Booman Tribune ~ The Arrogance and Hubris of Paul Bremer

Larry Johnson blogs about Paul Bremer aka “Jerry Bremer”: "he was unwilling to listen to others or accept facts that contradicted the Administration’s conventional wisdom. Jerry’s arrogance in Iraq was symptomatic of the entire Bush Administration’s approach to policy and accounts in large measure for the mess we now face."

The Arrogance and Hubris of Jerry Bremer

by Larry Johnson
Sun Jan 15th, 2006 at 03:51:15 PM EST
by Larry C. Johnson (bio below)

As Jerry Bremer hits the media circuit to tout his new book, which chronicles his tenure as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, he insists that he and the Administration never anticipated that an insurgency would emerge in Iraq. I am sure Jerry believes what he is saying, but he is wrong.

I tried to warn him and I tried to hook him up with genuine experts on Iraq before he went to Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Jerry refused to listen and declined the help. Although Jerry is a brilliant, capable man, he was unwilling to listen to others or accept facts that contradicted the Administration’s conventional wisdom. Jerry’s arrogance in Iraq was symptomatic of the entire Bush Administration’s approach to policy and accounts in large measure for the mess we now face.

My comments about Jerry Bremer are made as someone who considered himself a friend of Jerry’s. I have known L. Paul Bremer aka “Jerry” in various capacities for more than 25 years. We first met when I was an instructor in the Washington Semester program in 1980 and he was an up and comer at the State Department. Later he served as the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism at State Department (1987 thru 1989). I started working in that office shortly after he left. While I do not claim to be a close personal friend, I have had a professional relationship with him dating back to 1994 and was called by him on several occasions for a briefing on the latest developments in the counter terrorism community. I was in regular contact with him until he took the job in Iraq.

Warned About the Insurgency

In January of 2003 I was appalled by the misinformation being peddled by the Administration of George W. Bush regarding Iraq’s support for terrorism. Contrary to the claims by President George W., Iraq did not have operational ties with the Islamic extremists who attacked us and confined its support to groups that were attacking Israel and Iran. In fact, Iraq had never been implicated in any mass casualty terrorist attack.

I circulated this draft among several friends and former colleagues, including Jerry Bremer. The paper prominently featured these judgments:

An invasion of Iraq will topple Hussein and eliminate Baghdad’s ability to develop or use weapons of mass destruction for the foreseeable future, but it will do little to destroy the infrastructure of radical Islamic terrorism responsible for the 9-11 attacks. In fact there is a serious risk that a U.S. led war against Iraq may crystallize the diffused anger in the Arab and Muslim world—a heretofore unattained goal of bin Laden and his followers—and persuade more Muslim youths to take up the terrorist banner against America and her citizens.

If we go to war we must prudently prepare for expanded terrorist activity, at least in the short term, from Islamic extremists and their sympathizers. While we can hope that a US invasion will unleash a pent up Jeffersonian democracy inside Iraq, odds are that the United States and its UN allies will be forced to occupy Iraq for the foreseeable future. No occupying force, no matter how benign or charitable, will face opposition at some point from the local population. Add to this mix a belligerent outsider, like Iran, and the potential for terrorist attacks against the “occupying” force increases dramatically.

Jerry responded by telling me I was missing the point. That it did not matter what Saddam’s record on terrorism was. We were going to war and he would be deposed. I tried to get the paper published but no one in the mainstream media was interested.

Refusing to Understand Iraq

When information leaked out the last week of April 2003 that Jerry Bremer would replace Jay Garner as head of the CPA in Iraq I was thrilled. Knowing Jerry’s skill and competence I felt fairly certain he could try to bring order to the chaos that had become Iraq. I emailed him with the query, “why do you want to take a job that requires a 70% cut in pay, a 24-7 work schedule, and the guarantee that you will be blamed even if things go wrong”. He wrote back that he felt it was his patriotic duty. That’s the good side of Jerry—he is a patriot.

In a bid to help Jerry get his feet on the ground I offered to set up a meeting for him with Pat Lang. Pat, who is fluent in Arabic, who had served as Defense Attache in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, who had headed the DIA’s Middle East Division during the first Gulf War, and who had significant experience working inside Iraq, is a national treasure. ([editor's note, by susanhu] Patrick Lang is a frequent contributor to this blog.) Naïve me! I figured Jerry would jump at the opportunity to talk to Pat and get a handle on the challenges before him. He declined the offer.

