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Thread: The CPA, Bremer and Year One in Iraq

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default The CPA, Bremer and Year One in Iraq

    17 September Washington Post - Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

    ... The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

    The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

    Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues...

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Mistakes Were Made

    17 Washington Post book review - Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Review by Moisés Naím.

    ... That common wisdom holds that while the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein is still open to debate, American mismanagement of the country after the invasion is not. Even the Bush administration's staunchest supporters now accept that "mistakes were made" and admit that, for example, dismantling the Iraqi army and driving out officials tied to the old dictatorship's Baath Party (both policies that Bremer championed) were bad ideas. But often implicit in this dominant interpretation is a complacent understanding, even a justification, of U.S. mistakes made during the occupation. After all, goes the thinking, ethnic divisions, suicidal Islamist fanatics, decades of oppression and decay, and all sorts of other obstacles conspired against the success of the bold American enterprise.

    It is hard to hold that view after reading this book. Chandrasekaran, now an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, was The Post's Baghdad bureau chief in 2003-04 and has a keen eye for the small detail that illuminates larger truths. He clearly suggests that the self-inflicted wounds created by CPA ineptitude, arrogance and ignorance were far from inevitable. Nor, he shows, were they minor causes of the mess the United States faces today in Iraq. Imperial Life in the Emerald City documents the way that an avalanche of unjustifiable mistakes transformed a difficult mission into an impossible one...
    Buy Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone at this Amazon.com link and support the SWC / SWJ.

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    Council Member Bill Meara's Avatar
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    Default Imperial Life in the Emerald City

    The Guardian is publishing excerpts:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2016127,00.html
    Check out my book: http://www.contracross.com

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    Default What has journalism come to?

    A most interesting article, but one that fails to get some basic facts right. Paul Bremer did, almost always wear coat and tie, but his most common "uniform" was a blue blazer and slacks (often khaki), not a blue suit. Nor did he wear combat boots, but rather - as he specifically points out in his memoir - Timberland boots, a gift from his kids.
    The point I would make is that if the author of the article is willing to ignore minor but easily checkable facts, how far is he willing to go to distort important ones? This guy was a Washington Post correspondent in Baghdad, not from the Podunk news!
    A good friend and former colleague at the National Defense University worked for Bremer and was certainly able to convince me that the man deserves somewhat better reviews than he has been getting. As his memoir points out, he was clearly right about Moqtada al Sadr - even if he was totally wrong about disbanding the Iraqi armed forces.
    Finally, one of my students at American University was one of the "20 somethings" who staffed the CPA. It is a sad reflection on the USG at the time that we were not seeking significantly better qualified folks to run the legally required occupation government. (This is not to take anything away from my student who was among the more qualified of the 20 somethings but few, if any, had the experience to do that demanding job.)

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    Council Member MountainRunner's Avatar
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    Default Documenting an expensive way to create an insurgency

    Unlike the Guardian article, I wrote brief reviews of Imperial Life and My Life in Iraq, which I found to be interesting side-by-side reading. While I'd like to edit and shorten the original (to paraphrase Twain, I wrote a long review because I didn't have time to write a short time), I've posted the beginning of the review posted on my site to save you the trouble.

    I find it sadly interesting that many, outside the SWJ community of course, don't see the connection between the CPA, missed opportunties, and what became of the situation. Or is it just me?

    Rajiv Chandraskaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is, among other things, instructive on how to create an insurgency through occupation. Yes, you read that right. Chandraskaran shows how reconstruction efforts were short-circuited and really pissed off the population frequently and unerringly. Chandraskaran's portrayal of a period that roughly overlaps the existence of the Coalition Provisional Authority is one of myopic and ignorant staffing, priorities, and execution.

    How might insurgencies develop? Read this book to see how the people in the middle ground had their options removed and how extremists and criminals had recruiting opportunities handed to them on silver platters, not to mention plenty of time to refine their own operations as neon warning signs were ignored and dismissed.

