NYT: Bush Slept as Iraqi Army was Disbanded
As I wrote this morning, today's New York Times offered a dismaying portrait of President Bush obsessed with his legacy - and potential financial windfall - after leaving office. But even more disturbing was the discussion of the Iraq war and the administration's calamitous 2003 move to disband the Iraqi army. When it came to perhaps the pivotal decision of the war, America's first MBA President simply acted like an absentee landlord.
The American project in Iraq may well have been doomed from the start, but four missteps ensured it would become a fiasco of historic proportions. Insufficient forces prevented the U.S. from providing essential security in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. The complete De-Baathification of the Iraqi government and the rush to privatize the nation's economic assets assured massive unemployment and the near total breakdown of social services and infrastructure. But it was the dissolution of Saddam's 400,000 man army by Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority which guaranteed the fuel, manpower and weaponry for the Sunni insurgency.
On this issue, Bush apparently saw himself not as Commander-in-Chief, but merely as a detached observer peripherally involved in the occupation of Iraq. As his conversations with Dead Certain author Robert Draper suggest, Bush in essence admitted he stood on the sidelines as Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi army in May 2003 and with it, American hopes for stability in Iraq:
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."
But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush's former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army's dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'" But, he added, "Again, Hadley's got notes on all of this stuff," referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.
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 new 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." And just yesterday, 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."
The documentary No End in Sight portrays the Bush administration's management of the Iraq war as "a chain of critical errors, denial, and incompetence that has galvanized a violent quagmire." In the film, a smiling and overconfident Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissively responds to a question about the growing chaos and violence in Iraq at a Pentagon press conference, "Quagmire? I don't do quagmires."
Alas, his Vietnam revisionist history aside, President Bush does. And as we learned from the New York Times today, apparently he just didn't know it.
UPDATE 1: (9/2/07) The Washington Post has chimed in with more coverage of the upcoming Bush book.
UPDATE 2: (9/3/07) Tuesday's New York Times documents that President Bush indeed casually approved L. Paul Bremer's 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 informs 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 response, Bush seemingly blesses 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."
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."