusion within the administration about what quickly proved to be a decision with explosive repercussions.
Indeed, Mr. Bremerâ€™s letter to Mr. Bush is striking in its almost nonchalant reference to a major decision that a number of American military officials in Iraq strongly opposed. Some senior administration officials, including the secretary of state at the time, Colin L. Powell, have reportedly said subsequently that they did not know about the decision ahead of time.
All of this leads to a few possibilities:
(1) George Bush does not pay attention and think about letters from policy makers and implementers within his own administration.
(2) He misunderstood.
(3) He is trying to shunt the blame to Bremer to avoid responsibility for a decision that turned out to be a fiasco.
(4) Bremer is fighting back to protect his legacy and reputation — but is not going to allow others to extricate their role in going along with his advice or decisions.
The Times piece suggests that is what is at play here:
On Monday, Mr. Bremer made it clear that he was unhappy about being portrayed as a renegade of sorts by a variety of former administration officials.
Mr. Bremer said he sent a draft of the proposed order on May 9, shortly before he departed for his new post in Baghdad, to Mr. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials.
Among others who received the draft order, he said, were Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense; Douglas J. Feith, then under secretary of defense for policy; Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, then head of the American-led coalition forces in Iraq; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Bremer said that he had briefed Mr. Rumsfeld on the plan â€œseveral times,â€ and that his top security adviser in Baghdad, Walter B. Slocombe, had discussed it in detail with senior Pentagon officials as well as with senior British military officials. He said he received detailed comments back from the joint chiefs, leaving no doubt in his mind that they understood the plan.
â€œI might add that it was not a controversial decision,â€ Mr. Bremer said. â€œThe Iraqi Army had disappeared and the only question was whether you were going to recall the army. Recalling the army would have had very practical difficulties, and it would have political consequences. The army had been the main instrument of repression under Saddam Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the right decision. Iâ€™m not second-guessing it.â€
And there is that question: how could Bremer decide and implement without the President, Secretary of Defense and military signing off on it and allow it to happen? And if they simply didn’t notice or realize what was going on, shouldn’t they be held accountable?