My Photo
Location: Manchester, New Hampshire, United States

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Executive Editor

“Factually correct, not
Politically correct”



(CHICAGO) The 1950’s Broadway hit “Mr. Roberts” featured a Navy ship that was sidelined in World War II, an ambitious executive officer and an eccentric captain who was proud of his award—-a palm tree--for delivering toilet paper. When the XO throws the palm tree into the harbor, the captain goes berserk and screams “Who did it? Whhhho did it? Whoooo did it?”

This week Washington has faced a more serious variation of the “Who did it?” routine.

Did President Bush disband the Iraqi Army? Or did Paul Bremer disband the army? Or does someone else deserve the blame?

Part One of this “investigation” finds me in an unusual posture: defending Paul Bremer. Sort of. Mr. Bremer was the hapless suzerain sent to Iraq to command that nation and to hustle and husband the Iraqi people into democracy and “free markets” and other right-wing nostrums for the post-Saddam world. Bremer failed miserably.

A few days after Saddam disappeared I rolled into Baghdad with a mandate to find him. My initial quarters were the Palestine (nee Meridian) Hotel. The Palestine of 2003 will be remembered in history along with Claridge’s of London, the Shepherd’s of Cairo, and the Continental Palace of Saigon, as polyglot hotel capitals of wartime intrigue and effervescence.

Later I moved into my own apartment. I lived “on the economy,” that is to say totally separately from the U. S. presence. In fact, there wasn't much presence. Despite lurid tales, and serious instances of looting and violence, most of Baghdad, a vast city, was quiet and peaceful. I walked the streets alone, and celebrated Orthodox Easter in Baghdad.

The UN had stationed convoys of food trucks on the Jordanian border to receive starving refugees. They were not needed. They sat there. No flood of refugees appeared. Food was basic but adequate. And while others headed for military briefings, I headed for Sadr City to see the public markets, and meet with the local warlords who would later become famous. They wanted Saddam as badly as we did. The team that I developed could travel freely anywhere. Safely.

The military brass in Washington eventually decided Iraq was even safe enough for General Jay Garner. Garner was the man who could have saved the Iraq adventure, and stabilized the nation. I was in Najaf the day he arrived in Baghdad and witnessed the scene on TV. Finally, I said to myself. But when the media focused on the very obvious and very tragic instances of breakdowns in public order, Garner was instantly dismissed. Garner had been a solid man for a stolid policy, and when the policy collapsed in the white heat of limited anarchy, Garner was given an unlimited and unceremonious discharge from his duties.

Perhaps the single most disastrous move made during the past four years was not the one to disband the Iraqi Army; very likely the worst decision was to dismiss General Garner, a man who probably could have saved President Bush and his administration and was never given the chance.

Enter Paul Bremer.

This week (September, 2007) Paul Bremer portrayed himself as a team player in disbanding the Iraqi Army. Others have sought to portray him as a rogue administrator. Bremer was no rogue. Rather, he was a stooge. He had not been chosen because of his knowledge of Arabic, or Arab culture or knowledge of the Middle East. He had been chosen to lead a surreptitious experiment in “nation-building,” a hated term in Washington. Bremer was tasked to rebuild Iraq as a “free market” nation, overnight. He was given a second “army” of what I called right-wing weenies, people with no experience, who were chosen solely for conservative political affiliation, to populate a “zone” in Baghdad.

Bremer & Co. were soon “zoned” in Baghdad all right. Zoned out. They cut themselves off from the Iraqi people and lived in an armed compound that I instantly called the Emerald City and became the notorious Green Zone. Instead of living simply and humbly in temporary tents, they took over Saddam's palaces as their own. With disastrous consequences. The weenies are long since gone from Baghdad. The damage they left in their wake lives on.

