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Ambassador Bremer, Give Us Our Medal Back

June 18, 2014

This weekend, the architects of President Bush's disastrous Iraq war fanned out in what might deemed Operation Blame Shift. But of all the Republican efforts to make Barack Obama's the face of Bush's failure, perhaps none is more pathetic than that of L. Paul Bremer. On television and in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, Bremer blamed President Obama for the explosion of sectarian conflict unleashed by the removal of Saddam Hussein. That is about as disgusting a charge as Ambassador Bremer could make. After all, as Viceroy of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Paul Bremer almost single-handedly destroyed the infrastructure of the Iraqi government and military. And for that, George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In his WSJ op-ed, Bremer writes about the implosion of Iraq as if were never there. Arguing for a perpetual American military presence, the former CPA chief declares:

America lost considerable influence over political events in Iraq. Our military presence always had an important political dimension. It was symbolic of our intent to help Iraqis stay the course in rebuilding their country. Removing Saddam Hussein upended a thousand years of Sunni domination in the lands of Mesopotamia. It takes hard work and a long time after such a political revolution for stability to return. No amount of clever diplomacy could substitute for our continued military presence.

That's an amazing statement for Bremer of all people to make. As the record shows, with his aggressive de-Baathification of the government, privatization of state-owned businesses and the disbanding of the 400,000 man Iraqi army in May 2003, L. Paul Bremer was a one-man Sunni insurgency generating machine. Or as Republicans are so fond of saying, he built that.
No one person did more to spur Sunni disenchantment and violence than Viceroy Bremer. As his own letters show, just three weeks after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. As the New York Times documented in September 2007, Bremer indeed told Bush that he planned to disband Saddam's military and that the President casually--and unquestioningly--went along for the ride.
The letters provided by Bremer revealed that President Bush nonchalantly blessed the May 2003 plan to dissolve the Iraqi military. Bremer released both his May 22, 2003 letter detailing his plans and progress on de-Baathification and the disbanding of Saddam's army, as well as President Bush's May 23rd response.
In his May 22 letter, Bremer informed Bush that:

"We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished...I will parallel this step [de-Baathification] with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business."

In his shockingly brief May 23 reply, Bush seemingly OK's Bremer's fateful step to dissolve the Iraqi military:

"Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence. You also have the backing of our Administration that knows our work will take time."

That decision came as a shock to most American military leaders, including retired General Jay Garner, the first American administrator in Iraq. Along with the de-Baathification policy and privatization of the economy, the dissolution of Saddam's army is almost universally viewed as the spark that turned the post-war tinderbox of Iraq into a conflagration. In his definitive account of the U.S. occupation, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, Rajiv Chandrasekaran details the arrogance of Bremer's CPA and its troika of disastrous decisions that made 2003 "the lost year in Iraq." In the devastating 2007 documentary No End in Sight, former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage describes the collective shock, "I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out of work [Iraqi] soldiers." That same fall, the former British army chief General Sir Mike Jackson declared the policy "very short-sighted," concluding "We should have kept the Iraqi security services in being and put them under the command of the coalition."
So much for President Bush's tall tale to Dead Certain biographer Robert Draper, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."
But what did happen is that on December 15, 2004, Bush gave L. Paul Bremer along with CIA Director George Tenet and General Tommy Franks the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Bush explained why he bestowed the nation's highest civil honor on Ambassador Bremer:

"Ambassador Jerry Bremer: -Will be remembered for his superb work in laying the foundations of a new democracy in the Middle East; -Worked to stabilize Iraq, help its people rebuild, and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty. -Earned the respect and admiration of Iraqis, and helped assemble Iraqi leaders for the country's Governing Council."

(That was six months before Vice President Dick Cheney laughably declared the Sunni insurgency Bremer helped birth was in "its last throes.")
So, instead of dispensing advice, "Jerry" Bremer should take some. Stay off TV. Stop writing op-eds. Oh, and one other thing.
Give us our medal back.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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