Bremer: I Am Not an Idiot

Paul Bremer says he’s tired of being a punching bag for his woefully inept administration of the Iraq Provisional Authority and especially “two disastrous decisions at the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: to vengefully drive members of the Baath Party from public life and to recklessly disband the Iraqi army.”

He says Doug Feith and Tommy Frank had more to do with those decisions than him and that, anyway, they were quite reasonable in light of Iraqi sectarian politics. He claims Saddam’s government was based on Adolf Hitler’s and that de-Baathification was modeled on Dwight Eisenhower’s de-Nazification plan, but kinder and gentler. Further, the Iraqi Army consisted of incompetent, brutalized conscripts who certainly weren’t going to go back to work for their thug officers given an alternative.

Jim Henley and Scott Lemieux are somewhat sympathetic to Bremer’s plight, figuring that even if he hadn’t screwed up massively, the operation was likely doomed to failure anyway. Matt Yglesias isn’t letting up on Bremer since he was dumb enough to take the job and even now isn’t smart enough to invoke the “fall guy for a doomed enterprise” defense.

As one who has ridden the “Bremer was an idiot” bandwagon, most recently here, I’m not particularly impressed by his most recent argument. Indeed, I’ve often cited the failure and near-immediate reversal of de-Nazification as a reason why de-Baathification should have been immediately rejected.

Furthermore, the notion that the law “affected only about 1 percent of Baath Party members” is either a damnable lie or every single reporter who has ever written about the subject is woefully uninformed. The latter is, of course, not a proposition I’d reject out of hand. Still, I’ll need a bit more convincing given how long the “de-Baathification down to the level of schoolteacher” meme has been allowed to thrive unchallenged.

Bremer’s insinuation that these arguments come mostly “from critics who’ve never spent time in Iraq, don’t understand its complexities and can’t explain what we should have done differently” is outrageously laughable. For one thing, prior to his taking the job, that description fits Bremer to a T. Moreover, plenty of critics have been explaining what should have been done differently from Jump Street.

Henley, Lemieux, and Yglesias may well be right that Bremer’s mission would have failed regardless. It’s impossible to prove a counterfactual, so we’ll never know for sure. It is rather safe to say that the wheels came off during his administration, though. Given that he’d have gotten plenty of credit had things gone swimmingly, it seems perfectly reasonable to give him a sizable share of blame for the mess. There is, after all, plenty to go around.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Given that he’d have gotten plenty of credit had things gone swimmingly, it seems perfectly reasonable to give him a sizable share of blame for the mess.

    Tommy Franks, Bremer, Tenet, Doug Feith, etc..the whole lot are scoundrels, of course.

    BUT: ultimate responsibility lies with Bush.

  2. Anderson says:

    Saw this at LGM, & I’ll repeat myself: however bad the potential alternatives, firing the army en masse was the Single Worst Thing that could’ve been done. It had *no* possible good consequence.

    What did the Americans think the ex-soldiers were going to do? Go home & get jobs at Wal-Mart?

  3. anjin-san says:

    Bremer may well be an idiot. But the question is, who hired the idiot, and why are they ducking any accountability? Maybe you can tell us James. You have been cheering for the idiots who hired the idiot for years…

  4. James Joyner says:

    who hired the idiot, and why are they ducking any accountability

    The president hired Bremer, who, while decidedly not an idiot, was woefully unprepared for this particular assignment. Bush is held accountable by standing for re-election, which he did successfully, and by the judgment of history, which has yet to be rendered.

    You have been cheering for the idiots who hired the idiot for years…

    Don’t confuse preference for one alternative over a worse alternative with “cheering. I was a big Bush fan in 2000 but have been generally disappointed. Given that John Kerry was the alternative, I stuck by him.

    Given that surrender is the proposed alternative of Pelosi and company to Bush’s war policies, I’ll hold on to hope that Petreaus and the Surge will somehow turn the tide.

  5. Francis says:

    surrender? to whom? I thought the plan was to leave, not to march our soldiers into a POW camp.

  6. Triumph says:

    surrender? to whom?

    According to Bush’s–and apparently, James’–logic, if we leave before “mission accomplished” we will have surrendered to evil.

    Until the world is purged of evildoers, we shall continue to fight in Iraq.

    Remember, it took Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 five years to fight CHAOS and they were never victorious.

    Bush has picked up where Max and The Chief have left off–they all recognize that surrender is no option.

  7. legion says:

    Bremer, Mike Brown, Tenet, Rumsfeld*, Gonzalez… all people who were placed into incredibly senior positions by Bush, and all woefully bad at doing what was asked/required of them. How many more incompetents has Bush left seeded around the realm of political appointees, like so many land mines (or perhaps dud munitions would be a better comparison) just waiting to explode in our faces?

