Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And "the other side".....

After so much reading that is extremely critical of U.S. involvement in Iraq, I decided to go ahead and read a piece from someone who took a more positive view.

Some points that stood out to me:
I've heard Bremer held responsible for the CPA laws of de-Baathification and disbanding of the Iraqi Army, and rightly so, as he was the one declaring or signing those laws into effect.

He points out in this text that he feels the de-Baathification law was taken and applied in a way different to his intentions (It was in his intent to only apply to the top 1% of the Baath party, but was applied much more widely). But in some ways to me he seems to not take any responsibility for that law being misinterpreted- he had a year to clarify and rectify it, and we are still at this point four years later working on "re-Baathification". This reminds me that I need to take a shower as I have not done so after three workouts, now- no baths here- I'm told there's a pool at the place I'll get to visit on the four day pass three months from now. There's just no one here that I care to impress by smelling good, and with the smells around here, I just blend in anyway, shower or no. How's that for stream of consciousness writing? Too much punctuation, huh?

On the other point- the disbanding of the Army- his argument is that the army had already disbanded, he just signed it into law, and that to have brought them back would have caused too much tension from the Shia Islamists anyway. The hindsight criticism of this action was that he created, just as with the deBaathification law, a ready made group of insurgents by alienating this group of folks that have been trained in killing and other "kinetic" types of activities. From what I can gather, some did argue against this move, but their arguments were rejected. Of course, over time, the U.S. military, the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior have simply hired the military leadership back- most of the National Police leadership I work with here are former Army- generals, colonels, light colonels and so on- almost all leadership is prior military.

To his credit, he seems to have been the voice in the wilderness on the seriousness of the problem of Muqtada al-Sadr from the very beginning, and had considerable difficulty getting the U.S. military (and even more notably, the Spanish military) to take action against Sadr. By the time the U.S. military was ready to really go after Sadr, however, Bremer was calling things off or putting them on hold because of political concerns.

I found surprising how much he apparently felt his job was cheerleading and giving inspirational speeches to the Iraqis was necessary and/or effective- news conferences and photo ops galore. I cringe whenever I watch someone thinking the show is about him, and he seems to have fallen into this a bit. The Iraqis seem to have a great sense of when we are truly intent on working in their best interest, and I think some of his speeches may have led them to think "he doth protest too much."

In a sense it feels more about "his year" than it is about "in Iraq", even if Iraq is the word in large text on his book cover- it should have had "MY YEAR" in larger font than "Iraq". That sounds harsh, given that he obviously made many sacrifices in his service, and he clearly worked longer hours than I do while I'm here, but that was the feeling I had in reading it. Another feeling was the lack of introspection on his part- much play by play, and the text moved from one activity to another, but I didn't see any substantial acknowledgement of mistakes or missteps on the part of the CPA or himself as its leader. It is hard to believe that all of the problems faced here were entirely unrelated to the governing body that we established over the time of the CPA. Impossible even.

My thoughts there are not unique, however.
From Dexter Filkin's review of Bremer's text:

"For a memoir, this is a remarkably unreflective book. The aides gathered around President Bush are known for their loyalty; Bremer's case seems to be one where fealty to his superiors — or a desire to keep his job — overtook the needs of Americans and Iraqis on the ground."

To be fair, after 4 months here, it is easy for me to see and admit minor mistakes, but nothing major. Of course, my work is really "nothing major" relative to his being ambassador to Iraq, or the "viceroy" as some liked to refer to him. It is hard for all of us to see our mistakes and even at that point, admit mistakes.

It was a bit odd to me how he discussed how important it was that "his" Iraqi government not be controlled by Sistani, but then he made it clear that he essentially had to have Sistani's approval for any major policy moves, most notably, elected officials writing the constitution. It was clear who wore the turban in that relationship.

He discussed how important pushing sovereignty over to the people of Iraq was, and it was a noble gesture. The signatures and formal document, the "let freedom reign!" statement, all are a bit hollow even now, as we continue to occupy the country. Even in his afterword added later on, he doesn't seem to acknowledge that Iraq is even now not truly sovereign, that we are an occupying force, and that many of the same problems he dealt with, were still largely unresolved at the time of his afterword (and still remain to this day).

OK, after all that can I find something positive? Well, he worked very hard, and it seemed to me he was working in good faith, even if I do disagree with some of his assessments about how things were going. "A" for effort! He tried hard!

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