Monday, September 10, 2007

De-Ba'ath Spat

There’s a new Bush biography on the market, Dead Certain by Roger Draper. From all accounts, it looks to be of the "sympathetic portrayal of a flawed but decent man" variety—a less ideological bio than David Frum’s and Fred Barnes’s; less gushing than Midge Dector’s "personal portrait" of Rumsfeld, less vacuous than Paul Kengor’s exegesis of Bushian spirituality.

Overall, Draper makes the duh-we-already-knew-that argument that Dubya is really, really certain about lots of stuff and that this can be good and bad—often really, really bad.

This is not a volume I think I could bear reading all the way through, but it looks to be useful in that it offers a few controversial nuggets of insider gossip that will get discussed for a news cycle or two.

The two tidbits that have attracted the most attention have been Bush’s plans for his post-White House years—he wants to hang out in Big D and "replinsh the ol’ coffers" giving inane speeches—and the revelation—incredible in my view—that John Roberts was the mind behind the Harriet Meirs nomination.

Most relevant to EXIT-STRATEGIES is the very revealing spat the book has occasioned between Bush and L. Paul Bremer, the former director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. The two have been arguing in the media over who exactly ordered de-Ba’athification and the dismantling of the Iraqi army.

This is hardly an academic question, as it is now generally recognized that both of these were disastrous and completely unnecessary decisions. (Thomas Ricks’s devastating analysis in Fiasco has had the most to do with building up this consensus.)

To Draper, Bush claimed, "The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t happen." When Draper asked Bush what he thought about Bremer’s policies, Bush replied, "Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, "This is the policy, what happened?’"

Bremer responded by showing the Times letters that strongly suggest that Bush and the administration were well aware of the de-Ba’ath plans and, indeed, supported them.

[More recently, he’s penned an op-ed essentially arguing that he had no choice in dismantling the Iraqi army.]

In a spat over the question of whether one or all were incompetent, something very important has been lost.

Not mentioned by Bush or Bremer is that just after the fall of Saddam in May of 2003, Gen. Jay Garner (now retired), who was then commanding the occupation, recommended withdrawing American troops and allowing the Iraqis themselves to sort out their affairs. This plan might have led to some bloodshed; it most certainly would have involved a major power struggle. But then it also would have bestowed responsibility on the remaining members of the Iraqi civil service and been strong incentive for them to stabilize their own country.

But it seems that neither Bremer, the administration, the State Department, nor the Pentagon were able to think about Iraq outside that heady paradigm of nation-building. Garner rightly intuited that a stable state and viable civil society will only arise in Iraq once Uncle Sam gets out.

No comments: