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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Don't Remember Where the Buck Stops

Instead of taking responsibility for the decision to disband the Iraqi army, President Bush has said he doesn't remember much about it, and has given the appearance of trying to shift the responsibility elsewhere. But L. Paul Bremer says President Bush was aware of the decision and has released an "exchange of letters" to back up his claims.

But why should people have to provide evidence to force the president to take responsibility for key decisions about the war? He may not have been aware it was a key decision - that seems to be the case - but not understanding how important it was doesn't absolve him of responsibility for it. Instead, it highlights the poor understanding he and others in the administration had about what postwar conditions would be like, and what would be needed to stabilize the country:

Envoy’s Letters Counter Bush on Dismantling of Iraq Army, by Edmund Andrews, NY Times: A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been “to keep the army intact” but that it “didn’t happen.”

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion... In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bush’s comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House. ...

In an interview with Robert Draper, author of the new book, “Dead Certain,” Mr. Bush sounded as if he had been taken aback by the decision, or at least by the need to abandon the original plan to keep the army together.

“The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t happen,” Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, “This is the policy, what happened?’”

Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for months as other administration officials had distanced themselves from his order. “This didn’t just pop out of my head,” he said..., adding that he had sent a draft of the order to top Pentagon officials and discussed it “several times” with Mr. Rumsfeld.

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity .., said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan had proved unworkable.

“The plan was to keep the Iraqi Army intact...,” the official said. “But by the time Jerry Bremer announced the order, it was fairly clear that the Iraqi Army could not be reconstituted, and the president understood that. He was acknowledging that that was something that did not go as planned.”

But the letters, combined with Mr. Bush’s comments, suggest confusion within the administration about what quickly proved to be a decision with explosive repercussions. ...

On Monday, Mr. Bremer made it clear that he was unhappy about being portrayed as a renegade of sorts by a variety of former administration officials. ...

“I might add that it was not a controversial decision,” Mr. Bremer said. “The Iraqi Army had disappeared and the only question was whether you were going to recall the army. Recalling the army would have had very practical difficulties, and it would have political consequences. The army had been the main instrument of repression under Saddam Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the right decision. I’m not second-guessing it.” ...

Just to be clear, he may not be second guessing the decision, but lots of other people are. As the article notes, it was "a major decision that a number of American military officials in Iraq strongly opposed."

    Posted by on Tuesday, September 4, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15)


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