To dismantle or not?

Envoy’s Letter Counters Bush on Iraq Army

The debate over the decision to dismantle the old Iraqi army continues:

A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been “to keep the army intact” but that it “didn’t happen.”

Honestly, I guess I don’t see the point of all this. It appears to be little more than a sort of after-the-fact “gotcha” game where one side says something and the other contradicts it with evidence, which the other side will shortly contradict with other evidence.

I continue to believe that disbanding the old Iraqi army and building a new one from scratch was the best long-term solution. I wrote in 2005:

We didn’t want the old Iraqi army, regardless of whether it would have been loyal or not. We want a new Iraqi army that is professional and capable. Yes, this decision was a serious short-term trade-off with massive security implications. But we are in Iraq for the long haul.

See also Leaders and mentors in a professional army from last year, which includes:

The NCOs in Saddam’s army were not (for the most part, anyway) professional soldiers in anything but name. Many of those who hadn’t been given their rank and position as a family favor bribed their way into it. They were often nothing more than thug enforcers, concerned mostly with intimidating their troops and the local populace into submission. That’s not what we wanted, so we scrapped the whole thing and started over.

The NYT article has this near the top:

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents.

and this near the bottom:

“I might add that it was not a controversial decision,” Mr. Bremer said. “The Iraqi Army had disappeared and the only question was whether you were going to recall the army. Recalling the army would have had very practical difficulties, and it would have political consequences. The army had been the main instrument of repression under Saddam Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the right decision. I’m not second-guessing it.”

The only apparent value of Mr. Bremer is that he contradicted the President’s recent quote, not what he thought of the topic of discussion.


  1. I think this is more than a ‘gotcha’ game. I think this sheds more light on how f__cked up this mission was. I have read reports that stated ‘President Bush approved a plan that would have put several hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers on the U.S. payroll and kept them available to provide security, repair roads and prepare for unforeseen postwar tasks.’ If true it means the military and others were counting on having former Iraqi soldiers at their disposal. If Bremer, Wolfowitz, Keith and Rumsfeld made the decision to disband the army, without consulting the Joint Chiefs, it makes one think who the hell was in charge and was there a plan or where they just winging it. Any way you look at it, it looks bush league. Pun not intended.

  2. It’s not so much that people disagree, it’s whether or not there was a plan, and if so were the appropriate people involved in the decision to change the plan. Basically it appears the decision to disband was done by a select few individuals without the input of the military or even the president, if you believe his side of the story.

  3. There are two rules to military planning that I was taught. 1. ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’ 2. There is always a plan, see rule 1. I would have been more surprised if things had gone perfectly right, then I am about all the nit-picking details that did go wrong…

  4. Ah, the old ‘there wasn’t a plan’. As an aside, I’d like to point out that we kept hearing over and over and over and over all about how there wasn’t a plan for the invasion. That is was just a bunch of idiot cowboys winging it. Seriously. I’m sure you all remember. I was mocking it at the time. Then suddenly the nonplan worked. So, while I don’t know that I expect this nonplan to suddenly work, at least not as well as the previous nonplan, I don’t really buy the ‘there wasn’t a plan’. According to this article and the allegations within it, there obviously WAS a plan. That’s what the article is about. A plan, right? The plan to keep the Iraqi army intact. If there wasn’t a plan, you can’t criticize someone for getting some details wrong about deviation from the original plan. Right? This deviation from the original plan seems to have occurred on or about May 20th, when Bremmer wrote the letter this article is about. That means that a plan had to exist before that to deviate from. So. There was a plan. Then the plan changed. In my humble opinion, it changed to a better plan (at least as regards the Iraqi army) and for at least a few good reasons. Now that we’ve established the existence of a plan, we’re talking about different opinions about how to execute the larger overall strategy. Some ideas were fine tuned, some altered significantly, some abandoned altogether. Many ideas, new and old, were bungled and continue to be bungled. We can argue until the troops come home about what was done right and what wasn’t. And we will, and many of the arguments will be valuable. But to claim this is a valuable postwar discussion is really stretching it. Bremmer, the current holder of the ‘gotcha’, claims to have informed the President, the rest of the civilian leadership, and the military leadership. The President said go for it. Seems to me that the issue here is totally ‘so much that people disagree‘, not ‘whether or not there was a plan, and if so were the appropriate people involved in the decision to change the plan.’ I haven’t seen the full quote or context of the quote from the President, and what’s, um, quoted in the article totally leaves open the possibility that Bush wasn’t contradicting what Bremmer says happened in the first place. I’ll withhold judgment on that until I see the whole thing. Just listen to this crap…’Gotcha’ all over it.

  5. I got the Bush quote from this washingtonpost article It also points out the Jay Garner was the one who had the plan to retain about 400,000 Iraqi soldiers which had been approved by Bush and company. However, he arrived in Badhdad on April 21 but was soon dumped for Bremer around May 11. Then Bremer, depending upon whose story, confired with wolfowitz, feith, bush (maybe) and disbanded the army. Actually in looking this up, I had forgotten about Jay Garner and I am trying to find out why he was sacked.

  6. Ah, the old ‘there wasn’t a plan’. I refuse to believe that the guys running our Army didn’t have a plan for what happens ‘after’. We’re better than that – and our guys know their history. Things happen – my uninformed guess is that things happened way too fast and in the wrong order so some improvisation was called for. Who knew the Iraqi army would just fold up like that? Since we’re armchair quarter-backing the best of both worlds would have been to keep the Iraqi army intact, use them but reform. ID the pros and the real soldiers, promote them and use them as cadre for new regiments.