Wednesday :: Oct 6, 2004

Did Bremer Ask For More Troops, And Did The White House Say No?

by Steve

You'll recall that yesterday Paul Bremer was caught admitting to a private audience that the Iraq occupation was hobbled due to an insufficient number of troops on the ground. Initially the administration pushed back by having the Defense Department discredit Bremer by claiming that Bremer never asked for more troops until just before he left Iraq.

Then later yesterday, the BC04 people admitted that Bremer did in fact ask for more troops last year. In issuing this "clarification" and flip-flop, the campaign spokesman says that although Bremer wanted more troops, Bush sided with his "commanders on the ground" who apparently thought there were sufficient forces in the country already, something we now know (and General Shinseki knew from the beginning) was terribly wrong. However, it appears that there is a disagreement between what the BC04 spokesman said in trying to distance Bush from Bremer, and what Colonel Paul Hughes said, who served in Iraq and was quoted in the Post piece.

In an effort at damage control, the administration disclosed yesterday that top U.S. officials handling Iraq were split over troop strength. After two years of denying internal divisions, the administration confirmed that Bremer had pushed for additional troops. The statement acknowledging the divide, however, came not from the White House but from the Bush-Cheney campaign.

"Ambassador Bremer differed with the commanders in the field," campaign spokesman Brian Jones said. "That is his right, but the president has always said that he will listen to his commanders on the ground and give them the support they need for victory." The statement implicitly distanced the White House from Bremer, who was once considered a leading contender to become secretary of state in a second Bush administration.

Senior former military officials in Iraq, experts on Iraq and Republican foreign policy analysts strongly endorsed Bremer's comments on troops in speeches about his 14 months in Iraq. "It was certainly a well-accepted notion with the Coalition Provisional Authority among the military staff that we did not have enough troops there to do what was necessary," said Army Col. Paul Hughes, a National Defense University fellow who served in Iraq.

"Bremer is the most impeccable source on this. He was in the position to confirm what was self-evident from common sense -- that the chaos and looting could have been avoided if we had far more of the correct forces in the country at the end of the fighting," said Geoffrey Kemp, a Reagan administration National Security Council staff member now at the Nixon Center.

So which commanders in the field did Bush listen to in denying the need for more troops, when it is clear from Hughes' comments that military officials and staff in Iraq agreed with Bremer that more troops were needed? How high up did the requests for more troops go before they hit a brick wall? Or is this one more instance of Bush hanging out the brass to cover for Rummy's, Rice's, or his own negligence in not providing these troops?

How damaging would it be if it came out that the field commanders wanted more troops, but the Pentagon and White House said no? The last thing that Bush wants is Kerry to hammer him at the next debate with the charge that it was the White House and not the commanders in the field that declined to provide enough troops early on to keep the occupation from degenerating into the mess that it is now. That charge, if true, would pretty much destroy the "strong leader/commander in chief" image that Bush and Rove are desperately trying to cling to in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Steve :: 4:23 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!