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BREMER IN IRAQ
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
January 29, 2006

January 29, 2006 -- WHEN coalition forces entered Iraq in March 2003, those who opposed toppling Saddam Hus sein claimed that the invasion was part of a diabolic plan by "neo-cons" to occupy the country and set up permanent bases. In other words, Iraq was to become a land version of an aircraft carrier for "Anglo-Saxons" seeking to dominate the Middle East.

L. Paul Bremer, a retired diplomat who was invited by the Pentagon to go to Baghdad as administrator just weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, must have heard that theory before leaving for Iraq. To his surprise, however, he quickly found out that there was no long-term, or even medium-term plan, and that the last thing that the "Anglo-Saxons" wanted was to get involved in Iraq for years.

Bremer found that Washington's chief objective had been the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his war machine. By the time he arrived in Baghdad in May, those objectives had been achieved. In fact, choosing Bremer was a sure indication that the United States didn't quite know what it wanted in Iraq beyond liberation.

As a former diplomat and businessman, Bremer had no qualifications to deal with what was clearly a political problem. What Iraq needed at that time was a political figure, a ruler, or a "Pasha" who would personify the function of the state in the absence of state.

Instead, Bremer was thrown into the lion's den with no plans, few instructions, no control over the instruments of power and lacking the clout needed in Washington, where, as George Shultz once put it, everything is a battle royal and nothing gets done on a solid basis.

Worse still, as far as Bremer was concerned, was that the Bush administration was divided over the little they wanted to do in post-liberation Iraq. Bremer mocks the Iraqis for their "tribal and sectarian" politics. But his book shows that the American political elite themselves acted in a more sectarian and tribal manner.

Bremer thought that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq and prepare to leave the country as fast as possible. According to Bremer, the "neo-cons" wanted him to let the Iraqi exiles who had returned to Baghdad form a provisional government as early as September 2003.

But that ran counter to the impression Bremer had from President Bush, who had insisted that the U.S. should "stay the course for as long as it takes" to turn Iraq into "a people-based democracy." Bremer realized that achieving Bush's objective could take years. He decided to ignore the Pentagon's demand to hand over power to the "exiles" whom he had organized in a Governing Council and, instead, focused on plans to liberalize the Iraqi economy, create a new police force and seek new "internal" leaders.

In hindsight, it is clear that Bremer was wrong to ignore Iraq's immediate needs, such as security and a minimum of public services, in order to focus on "long-term" aims, such as a new liberal economic model and an independent judiciary.

In those days, what Iraq needed was a series of urgent, short-term moves designed to immediately improve the lives of the people, to prevent the terrorists from getting organized, and to revive the basic structures of governance, preferably with an Iraqi face.

Blaming Bremer is unjust, though, especially when, overall, the Iraq project has been a success — at least so far.

Bremer did what he thought was right, and his record must be rated as satisfactory. Let us also recall that just weeks after arriving in Baghdad, he produced a 157-page "Strategic Plan" to give Iraq a new constitution and hold elections for a new democratic parliament. All the key objectives of that document have been achieved on time, and the least that anyone can do is to give Bremer part of the credit.

The book suffers from the usual defect of all such political memoirs, as Bremer portrays the situation in Iraq when he arrived in the darkest colors possible. But anyone who visited Iraq in May 2003 would not recognize that picture.

Bremer is also less than kind about some American generals he worked with. He says Gen. John Abizaid wanted to revive Saddam's army, while Gen. Rick Sanchez was too tired to develop a vision beyond the daily imperatives.

What Bremer ignores, however, is that, in a democracy, it is up to the politicians to guide the military and that it was the absence of political leadership in Baghdad that confused the generals. On two occasions, in Fallujah and Najaf, Bremer provoked a confrontation with the local rebels without having worked out the political consequences. As a result, he was forced to backtrack as soon as things got rough.

Bremer also paints a picture of the new Iraqi leadership that is full of contradictions. He dismisses the Governing Council as a bunch of lazy and unrepresentative exiles and claims "they couldn't even organize a parade." But elsewhere, he praises most members of the same Governing Council in glowing terms.

If there is any hero in this book, it is George W. Bush. Throughout the memoir, we are told that Bush intervened at sensitive moments to keep everyone focused on his "long-term objective: a democratic and prosperous Iraq supported by the United States for as long as it needs to stand on its own feet."

At one point, before his re-election in 2004, Bush tells Bremer that he would remain committed to building a democracy in Iraq, even if that meant losing the presidential election.

Bremer's strongest message is this: As long as Bush is in the White House the U.S. will remain solidly behind Iraq's new democracy and will do "whatever it takes for as long as it takes" to make sure that despotism will not return to Iraq in any form — religious or secular.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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