In the subsequent weeks I learned that he was assembling a team comprised of many of the folks that had first worked for him in the State Department Counter Terrorism Office back in 1988. Folks such as Clay McManaway were heading to Iraq even though they had no Arabic language skills and no significant area experience.

If Jerry had listened to Pat he could have learned very important things about Iraq. Just one week before Bremer’s named surfaced as the new CPA Administrator, Pat Lang circulated an email (April 23, 2003) commenting on an article in the Washington Post by Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest, U.S. Planners Surprised By Strength of Iraqi Shiites. Pat, referring to Kessler and Priest, wrote: ... continued below ...

These two folks have really "cracked the code" on this. I was told several weeks ago by European academic and Intelligence sources that a large scale infiltration of Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) into Iraq was underway with the ultimate aim of pre-positioning Shia forces for the day when armed resistance against the US may be necessary. I subsequently mentioned this on Wolf Blitzer's "Late Edition" and the "Lehrer Newshour" as well as in a number of radio and newspaper interviews. I mention this because it should be pathetically obvious that if one FORMER intelligence person could know this, then the US government with its vast sources of knowledge should easily have known it. It seems that the government did not, or at least the policy people in the government did not.

Why is that?

The answer lies in a statement that was made to me this morning by a deeply bitter and now alienated Arab World Intelligence expert still serving in the US Government. "Hey," he said, "You can't inform people who already know it all." This man has given up on trying to tell the geo-strategic geniuses now running American foreign policy the hard truths of what the Islamic World is really like. Why? Because they won't listen. They seem to believe that the idiosyncratic cultures of the rest of the world are largely irrelevant and are merely nostalgic fictions dear to the hearts of area "Experts" who are invested in them and who are obstacles to the imposition of a "modern" culture and psyche modeled on that of the United States.

Gingrich's attack yesterday on the "Arabists" of the State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was "of a piece" with the "tough guy" approach of many in OSD, the NSC and the Vice President's office. The call for the "re-organization" of State was really a call for the elimination of "Arabists," in other words, those with real knowledge and experience of the Arab and Islamic Worlds. This has been a long term goal of this "tough guy" group centered in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith.

Unfortunately, these "gentlemen" (who frequently abuse and bully intelligence people into silence) will not pay the price of their egomania.

No, soldiers will pay.

Pat was not prescient; he was merely a well informed expert. Regrettably his voice was ignored by Jerry Bremer and others at the Department of Defense. Jerry Bremer, George Bush, and Don Rumsfeld may try to reinvent history and claim, “nobody knew or could have imagined the chaos in Iraq”, but that is simply not true. After listening to Jerry this morning on Meet the Press defend his foolish decisions by accusing critics of playing 20/20 hindsight, I went back into my emails from that period and pulled out the following (another gem from Pat Lang):

This interesting e-mail is, I think, pretty close to "on the mark." In my opinion what is wrong with the situation in Baghdad stems directly from the badly flawed judgments which Rumsfeld and his civilian staff made about Iraq and the likely situation post-war. It is now up to poor Bremer to see if he can rectify the situation with the help of the US military. WPL

"Dear Friends:

Attached is an e-mail received today from European friends of ours who have a daughter in Baghdad working for a prominent Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It paints a shocking picture. The parents have asked that this not be distributed except to family friends and their friends, so I ask that you share it with appropriate discretion. It verifies what we are hearing more and more about in the press these days. (I have substituted "AAA" for the true name of her NGO.) Name

Baghdad, May 13

Dear family,

I am still in Baghdad, where the situation continues to deteriorate in this vacuum of power. After losing two cars in 12 hours – both taken at gunpoint in broad daylight - our warehouse and office were also attacked the night before last. A guard suffered a gunshot wound in the leg, but will recover. The bandits fled without taking anything - this time. We are reducing the number of international staff, and most operations are in suspension. Three people left yesterday. Several more, possibly including me, will leave later in the week. It is simply not possible to work --- we cannot function in this lawlessness