    Because of their similarity and at the same time contrast, my book review here comments on both Chandraskaran's book and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer's My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. Nearly identical in scopy, they are diametrically opposed in their perceptions of reality.

    Starting with Imperial Life, Chandraskaran digs into the details like a forensic historian, tearing at the paper castles Bremer and the Administration created for themselves and the American public. He delves into the politics of who was allowed to participate, what information was not shared, and how "loyalists" without appropriate, or in many cases, any experience were placed. Michael Goldfarb, in his New York Times review of the book, hits some of the highlights of Imperial Life, including comparisons between people like the extremely qualified Frederick M. Burkle Jr and who was replaced by the extremely unqualified James K. Haveman Jr for the job of rebuilding Iraq's healthcare (if the importance of healthcare isn't obvious, see the RAND report on the importance of healthcare in 'nation-building').

    The difference between these two books is astounding, quite honestly. Bremer, as Goldfarb writes, has apparently "read one C.E.O. memoir too many". An accurate states considering the frequent platitudes Bremer heaps upon himself.

    Bremer likes to finish a section on a positive reflection while Chandraskaran finishes with reality, a bit of bad reality. For example, on the disbanding of the Iraqi army, CPA Order No. 2, Bremer concludes with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabini telling him that the "decision to formally 'disband' the old army was the best decision the Coalition made during the our fourteen months in Iraq."

    ....

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Bremer: What We Got Right in Iraq

    There's a gmail account for Bremer at the end of the article. Any chance he could be convinced to recollect a bit further for the SWC? A lot of this doesn't make sense, some of it appears to be pure speculation that I'd like to see backed up, and a great deal seems as though he finally lost his bearing and refused to fade to black.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...051102054.html

    NO MORE MR. PUNCHING BAG
    What We Got Right in Iraq

    By L. Paul Bremer
    Sunday, May 13, 2007; Page B01

    Once conventional wisdom congeals, even facts can't shake it loose. These days, everyone "knows" that the Coalition Provisional Authority made two disastrous decisions at the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: to vengefully drive members of the Baath Party from public life and to recklessly disband the Iraqi army. The most recent example is former CIA chief George J. Tenet, whose new memoir pillories me for those decisions (even though I don't recall his ever objecting to either call during our numerous conversations in my 14 months leading the CPA). Similar charges are unquestioningly repeated in books and articles. Looking for a neat, simple explanation for our current problems in Iraq, pundits argue that these two steps alienated the formerly ruling Sunnis, created a pool of angry rebels-in-waiting and sparked the insurgency that's raging today. The conventional wisdom is as firm here as it gets. It's also dead wrong...

    Like most Americans, I am disappointed by the difficulties the nation has encountered after our quick 2003 victory over Saddam Hussein. But the U.S.-led coalition was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny. Hussein modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler's, which controlled the German people with two main instruments: the Nazi Party and the Reich's security services. We had no choice but to rid Iraq of the country's equivalent organizations to give it any chance at a brighter future.

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    Default What Bremer said in his book...

    Mr Bremer has reiterated what he said in his book about the de-baathification. I believe that he makes this case as well as acknowledging the mistake of handing that process over to the Iraqis prematurely. With regard to disbanding the army, his case is weaker. First, he adds a number of layers to what he said in the book. Second, he neglects to point out that his predecessor, LTG Jay Garner, and his staff were in contact with the officers of the regular Iraqi army. Garner's point man on this was COL Paul Hughes. Paul told me that Bremer cut the rug out from under ORHA's plan with disastrous results. Hughes today is at the US Institute of Peace and was one of the senior staffers on the Iraq Study Group.

    I had heard Bremer's position articulated by one of his senior staffers, Dr. William J. Olson, now at the DOD regional center for Near East and South Asia. While I have a lot of respect for Bill, my sense at the time of these conversations was that Paul had it closer to right. Bremer's expanded explanation seems to me to be one that is seeking justification for a poor policy decision after the fact, although I could be wrong.

