Monday, August 27, 2007

Iraq Mistakes - Paul Bremer

Did you happen to see Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times?

In it he discusses one of the many mistakes made in Iraq: the naming by George W. Bush of Paul Bremer to operate as grand poobah of all operations and governance in Iraq, despite the fact that there had been a thoroughly-discussed plan to leave the ruling during the post-Saddam reconstruction to the Iraqis with the US operating behind the scenes.

The plan that never emerged involved sending Zalmay Khalilzad, the Beirut-educated, Farsi-speaking Sunni Muslim who actually has a clue about the Islamic world currently serving as American ambassador to the United Nations, and who had previously worked in Afghanistan to shepherd of Hamid Karzai to power in Kabul, to Iraq to convene a meeting of Iraqis to plan for governing themselves.

As Cohen tells it:

"Khalilzad’s anguish centers on May 6, 2003. That’s the day he expected Bush to announce his return to Iraq to convene a grand assembly — something like an Afghan loya jirga — that would fast-forward a provisional Iraqi government.

Instead, the appointment of L. Paul Bremer III to head a Coalition Provisional Authority was announced. Khalilzad, incredulous, went elsewhere. In the place of an Afghan-American Muslim on a mission to empower Iraqis, we got the former ambassador to the Netherlands for a one-year proconsul gig.

'We had cleared both announcements, with Bremer to run things and me to convene the loya jirga, both as presidential envoys,' Khalilzad told me. 'We were just playing with a few final words. Then the game plan suddenly changed: we would run the country ourselves.'

Alluding to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, Khalilzad continued: 'Powell and Condi were incredulous. Powell called me and asked: ‘What happened?’ And I said, ‘You’re secretary of state and you’re asking me what happened!’'

Powell confirmed his astonishment. 'The plan was for Zal to go back,' he said. 'He was the one guy who knew this place better than anyone. I thought this was part of the deal with Bremer. But with no discussion, no debate, things changed. I was stunned.'

The volte-face came at a Bush- Bremer lunch that day where Bremer made a unity of command argument to the Decider. 'I put it very directly to the president: you can’t have two presidential envoys running around Iraq,' Bremer told me.

A MacArthur-Karzai debate had raged within the administration for months: should the United States run Iraq like Gen. Douglas MacArthur in postwar Japan or seek a local Karzai-like leader and operate behind the scenes? ...

'The way we did it gave Iraqis the best chance of a sustainable political process,' [Bremer] argued.

Nonsense, Khalilzad believes. 'I feel strongly that the U.S. ruling was wrong. We could have had an interim Iraqi government. I argued, based on Afghanistan, that with forces, diplomacy and money, nothing can happen anyway without your support.'

Powell agrees. 'Everything was Bremer, the suit, the boots, the whole nine yards.' It was a mistake not to move 'more rapidly to putting an Iraqi face on it.'

Khalilzad and Powell are right. The insurgency that took hold after Bremer’s arrival had a clear target: the guy in Timberlands. Given the extent of its post-cold-war power, the United States must wield it with subtlety. This was the sledgehammer approach.

And chosen over lunch. 'Unfortunately, yes, the way that decision was taken was typical,' Powell said. 'Done! No full deliberations. And you suddenly discover, gee, maybe that wasn’t so great, we should have thought about it a little longer.'”

Lessons from this sad tale? We've long known the Decider makes bad decisions, period. He has made bad decisions his entire life, but has managed to thrive nonetheless when Poppy Bush and his gang bail him out. The saddest point is that the American people, with plenty of evidence of George W. Bush's bad decisionmaking and otherwise poor skills, nonetheless re-elected him in 2004.