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.