'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why don't you expect a government person to come on and say everything is wrong? 

Bremer was on Meet the Press yesterday and I found the following exchange interesting. Bremer explains why he made public statements in the summer of 2003 to the effect that the Iraqi insurgency was not a big deal at a time when, according to his memoirs, he had begun petitioning the president about the urgent need to "crush [the] mounting Baathist-jihadi insurgency and to crush it early on.": (transcript here)

Mr. Russert: [...] Now, that is July 14. And again, you came back to the United States a week later, one week from then, and here's an exchange you had. Let me put it up there.

[old video tape]
Amb. Bremer: "We have a limited problem of some bitter-enders, some small remnants of the old regime."

Mr. Russert: "So you don't think this is a coordinated campaign?"

Amb. Bremer: "No."

Mr. Russert: "You don't believe this is a guerrilla war?"

Amb. Bremer: "No. They present no strategic threat to the coalition."
[end of tape]

Mr. Russert: In private you seem to be very fearful of the insurgency, but you put a public face on that this is no big deal.

Amb. Bremer: Well, Tim, first of all, look, I've been in government for 40 years and my approach to government is that you owe it to the president to be very direct with him in what you recommend and what you say, which I tried to do throughout the time I was there.

You don't expect a government person to come on and say everything is wrong unless he's resigned. If you have real concerns and you can't support a president's policy, at least that's always been my view, then you resign.

Actually, in July the situation was still somewhat confused. We didn't have very good intelligence on the command and control of the insurgency. We really didn't know how big it was. I was concerned that it was bigger than we perhaps thought it was, which was why I reported that conversation on July 14.

We really didn't know, I would say, till--it seems to me, thinking back on it, about September of '03 that this was a bigger insurgency than we had anticipated.

Mr. Russert: But the American people were in a situation where they, too, deserve honesty. And if you're saying one thing in private and another thing in public, that this is no big deal...

Amb. Bremer: Tim, just a minute.

I wasn't saying one thing in private and another thing in public. I was saying in private we've got to get a strategy to defeat the insurgency. I was saying in public effectively we didn't really know what we're up against. It looked to us then as if we had the remnants of the Saddam regime, the bitter-enders, as I called them then.

We did not see a strategic threat nor did we see a strategy on the part of the insurgents at that time.

Although Russert lets him off the hook (if you read the rest of the transcript), Bremer's characterization of the disconnect between his memoirs and his public statements in July 2003 is obviously inaccurate: saying the insurgency is not a "coordinated campaign" and not a "strategic threat to the coalition" is not the same thing as saying "we don't know what we're up against." Of course, Bremer could simply be lying in his memoirs to make himself look cooler in the history books, but I'm inclined to believe his words in the passage in bold above.

The first thing to notice about the emphasized passage is that it is a nonsequitor: Russert points out an inconsistency between two public statements made by Bremer, and Bremer starts riffing on his belief that if you don't agree with the president you should resign. Clearly, he's gotten a little mad and is not thinking about what he is saying because what he says, if I'm reading it right, is the straight Walter Lippman line that Chomsky always quotes ... he's saying that anyone who has been "in government for 40 years" knows that you say one thing to the rabble and another thing to the elites.

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