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    I probably need to get his book and learn more about his viewpoint.

    I am certainly one who cringed severely at the time, and continue to buy in to the CW against de-Baathification that he attempts to counter here. And I believe I've made a post or two here saying that.

    I don't know what shining light in a short WaPo article could have turned me around 180 and had me drinking the Kool-Aid. It didn't happen from this piece. Two points in particular that hit me yet again are the delivery of the de-Baathification directive from on high via Feith on the tip of a sledgehammer, and the mental leap from an army that was wrong to keep but was then right to reconstitute with 80%+ of the same folks.

    But I will say there are nuances to this whole op that still remain lost to me, and that were real issues at the time, immersed in uncertainty and friction, that are not just revisionist justifications (at least not all). And that ORHA / CPA op was such an ad hocracy, it sure as hell was a force of will just showing up there to do the job. And a very big one it was.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Cynic that I am, I see Bremer's piece as a counter to Tenet's book -- and a bit of advertising to resurrect his book as a point of interest.

    I understand that Tenet and Feith are both teaching at Georgetown. I guess Bremer should do the same thing and then we could have a panel of 3 who point fingers, deny, and then calim that they really got it right--as in Bremer's case.

    Tom

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    I have to go with John T Fishel on this one. My sources who are/were as well placed or better than John's, have told me the same thing that John's source at USIP stated as far as Bremer and De-baathification.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default What Bremer Got Wrong in Iraq

    16 May Washington Post commentary - What Bremer Got Wrong in Iraq by Nir Rosen.

    I arrived in Iraq before L. Paul Bremer arrived in May 2003 and stayed on long after his ignominious and furtive departure in June 2004 -- long enough to see the tragic consequences of his policies in Iraq. So I was disappointed by the indignant lack of repentance on full display in his Outlook article on Sunday.

    In it, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority argues that he "was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny," including the Baath Party and the Iraqi army. He complains about "critics who've never spent time in Iraq" and "don't understand its complexities." But Bremer himself never understood Iraq, knew no Arabic, had no experience in the Middle East and made no effort to educate himself -- as his statements clearly show...

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    Like most Americans, I am disappointed by the difficulties the nation has encountered after our quick 2003 victory over Saddam Hussein. But the U.S.-led coalition was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny. Hussein modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler's, which controlled the German people with two main instruments: the Nazi Party and the Reich's security services. We had no choice but to rid Iraq of the country's equivalent organizations to give it any chance at a brighter future.
    The de-Nazification was a success but members of the Nazi party, Nazi and German Scientisits and the German regime kept high positions. The idea of trying to ban all Nazis and figure out who they all were famously got bogged down.

    I do not think the comparions of Sadam's Iraq to Hitler's Germany is a very good one. Working with the Germans and Japanese after WWII (where they were soundly beaten after a long extreme fight) was a major reason for the lack of chaos. In Japan the head was kept and in Germany they cut off the head and kept the body. In Hungry many Arrow Cross members joined the Communists in '45. The US could have had many people join their side at the beginning. Bremer and Rumsfeld fumbled the ball and others are paying for it now.

    I agree he sounds like he is trying to justify a bad policy. I wonder how much Bremer had studied his own country's occupation of Germany and Japan?
    Last edited by SWJED; 05-31-2007 at 06:55 PM. Reason: His name is Bremer, not Beemer - a valid point does not need an intentional misspelling of his name... Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FascistLibertarian View Post
    I do not think the comparions of Sadam's Iraq to Hitler's Germany is a very good one. Working with the Germans and Japanese after WWII (where they were soundly beaten after a long extreme fight) was a major reason for the lack of chaos. In Japan the head was kept and in Germany they cut off the head and kept the body. In Hungry many Arrow Cross members joined the Communists in '45. The US could have had many people join their side at the beginning. Bremer and Rumsfeld fumbled the ball and others are paying for it now.

    I agree he sounds like he is trying to justify a bad policy. I wonder how much Bremer had studied his own country's occupation of Germany and Japan?
    Hear, hear!

