Hogan's Alley

Monday, May 14, 2007

Paul Bremer Argues He Did Not Create The Mess In Iraq

Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq has been silent for the three years since he left his post. In that time he has been the target of the current received wisdom that his decisions to eliminate Baath Party members from government and Hussein's former military leaders from the army led directly to the current chaos.

His argument to the contrary in today's Washington Post is worth reading. Here's a key quote:

Our critics (usually people who have never visited Iraq) often allege that the de-Baathification decision left Iraqi ministries without effective leadership. Not so. Virtually all the old Baathist ministers had fled before the decree was issued. But we were generally impressed with the senior civil servants left running the ministries, who in turn were delighted to be free of the party hacks who had long overseen them. The net result: We stripped away the tyrant's ardent backers but gave responsible Sunnis a chance to join in building a new Iraq.

The decree was not only judicious but also popular. Four days after I issued it, Hamid Bayati, a leading Shiite politician, told us that the Shiites were "jubilant" because they had feared that the United States planned to leave unrepentant Baathists in senior government and security positions -- what he called "Saddamism without Saddam." Opinion polls during the occupation period repeatedly showed that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis, including many Sunnis, supported de-Baathification.

And this:

So, after full coordination within the U.S. government, including the military, I issued an order to build a new, all-volunteer army. Any member of the former army up to the rank of colonel was welcome to apply. By the time I left Iraq, more than 80 percent of the enlisted men and virtually all of the noncommissioned officers and officers in the new army were from the old army, as are most of the top officers today. We also started paying pensions to officers from the old army who could not join the new one -- stipends that the Iraqi government is still paying.

I'll admit that I've grown weary of being a punching bag over these decisions -- particularly from critics who've never spent time in Iraq, don't understand its complexities and can't explain what we should have done differently. These two sensible and moral calls did not create today's insurgency. Intelligence material we discovered after the war began showed that Hussein's security forces had long planned to wage such a revolt.

No doubt some members of the Baath Party and the old army have joined the insurgency. But they are not fighting because they weren't given a chance to earn a living. They're fighting because they want to topple a democratically elected government and reestablish a Baathist dictatorship. The true responsibility for today's bloodshed rests with these people and their al-Qaeda collaborators.

Historians will have to be the final arbiters of what is true in this matter. For me, I plan to stop trying to find simple villains to blame for the mess in Iraq. The great historic failure was to not understand that complex internecine warfare was bound to happen in the post-Saddam power vacuum.

Photo source: NNDB.com

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