And yet! Bremer’s arguments on de-Baathification and disbanding the army have some plausibility to them. He points out that the most famous case of trying to reconstitute part of the old army – the so-called “Fallujah Brigade” – was an embarrassing failure. He claims at least, that the Shiite and Kurdish elites on whom the success or failure of Iraq’s reconstruction was always going to depend cheered de-Baathification and indeed insisted on it. What Bremer actually establishes without seeming to intend is that there were, even at that very early date, no reliably good options. De-Baathification and disbanding the army worked out badly, and we can draw causal connections from those orders to Iraq’s present-day problems. But we can see plausible alternate histories in which the opposite decisions led to a contemporary Iraq that was just as bad. Unhappy occupations are all unhappy in their own way.
Bremer’s article actually shows again the folly of having conquered Iraq by force in the first place.
This seems right to me. While the administration has been incompetent in an innumerable variety of ways, it’s never been obvious to me that disbanding the army was the wrong decision. Certainly, it seems exceptionally implausible that a Suuni-led force was going to be even remotely effective at the necessary social control, and without the officers you have…pretty much the Iraqi “army” you have now. The De-Baathification of the civil service is more problematic, but as Henley says it seems pretty clear that it was going to largely happen under the new government anyway. What happened after the disbanding of the army is much more evidence that the war was an extremely bad idea that was unlikely to succeed even had the administration been competent than evidence that the fiasco was easily avoidable had better decisions been made in the first 90 days.
…I should say that I agree with Matt that Bremer doesn’t deserve much sympathy. I just think it’s dangerous to think that the war could have been easily salvaged with a couple of early decisions, which is a very dangerous delusion. In particular, the imperatives of Shiite elites have to be considered when assessing what realistically could have been done with the army.