    *-While I’m willing to admit some of Rummy’s plans to re-work the structure & focus of the military may have had real value, his total inability to make that work within a guerilla war that seems tailor-made to demonstrate the value of his contentions still marks him as a failure.

    Also, Triumph, there’s gotta be a Cone of Silence joke in there somewhere… 🙂

  8. Anjin-San says:

    The president hired Bremer, who, while decidedly not an idiot, was woefully unprepared for this particular assignment.

    So for this critical role in Iraq, where, to hear Bush tell it, the future of America is on the line, Mr. Bush sent a man who was “woefully unprepared”. And yet you want to continue to follow his plan (which has no plan) for Iraq.

    uhhhhhhhhh OK, I guess…

  9. James Joyner says:

    if we leave before “mission accomplished” we will have surrendered to evil

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists and will embolden the terrorists. There’s not much getting around that.

  10. Triumph says:

    How many more incompetents has Bush left seeded around the realm of political appointees, like so many land mines (or perhaps dud munitions would be a better comparison) just waiting to explode in our faces?

    Ah ha! The old Regent University Dean’s List Political Hack trick!

  11. Anderson says:

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists and will embolden the terrorists.

    JJ is correct, but there’s a typo — for “Leaving with Iraq in chaos,” sub “Plunging Iraq into chaos.”

  12. Francis says:

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists

    the Sunni/AQ Islamists who will get slaughtered by the Shia when we leave? Or the Shia Islamists who will lean towards Iran once they consolidate power?

    and, still, what’s this surrender thing? we’re quitting, not surrendering.

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Refusing to consider retreat makes you a walking target for the first enemy who is clever enough to suck you into a trap.

    We’re in a trap right now. We can’t win and we will eventually leave. The question is how much damage we’ll let them do to us in the meantime.

    And yes they will crow about having defeated us. But as pointed out they won’t have long to crow given that both the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq are unfriendly towards AQ.

    We gain nothing by staying, we lose nothing by leaving. They have their victory, let’s let them celebrate it now and get this whole embarrassing affair over with.

  14. Anjin-San says:

    “embolden the terrorists”

    Ever time I hear that I wonder WTF it means.

    Al Qaeda attacked the Pentagon, New York City, and I don’t think anyone doubts they were going after the White House as well. I also don’t think anyone doubts that if they had had a nuke and means to deliver it on that day they would have.

    They were bold as brass long before Bush attacked Iraq. Bush’s stupidity in Iraq has presented Al Qaeda with many opportunities they would not have had otherwise, but nothing we do there is going to make them “bolder” they they already were.

  15. Jim Henley says:

    Given that surrender is the proposed alternative of Pelosi and company to Bush’s war policies, I’ll hold on to hope that Petreaus and the Surge will somehow turn the tide.

    So James, we clearly need to call the Fallacy of Sunk Costs something else then. The __________ of Sunk Costs. But what shall we put in the blank? I’m stuck for an alternative.

  16. Michael says:

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists and will embolden the terrorists. There’s not much getting around that.

    True, but it’s not a matter of if we will leave Iraq in chaos, but when. Pelosi and other Democrats are simply advocating that we leave on our terms and our timetable, instead of letting the Islamists choose them.

  17. Anjin-San says:

    Given that surrender is the proposed alternative of Pelosi and company to Bush’s war policies, I’ll hold on to hope that Petreaus and the Surge will somehow turn the tide.

    Guess you are not losing too much sleep over the guys who are dying while you “hold on to hope”.

    “hold on to hope” “somehow turn the tide” Certainly sounds like a clear-cut strategy for victory. I mean, Bush & Co. have been dead bang wrong about everything to do with Iraq, and now we are “holding on to hope”. How the mighty have fallen…

  18. Jim Henley says:

    Well, at least hope is . . . audacious!

  19. legion says:

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists and will embolden the terrorists. There’s not much getting around that.

    I hate to pile on, James, but I gotta add one item. Your statement implicitly assumes that our staying in Iraq has any chance to fix what’s broken and/or prevent things from getting worse. Many disagree – the names of the poor bastards on the ground there, from Franks to Petraeus to the unfortunate LT Bacevich, have changed; the people making all the decisions about how the war is fought have not. Their uncountable past failures give absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe anything will change so long as Bush remains in office – I defy anyone here to give rational hope otherwise.

    That said, we either leave now or leave after January ’09. The only difference will be the number of dead.

  20. Andy says:

    Leaving with Iraq in chaos is a huge win for the Islamists and will embolden the terrorists. There’s not much getting around that.

    the terrorists

    Okay, they’re emboldened. Now can we leave?