Just How Much Should Paul Bremer Be Blamed for the Rise of the Islamic State?

The blithe optimism demonstrated by the planners of the invasion of Iraq is still capable of taking one’s breath away. (Photo: Lisa M. Zunzanyika / Flickr Commons)

The blithe optimism demonstrated by the planners of the invasion of Iraq is still capable of taking one’s breath away. (Photo: Lisa M. Zunzanyika / Flickr Commons)

After George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer, the second Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (governor of the occupation, in other words), is often considered the man most responsible for the dissolution of civil society in Iraq and the rise of sectarian strife. In the Boston Globe, Neil Swidey (not behind a paywall, as with most of its articles) explores just how much responsibility Bremer, who he calls “at once well intentioned, infuriating, and tragic,” bears.

Swidey quotes from an article he wrote in 2003, in which Middle East specialist As’ad AbuKhalil said: “The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gave us the Taliban. The American occupation of Saudi Arabia gave us bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The Israeli occupation of Lebanon gave us Hezbollah. Let us see what the American occupation of Iraq is going to give us.”

We all know the answer to that: the Islamic State — perhaps the most authoritarian, cruelest, and powerful terrorist organization of all time. The Islamic State, of course, is comprised at its command levels by former members of Saddam Hussein’s military. You know, the one that Paul Bremer disbanded shortly after he banned much of the Baath Party from civil service jobs under the new regime. For his part, writes Swidey:

Although Bremer has come to be regarded as the sole author of this decree to root out Saddam loyalists from the Iraqi government, that is simply not true. Drafts of the order had been circulating around the Pentagon long before Bremer’s appointment.

Swidey continues:

No one disputes that some level of deBaathification was necessary. Critics say Bremer’s big mistake was in rushing through a policy that went far too deep. It ensnared many Iraqis who had joined the Baath Party not because they were true believers but simply to see their pay goosed or avoid running afoul of Saddam’s goons.

… In the end, the deBaathification order is believed to have hoovered up 85,000 to 100,000 Iraqis,including thousands of teachers and mid-level technocrats who were summarily shut out of Iraq’s public sector future.

As for disbanding the Iraq military, also dictated by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al, Swidey spoke to Bremer’s predecessor Jay Garner, who said “that with the one-two punch of deBaathification and disbanding the military, ‘we created half a million angry, armed, unemployed Iraqis in 48 hours. That’s dumb.’”

Swidey explains that it could have been different.

Garner’s deputy for national security, US Army Colonel Paul Hughes, says. … he had been working with a group of former Iraqi officers who were signing up members of their units to be put to work by the Americans so they could provide for their families. Some 137,000 members of the military registered. Hughes says he passed this all along, but [it was ignored].

All things considered, the arrogance reflected in the planning is reminiscent of German arrogance in thinking it could sweep through Russia in World War II. I have only scratched the surface of this important, eye-opening article which I urge everyone to  read.