As 2003 unfolded I became world famous, except in the United States, for exposing Bremer and his toadies, for their arrogance, incompetence, silliness and sheer stupidity. At a time when the “mainstream” media were still toasting Paulie B, I was roasting him. I told Bremer boy to get out on the streets, order them cleaned up, and talk a few words of Arabic. It was not to be. The “innocents abroad” who surrounded Bremer were carefully selected by the Bush administration to propagate conservative economic principles on the souk. Overnight. From the nightmarish confines of the Green Zone. But not to clean the streets of the city.

Ultimately, in assigning blame, the truth must be told: Paul Bremer did not act alone, and he did not make policy. And so, four years later, I can offer a partial defense of the man. Bremer was merely the instrument of a policy that was set in Washington, to destroy all of Iraq’s institutions and to grind Iraqi glass back into sand. Well, Bremer did set one policy: he insisted his laundry be sent to Kuwait, because he did not trust the Baghdadi laundry workers.

The Bush administration has now tried to rewrite history. The president has apparently stated there was a “plan” to retain the Iraqi Army, and he does not remember why it was abandoned. Well. An “anonymous” White House “official” has endorsed this view to the New York Times. Ah, anonymity. Unfortunately, the anonymous-one seeks to rewrite history.

Where General Garner understood the role and function of an army, and soldiers, Bremer did not. Garner had already worked in Iraq, successfully, after the 1991 war. Garner understood that the Iraqi army was a thin veneer of Sunni officers, under which served a force of conscript Shia foot soldiers. While the Iraqi army has been pilloried as Saddam’s, in reality most of the troops were bitterly opposed to his regime and served in the ranks as the preferable alternative to death. Bremer set out to disband a fantasy bogeyman that did not exist in reality.

There is an obvious fallacy in the effort to demonize Bremer. No “plan” has ever appeared to support the claim that one existed to retain and maintain the Iraqi Army. There is a paper trail, but it will not see daylight until 2009 at the earliest. Bremer, however, kept his own file of e-mails and memos.

In response to Mr. Anonymous’ attempt to pin the blame on Bremer for the disbanding disaster, Bremer fired back with his letters to President Bush detailing Bremer’s plan to dismantle the Iraqi military. Bremer also produced a seeming assent from Bush to do so.

Unfortunately for Bremer, his letters expose that while he was an utter failure as a military and political reconstruction leader, he was a formidable presence as a world class courtier, flatterer, apple polisher and ego-massager of President Bush. Bremer’s newly-disclosed letter exposes the way he shamelessly toadied up to the president.

Bremer also inadvertently disclosed that he was obeying a private agenda within the broader conservative plan in the Pentagon and White House. Copies of his flatteries to Bush were also sent to Paul Wolfowitz (he of recent World Bank fame) as well as Douglas Feith, another of the “neo-con” cabal who are credited, fairly or unfairly, with jump-starting the Iraq fiasco.

I also remember November, 2003, when Bremer visited the White House to lift weights and down popcorn with Bush. I was not invited, but they did threaten to deal with the “Internet journalist” who was making their life miserable. Bush did not utter the words “who will rid me of that media priest in Baghdad” but I got the message, and began to lock the door to my apartment in Baghdad. And eventually I came home to Illinois.

Bremer tarried in Baghdad, and he achieved growing immortal ignominy with each passing day. Eventually he went to an Ozymandias-like fate. Today he rails against those who would question his golden year in Baghdad. “I am Bremer,” he says. “Others erred. I did not.” Ozymandias indeed.

But did Bremer disband the Iraqi Army? Is he really to blame? In my opinion, he merely signed the orders. Unlike Adolph Eichmann, who claimed he was merely “following orders” and was not, ultimately Bremer merely followed his orders. And, sadly for him, he followed them too well.

PART TWO: Who should be blamed for disbanding the Iraqi Army? Andy delivers his verdict.

Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers regional, national and world events with forty years of experience. He is America's most respected independent foreign policy analyst. Andy has traveled to the Middle East since 1970; he studied revolutionary warfare under Professor Bernard Fall during the mid 1960’s, and later became a founder of the Revolutionary War Research Center. He served as an independent Baghdad Bureau Chief in 2003.


Post a Comment

<< Home