I have been to several civil-military liaison meetings. They are something out of Alice in Wonderland. Held in one of Saddam's palaces behind rings of US Coalition (USC) checkoints, the NGO representatives sit in giant pseudo Louis XIV chairs, outnumbered three to one by a camo-clad US military who lounge along the walls, while ridiculously high ranking officers show power point slides of more or less empty information—too general for our use, and too military. The security briefings tell us of areas that are "permissive" "uncertain" or "hostile" --- these adjectives refer to the military's safety, not to ours. Most of the country is deemed "permissive", but that is for those who move in tanks, with gunmounted humvees. Sometimes the military briefer reports incidents reported by NGOs --- such as our car-jackings; but there is no information about the general chaos and crime that is all over the city, more 'organized' each day, with car theft, medicine, and gun rings the first to entrench themselves. We hear gun fire, explosions, and firefights regularly at night, and often in the day as well. We keep pressing for more USC presence in the neighbourhood of the AAA office and warehouses, but without much success so far.

It seems to me the USC still has not taken on board its responsibilities to provide for general law and order. It continues to focus on its own safety. Meanwhile there are fewer shops open than when I arrived last Wednesday; families are not letting their children or women out on the streets; people are locking up their cars or moving them away from the city. We are wearing flak jackets as we travel in convoys of two or more cars --- not AAA vehicles, as we think these are the honey pot that draws the bandits. We use locally hired cars, but that has its own risks. As we approach US check points, it is quite terrifying --- the soldiers are very nervous, fearing suicide bombers; so they shout and point their weapons. We approach very slowly, showing the AAA sign in the window, waving our ID cards. Imagine, we are wearing flack jackets for fear of being shot by US soldiers! The group going to the airport yesterday was held for four hours at a checkpoint by the USC --- apparently because of a rumour that one of our cars was used in a bomb attack a few days ago. We think it is more likely that those at the checkpoint are confusing two stories --- one about the bomb that was in a blue car, and the information we reported (after that bomb) about our blue car being stolen! While waiting at the check point, the team had the pleasure of witnessing a firefight between the USC soldiers and another car approaching the check point behind them ...

More than half the community health centres and most of the hospitals in the city have been taken over by individuals or groups claiming some kind of religious affiliation. A man who worked for an NGO in Lebanon in the 70s says this reminds him of that time. These groups appear to be organizing political bases at the grassroots by grabbing control of social services, and making themselves their guardian and sole purveyor to local people. He thinks these groups will soon grab schools, as well as the food ration system, when these try to start operating. This will undermine whatever national authority attempts to establish itself. Political parties are also taking over private houses and neighbourhoods, which they guard openly with their own armed paramilitary --- presumably with the approval of the USC forces (although the latter say at the NGO briefings they know nothing about this).

Meanwhile we cannot penetrate the thick armour that surrounds the reclusive ORHA, the titular civil adminstration of the Occupying Power. We hear on the BBC news that key people are being fired --- Garner yesterday, Ambassador Bodine the day before. I guess Rumsfeld is cleaning house. But the administration here is hardly functioning, we think. Its personnel cannot move without heavy military escort. As NGOs, we cannot even get past the outer ring of checkpoints to make an appointment and find out how it operates, what its plans are, how the government ministries are functioning (not), who is the NGO liaison, how donors like DFID, AUSAID, USAID work with it or in it. I will continue to try to penetrate this bizarre skin for the next few days, if/when we are able to move more freely.

A few UN people are here, but mostly holed up in a hotel. They too dare not move about. I don't think the Food for Oil humanitarian pipeline (food, medicine) is operating --- even with the UNSC extension --- although maybe the situation is easier in the countryside. A newly arrived UN security officer announced that the UN might have five sub-offices set up by the end of August. Meanwhile, AAA and other NGOs are lobbying frantically in NY for a more serious UN role.

That's all for now. I am going to try to send this at Telecoms Sans Frontieres, a French NGO that has set up a tiny internet café for NGOs, using satellite data links. Our own communications systems continue to be more or less useless.

Jerry and others can try to rewrite history to rehab their reputations, but the facts on the ground in Iraq will not and should not permit that kind of delusional revisionism. We are not in the position we are today by accident. It was a deliberate choice. From George Bush to Medal of Freedom winners Jerry Bremer and George Tenet, choices were made where alternative information and expertise were ignored. This deadly combination of arrogance and hubris has produced a policy in Iraq that is killing American soldiers and Iraqi civilians and is weakening U.S. influence and prestige in the Middle East. I think it is a time for humility, a virtue sadly lacking in Jerry Bremer’s new book.


Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world.

Booman Tribune ~ The Arrogance and Hubris of Jerry Bremer


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