    There's a pretty good book called What We Owe Iraq by a guy called Noah Feldman, a law professor who worked at CPA in 2003. He recounts that while flying to Iraq, many of the CPA civilians were reading books on the Marshall Plan and US post-war occupation in Germany and Japan rather than reading about the Shiites or any other Iraq-related material. What did the occupation authorities read when they got assigned to the military governments in Japan and Germany? What prepared them to do as well as they did? I think the answer is that they well understood the cultures of Japan and Germany - think of MacArthur keeping the Emperor around.

    The fact that we focus so much on our own experience (which is obviously better than not focusing on any experience) rather than than the culture in which we will operate is critical. Furthermore, to maximize success we need this knowledge before undertaking an operation, not during or after.

    By the way, the book does a good job of spelling out the moral imperative for the US to stay in Iraq until stability is restored. It carries out the kind of discussion we should be having Nationally, rather then the simplified "in or out" pissing match that seems to be going on in Washington these days.

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    Default Bremer

    Strikes me that since guys of Bremer's age who had attained Ambassadorial/Career Minister rank in State and who also served in CORDS during their junior years were quite numerous, "they" might have looked to that pool to provide the CPA head (if they were determined that it be a civilian, which may have been a mistake). Given the status to which these guys rose, at least some must have also been appropriately politically connected...

    Cheers,
    Mike
    .

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    Default A fascinating point

    Mike--

    You raise a fascinating point when you question the need for a civilian to have headed the CPA. Should it have been a civilian? Is a retired General (Jay Garner, for example) not a civilian? Would an active soldier (like Macarthur or Lucius Clay) have been a better choice? Should ownership of the occupation have remained in DOD or moved to State?

    My answers (humble opinion or not) are: 1. Not only should it have remained in DOD but the responsibility fell on the Combattant Commander (COMCENT) or a sub-unified commander as has been created (de facto) in Iraq first under George Casey and now Dave Petraeus. The individual specifically responsible for PRC should have been in command of all military and civilian elements assigned to that mission and reported directly to the #1 soldier in Iraq. Whether he was military, civilian, or some combination (retired, reservist, etc) is, I think, immaterial. 2. To my mind, a retired officer and a reservist, NOT on active status, is a civilian - but one with a very useful military background. 3. The critical organizational issue, IMO, was one of not dividing command of the occupation as was, in fact, done. Finally, although not one of my semi-rhetorical questions, a friend who served on Bremer's staff pointed out to me that Bremer was ill supported by OSD - only a little of which comes out in Bremer's book.

    I do like your idea that a good civilian choice would have been one of those guys who cut their teeth on CORDS. It waould have been useful background.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Default Cpa

    I couldn't agree more, John. You've put it better than I could have....Mike.

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    RAND, 12 May 09: Occupying Iraq: A History of the Coalition Provisional Authority
    The American engagement in Iraq has been looked at from many perspectives, including the flawed intelligence that provided the war’s rationale, the failed effort to secure an international mandate, the rapid success of the invasion, and the long ensuing counterinsurgency campaign. This book focuses on the activities of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and its administrator, L. Paul Bremer, who governed Iraq from his arrival on May 12, 2003, to his departure on June 28 of the following year. It is an account of that occupation, seen largely from American eyes—mostly from Americans working in Baghdad for the CPA. It is based on interviews with many of those in Baghdad and Washington responsible for setting and implementing occupation policy, on the memoirs of American and Iraqi officials who have since left office, on journalists’ accounts of the period, and on nearly 100,000 internal CPA documents to which the authors were allowed access.

    This book recounts and evaluates the efforts of the United States and its coalition partners to restore public services; reform the judicial and penal systems; fight corruption; reduce inflation; expand the economy; and create the basis for a democratic constitution, free elections, and representative government. It also addresses the occupation’s most striking failure: the inability of the United States and its coalition partners to protect the Iraqi people from the criminals and extremists in their midst.....

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