Monday, January 15, 2007

The Greatest Mistake

When one's options are taken away, there always exists one remaining option--to fight. What might have happened--and where would Iraq be now--if we hadn't made The Greatest Mistake?

Retired Army General Jay Garner was originally assigned to make sense of the aftermath of the United States and coalition forces invasion of Iraq. It appears that he was doing an excellent job, despite an invasion that occurred perhaps prematurely, leaving Garner and his people not quite in place to organize security forces against looting and other destruction.

Garner's plan was to involve as many as 400,000 Iraqi army soldiers in the security and reconstruction of their country, providing them a generous paycheck that would at least offset the lucrativeness of a career in the insurgency.

Suddenly, Garner was replaced. Perhaps the images of day-after-day looting and upheaval weakened the Bush Administration's resolve. Enter Henry Kissinger protege, L. Paul Bremer.

In May, 2003, Bremer issued a decree disbanding the Iraqi army from top to bottom. An unnamed US Official in Baghdad at the time said "There was never a discussion that I was involved in where we would disband the military. It caught me completely by surprise."

During the transition phase, while Garner was still in Iraq, he was handed Bremer's "Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] Order Number 1--De-Baathification of Iraqi Society", which effectively removed thousands of public school teachers and ministry workers who were members of the Baath party only because they had to sign up if they wanted their job. "We can't do this," Garner said, seeing the havoc it would cause in Iraqi society.

The very next day, Bremer's CPA issued an order disbanding the Iraqi army. The plan to throw hundreds of thousands of potential security and reconstruction workers out on the streets without a job was seen as a disaster by Garner.

A disaster it turned out to be.

In his recent book, State of Denial: Bush at War Part III, Bob Woodward discusses the results of CPA Orders #1 and #2. Electricity failed. Sewer systems backed up. The disorganization grew to beyond anything anyone had imagined. And the first Improvised Explosive Device went off, taking everyone in Bremer's group by surprise.

Beginning in early June, hundreds and then thousands of former Iraqi soldiers gathered outside the Saddam Palace that the CPA had decided to make as its headquarters. Now out of jobs, they threatened Bremer and his people that they would turn into aggressors against the occupation. Bremer did not listen until it was too late.

A recent documentary, produced by PBS Frontline, details the grievances and makeup of the Iraqi insurgency. While it is true that mujahideen have come from many other countries, including the West to fight, the common thread that wound through the Frontline documentary, "The Insurgency" was this--the bulk of the Iraqi insurgency is made up of former Iraqi military members who lost all their other options when the rug was pulled out from under them by L. Paul Bremer.

Where would we be now if the imperial Henry Kissinger acolyte L. Paul Bremer had not surprised a lot of people by disbanding the Iraqi government and military? It's hard to say exactly. But it is easy to say that it would have been much better than it is today.


Sang J. Moon said...

Making big mistakes during occupation is nothing new. I can give you litani of mistakes the US made in South Korea which I am very familiar with, but South Korea became the 12th largest economy the last time I checked. The main difference between the Iraqi occupation and past occupations has been the nature of the media coverage. Before Vietnam, news coverage of occupations were informational in nature and often coming from sources who look kindly on the government. Since Vietnam, the media has become a battleground not only between forces within our country but also one used by our enemies. The American people are the most powerful force in the world. They are the ones who allowed Bush to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the ones who can force us out. Clinton himself said he couldn't do anything effective against Al Quaida because he didn't have the popular support. Remember that the Tet Offensive was a military disaster for North Vietnam, but the media coverage depicting it as a mess turned the American people against keeping the military there. Because of the differing nature of the media coverage, the US no longer has the margins of error it used to enjoy during occupation. The bureaucracy, in fact, is probably worse now than in the past, but the US no longer has all the time it needs like in past occupations to diminish those mistakes. The American people have been raised on action movies with clean endings in less than two hours and are used to getting what they want on short demand. They don't have the patience for the long fight.

Frank Staheli said...

I agree. I am current reading Victor Davis Hanson's "An Autumn of War", in which one of his essays imagines what would have happened if the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor today.

Your point about the media is well taken. The greatest difference about how wars are conducted now is that the media brings them to our living rooms.

If we would have conducted WWII the same way, we would never have firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, let alone dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our concern for civilian loss of life is dramatically greater than it was 60 years ago, but media portrayal of war makes it easy for a critical mass of people to think it is not enough.

Rich Warnick said...

I don't know if I buy the argument that the USA cares more about civilian casualties today than in WW II. Army Air Corps strategic bombing in that war remains controversial, but it was primarily directed at military targets. Only in the last minths of the war did we intentionally bomb civilian areas.

Also, remember that aerial bombardment today is by some estimates a thousand times more accurate than it was 60+ years ago.

Oh, and stop blaming the media. We have the worst president ever, if they say so they are just doing their jobs-- finally. Don't forget the New York Times was out front in 2002-2003 promoting the phony WMD "intel."

Frank Staheli said...


My point is that we have fewer civilian casualties today precisely because of precision bombing. And I don't think the US currently attacks purely civilian areas, if that's what you're suggesting. They have attacked civilian areas where IEDs were being planted and where anti-aircraft fire was originating, but...

The main point of Sang and my comments is that the media has a much greater effect on war because of its presentation ability than it did before.

Rich Warnick said...

Forgive me if I misunderstood your particular point. In the right-wing blogs I often detect, if not a yearning for the "good old days" of bombing civilians in WW II, then an irritation at the lack of gratitude for not bombing civilians as much today as we did then. That ties in with the constant litany of complaints against the media.

Believe me, the right ought to thank the American media for concealing the truth as much as they do. The Washington Post's suppression of most of the Haditha photos is just one example. The Arab media show every atrocity image they can get, and blame the Americans no matter who did it.

Brandon Schultz said...

This article is right on the money -- read the sources and the impact of 'debaathification' become painfully clear. In my humble opinion, this is the exact point in time that our chances for victory in Iraq disappeared, and I wish more people were talking about it.

The other take-away lesson that people are missing (including the folks in this blog) is alluded to in the tag line. Specifically, whenever we take options off the table, we stumble and bumble toward militarism. Now, with the neocons pushing for war with Iran, it's like deja vu all over again: When pushed on the issue of attacking Iran they safely say, "We should leave all options on the table." Yet from the other side of their mouths we hear that the Bush admin won't negotiate with the terrorists in Tehran. Hhmmmm... What is left when we remove 'diplomacy' from the table? Not a whole lot really, just embargo, freezing assets, and war. We've already done the first two, so what's left? Does this seem a bit duplicitous to you, or were you not paying attention for the last four years?

Frank Staheli said...


Excellent insight. George W Bush has done a terrible job of diplomacy, even when it comes to simply explain what America's purpose is in the world. He would do really well, instead of saying I won't deal with Iran, to explain to the Iranian people that we support their desire for liberty. A few weeks ago when the protest occurred at the Iranian university, Bush said...nothing. See this story of today for more info about what's happening.