Paul Bremer's Strange Timing
On the day of the vice presidential debate when we can be sure that Dick Cheney will tell us about how necessary it was for us to topple Saddam and take over his country, former Iraqi occupation boss Paul Bremer has rolled a grenade into the White House’s lap. Even though he was handpicked by the Administration and even though he reported not to State but through Donald Rumsfeld to the White House, and even though Condi Rice managed the occupation, Bremer now tells paying audiences that the occupation was flawed.
In a Page One in today’s Post, Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright give us a confusing story wherein Bremer has now concluded that we never had enough troops on the ground to secure the country (retired General Eric Shinseki, white courtesy phone). Nevermind that Bremer significantly contributed to that himself. It is also not clear from this story how many times Bremer has said this recently. Yet the fact that it comes from Bremer dictates that Kerry pivot back for several days to hammer Bush on Iraq, especially by pointing out that even Bush's own man now confirms that the costly campaigns we are undertaking in Samarra, Fallujah, and elsewhere to root out insurgents wouldn't be necessary if the occupation was planned and executed better.
The former U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion said yesterday that the United States made two major mistakes: not deploying enough troops in Iraq and then not containing the violence and looting immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said yesterday in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "We never had enough troops on the ground."
Bremer's comments were striking because they echoed contentions of many administration critics, including Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, who argue that the U.S. government failed to plan adequately to maintain security in Iraq after the invasion. Bremer has generally defended the U.S. approach in Iraq but in recent weeks has begun to criticize the administration for tactical and policy shortfalls.
In a Sept. 17 speech at DePauw University, Bremer said he frequently raised the issue within the administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was spurned because the situation in Iraq might be different today. "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.
A Bremer aide said that his speeches were intended for private audiences and were supposed to have been off the record. Yesterday, however, excerpts of his remarks -- given at the Greenbrier resort at an annual meeting sponsored by the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers -- were distributed in a news release by the conference organizers.
Bremer has been speaking out a lot more lately, and apparently made comments similar to these back in September. But Bremer does two things here that undermine his credibility. First, he claims that he told the White House that there weren’t enough troops on the ground previously. However, the Administration disputes that.
A senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that Bremer never asked for more troops when he was the administrator in Iraq -- except for two weeks before he left, when he requested forces to help secure Iraq's borders.
Second, it was Bremer who disbanded the Iraqi Army and the Baath civil service bureaucracy, which left the country without the means to function and provide immediate assistance to the US forces in restoring order after Hussein was toppled.
Regardless, it is curious that Bremer of all people would be speaking out like this during the last 45 days of the election, at a time when John Kerry has been successfully making the same criticisms of Bush with good political effect.
Update: Kerry is already beating Bush and Cheney over their heads with Bremer's comments.