L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, 2003-4, in his response to the New York Times editorial “Mission Still Not Accomplished” (March 20), wrote, “I take strong exception to your assertion that I ‘overrode’ President Bush’s national security team on disbanding the Iraqi Army.” Bremer attempts to shift responsibility for this disbanding to the “process leading to this decision.” He might be correct in pointing out that all the civilian and military personnel he mentions “had ample opportunity” to change his draft order before it was issued on May 23, 2003, but his letter makes it clear that the draft was based on his own assumptions, which he still considers valid.
He writes, “There was no Iraqi Army left to disband after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. Given the role the army had played in Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, recalling it would been both impractical and a major political mistake.” The truth of the matter was that the Iraqi Army was defeated and did not have to be disbanded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and commissioned officers and their families were left without any financial means of support, free to enlist into the ranks of insurgency supported by al Qaeda and Iran. This decision turned out to become the prescript for violence and the prolonged tragedy in Iraq. In fact, Bremer’s advocacy for the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, instead of enlisting it to support our troops, was “both impractical and a major political mistake.”
Hopefully, such a mistake will be avoided if and when it comes to deal with Iran. The latest eruption of fighting between the Shiite militia (Mahdi Army) of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Army, directed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, threatens to undo the relative quiet that was achieved since the June 2007 surge. So far the Iraqi Army has stood its ground without significant American help. But because of Iranian rockets and roadside bombs pouring into Basra and Baghdad, the outcome of the fighting, which President Bush has called “a defining moment,” is not certain. It is hard to imagine how the Iraqi Army can prevail if the flow of Iranian arms is not stopped.
In a radio address before embarking on his January 2008 visit to the Middle East, President Bush stated that his major goal during this visit was to develop a security plan with our Middle East allies to counter Iran’s “aggressive ambitions.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that Iran must come clean with a detailed accounting of not only its nuclear program, but also its delivery of weapons that kill American troops in Iraq and foment violence by financing Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. During his one-day visit in Kuwait on January 11, President Bush said:
“Iran’s role in fomenting violence has been exposed. Iranian agents are in our custody and we are learning more about how Iran has supported extremist groups with training and lethal aid.”
On April 10, in the wake of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker’s congressional testimony, President Bush stated:
“If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.”
If President Bush’s ultimatum will not work, he will need to act. It is a duty of an American President to protect our troops and the missions he sends them to carry out. President Bush will deliver a powerful message to the Iranian people and their army by hitting only the bases of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who are stirring mayhem in Iraq. This message will go a long way to change the regime in Iran and to ensure reconciliation between the Shiite and Sunni population.
The surge is working. The Sunni insurgents are now siding with our troops. Shiite tribes have also begun to side with us. The Iraqi Army has confronted the Shiite militias in Baghdad and Basra without significant American assistance. Meanwhile, recent elections in Iran indicate that opposition to Ahmadinejad is growing. President Bush might be a lame duck in terms of the time he has left in office, but he is not a crippled hawk so long as he remains Commander-in-Chief. Bush should use the time he is left in office to pursue his policy of stabilizing Iraq and affecting regime change in Iran.