It is surprising that it has taken so long to swing into view, but the topic is now well and truly out in the open. In a new book, President Bush is quoted suggesting that he didn't know that Ambassador Paul Bremer, his man in charge of Iraq, was going to disband the Iraqi army. It was a decision that most military observers agree was amateurish, simple-minded and dangerously foolhardy. In conjunction with a similarly inept decision of his not to disarm the militias, disbanding the Iraqi army all but guaranteed the mess that has ensued in Iraq.
In his defense, Bremer showed The New York Times an exchange of letters between him and Bush that indicates that the president knew of Bremer's plans and indeed seems to have been highly enthusiastic about them. Further, Bremer offers that Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were also cognizant of the plans. Ambassador Bremer says that the Iraqi army had dispersed under pressure from US forces, and that recalling it would have been difficult to accomplish.
The truth is that dispersal of the Iraqi army was actually one objective of the invasion plan. It didn't happen by accident. Typically, a ground force wants to kill or capture the enemy troops, not let them go home to become guerrillas, and accomplishing this requires blocking forces to prevent the enemy's escape. But by design, the American force was far too small to prevent the disintegration of the Iraqi army. Furthermore, we dropped billions of leaflets encouraging the Iraqis to abandon their positions and go home. And that's what they did.
Why did we adopt this strategy? Secretary Rumsfeld and his circle of advisors wanted to demonstrate that military technology is superior to manpower and that this technology could preclude taking American casualties. But in another demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences, this militarily bankrupt concept insured that the mission would not be accomplished as planned and we have taken the casualties anyway.
To be fair, Bremer was not likely to have been involved in devising and revising the combat plans which resulted in the dispersal of the Iraqi army in the first place. But if Paul Bremer thinks that any of this exculpatory, he is very much mistaken. His ill-advised decision, for which he says he received tacit approval from military and civilian leaders, was made in ignorance of how wars are actually fought and won. More than four years later, we are playing catch-up, desperately and with mixed success trying to build an Iraqi army from scratch.
Bremer's explanation says a great deal about how important strategic decisions have been made, and the picture it paints is frightening. Officials in the White House and the Pentagon, both military and civilian, appear to have ignored proven sound military practices and made important decisions with little thought and even less consultation.
It does not excuse the stupidity of the decision to say that everybody in the chain-of-command knew about the plan. A bad idea doesn't gain any more utility just because lots of people like it, and the scrap heap of history is littered with examples of passive concurrence with dumb decisions. For the inept way in which we pursued our objectives in Iraq, there is a great deal of blame to be distributed, and Paul Bremer ought to receive his share of it.
Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.