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Three Terrible Mistakes In Iraq
Of course, there are really four, with being there at all the main one. Slowly, even some of the president's dittoheads are beginning to admit that. As for the three terrible mistakes, Bob Woodward chronicles them in a story in Sunday's Washington Post, "Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism":

On June 18, 2003, Jay Garner went to see Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to report on his brief tenure in Iraq as head of the postwar planning office. Throughout the invasion and the early days of the war, Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general, had struggled just to get his team into Iraq. Two days after he arrived, Rumsfeld called to tell him that L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, a 61-year-old terrorism expert and protege of Henry A. Kissinger, would be coming over as the presidential envoy, effectively replacing Garner.

"We've made three tragic decisions," Garner told Rumsfeld.

"Really?" Rumsfeld asked.

"Three terrible mistakes," Garner said.

He cited the first two orders Bremer signed when he arrived, the first one banning as many as 50,000 members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government jobs and the second disbanding the Iraqi military. Now there were hundreds of thousands of disorganized, unemployed, armed Iraqis running around.

Third, Garner said, Bremer had summarily dismissed an interim Iraqi leadership group that had been eager to help the United States administer the country in the short term. "Jerry Bremer can't be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You've got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people."

Garner made his final point: "There's still time to rectify this. There's still time to turn it around."

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. "Well," he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are."

I do have to comment, one does wonder how Bob Woodward can be so sure he gets all these quotes and little details right. I'd be very uncomfortable stating, secondhand, what kind of gaze Rumsfeld had. And then, exactly what he said -- as-told-to or not. On the rare occasion I write an interview piece, I use a tape recorder, because I'm terrified of misquoting people. I guess few others share my terror.

Posted by aalkon at October 2, 2006 7:29 AM

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At the time, which of those decisions would have seemed obviously bad? Weeks and sometimes hours earlier, we'd worried that this army was going to poison and slaughter our children in the desert. What exactly would be the point of keeping the Baath party in control? In a culture like that, shouldn'y we be suspicious of quickly-forming, sweet-talking teams who want to buddy up?

America is shitty at invasion. We have less practice than people think. Usually, we just pay off the local mobsters.

Rumsfeld and Kissinger were never good friends. The hiring of Bremer shows that there have been limits to his authority throughout this process. Last week we heard that Bush has been in touch with Kissinger (and Baker) a lot over the last few years. This is bad.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2006 8:08 AM

> how Bob Woodward can be so sure he gets all
> these quotes and little details right. I'd be very
> uncomfortable stating, secondhand

He doesn't get 'em secondhand. If you read the books it's pretty obvious who he's been talking to. (The first Iraq book ["Commanders", maybe?] was obviously written mostly from Powell's perspective. And Powell's book describes talking to the press in those months with the symetry of clapping hands.)

Years ago there was an article about Woodward's modus operandi. He gets all his notes together from interviews with your underlings, calls you up and promises to be discreet, and then says he's going to publish the book anyway, so wouldn't you like to get a piece of the action? Sometimes the books feel like movies of the week, but they're still useful.

By the way, as regards the earlier comment, the point is just that Rumsfeld's authority in these matters is bounded. Dubya's is not. For the better and for all the worse, this war should be remembered as Bush's.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2006 8:54 AM

poison and slaughter our children in the desert?

I just shot my Pepsi through my nose.

Posted by: eric at October 2, 2006 11:52 AM

Your memory of the first week of April '03 must be different than mine. Some of us were very concerned.

Also, Pepsi sucks.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2006 1:49 PM

Heh. I agree with several of Crid's key points here.

America is shitty at invasions...; usually we just pay off the local mobsters...; this war should be remembered as Bush's..."

For better or worse, the situation in Iraq is the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. Rumsfeld may end up being perceived as a failure of McNamaraesque proportions, which would be bad, but history will hold Bush to account just like Johnson is held to account. I'd still really like to see Bush replace Rumsfeld, who seems to be the person who has made many of the most self-defeating decisions regarding Iraq, lest Bush's primary legacy be an expensive, deadly mess.

Posted by: justin case at October 3, 2006 8:03 PM

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