The Iraq War Blame Game Escalates

The disagreement between President Bush and Paul Bremer, the former Iraq administrator, over the decision to disband the Iraqi military is just the most recent chapter in an ongoing saga of back-biting and recrimination between current and former architects of the war.

Most of the war's principal planners, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, have left the administration and its principal manager, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, resigned last November. Other major figures involved in executing the war, such as George Tenet and Colin Powell, have also departed.

The only major officials who remain are current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and current National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

No longer required to be team players, several former officials have attacked one another in print with the ruthlessness of a pack of abandoned stepchildren. Bremer and Tenet have written memoirs about their experiences, Rumsfeld is reportedly looking for a book deal and Feith's "War and Decision" is due out next March.

Bremer a Target

Bremer, who claims that Bush was fully aware of plans to disband the Iraqi army, has remained one of the biggest targets.

When Bush recently told author Robert Draper, "The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn't happen" and "I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'" Bremer shot back by saying that the president was aware of those plans and agreed with them. Bremer released a letter he'd written to the president about the plans to disband the army that included Bush's reply: "You have my full support and confidence."

The decision to disband the Iraqi Army, which was made by Bremer, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Walter B. Slocombe, Bremer's top security adviser, in May 2003, ended up alienating former soldiers and driving many into the ranks of anti-American militants and the growing insurgency, according to senior military officials. The incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, recently called that decision one of the biggest postwar mistakes.

It also came as a surprise to military members on the ground in Iraq, including a top colonel involved in postwar planning.

Paul Hughes, former senior CPA Office of Reconstruction special initiatives chief, had already met with two contractors hired by the Pentagon, Ronco and MPRI, to finalize plans to retrain the Iraqi Army as a labor force involved in security, rubble-clearing, electrical and mechanics.

Hughes met with several Iraqi generals who wanted to supply the American forces with information about Saddam's brutal leadership and to assist with security. According to Hughes, Jay Garner, who was Bremer's predecessor, had already briefed the president on plans to use the Iraqi military as a labor force.


So, when he was back in the United States for his daughter's graduation in May 2003, Hughes was shocked to turn on the TV and see Bremer announce that the Iraqi Army would be disbanded. "I couldn't believe it," Hughes told "You can't get these guys all spun up and then slip the rug out from under them. How can you even begin to think this was the right decision?"

Could the decision have been reversed by Bush or Bremer? "This administration doesn't admit making mistakes," says Hughes. "Once the toothpaste is squeezed out, you can't put it back in."

Bremer's stewardship of the Constitutional Provisional Authority, which existed from May 2003 to June 2004, was also criticized by Tenet, who quoted one of his CIA officials telling him that the CPA "runs like a graduate school seminar, none of them speaks Arabic, almost nobody's ever been to an Arab country and no one makes a decision but Bremer."

Even before he took the position, an anonymous State Department staffer told Newsday that Bremer was a "voracious opportunist with voracious ambitions. What he knows about Iraq could not quite fill a thimble."

In turn, Bremer took a swipe at Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who had dismissed suggestions that a larger force was needed to invade Iraq. "We never had enough troops on the ground," he said. In his book, "My Year in Iraq," Bremer describes his repeated efforts to get the Pentagon to supply more troops, requests that were ignored by Rumsfeld and Gen. John Abizaid, a senior military commander, who were actually planning to reduce the number of soldiers.

'Center of the Storm'

He criticizes Cheney and Rice by implying that they didn't effectively take action on Bremer's warnings that the United States lacked a postwar military strategy for victory and had become "the worst of all things -- an ineffective occupier." When Bremer briefed Rice and Hadley on the catastrophic security situation in Iraq, they "listened but made few comments" and Bremer walked away, "not sure if our analysis would have any effect in Washington."

In his book, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet lays the blame for the rush to war, the flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, and other mistakes on Vice President Dick Cheney, Rice, Perle, Hadley, Wolfowitz and Feith.

Feith, who is now on the faculty of Georgetown University, has been slammed by several of his former colleagues, including Powell, who called Feith's Pentagon operation the "Gestapo" office, and Tenet, who called Feith's criticism of the CIA "complete crap." At a 2003 interagency meeting, at which Feith stood in for Rumsfeld, after he made his remarks, Rice snapped, "Thanks, Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite the ambassador."

Feith later responded to Tenet by taking aim at the CIA, saying that the agency's "assessments were incomplete, nonrigorous and shaped around the dubious assumption that secular Iraqi Baathists would be unwilling to cooperate with al Qaeda religious fanatics, even when they shared strategic interests."

The level of back-biting is not unusual for a war that has seen its share of mistakes and squandered opportunities, said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst for ABC News. "It's always been that way -- no one takes the blame," he explained. "The buck stops here only when you've made the right decision."

The Blame Game

"Any time you have a military operation that hasn't gone well, especially in the context of vitriolic debate, you're going to have this back and forth," said Frederick W. Kagan, a military historian and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. But he adds that the pace of the memoirs and the back-biting has advanced exponentially during this war when compared with previous conflicts. "Usually this plays out over a longer period of time. This is a little bit odd. I don't think we've ever had a previous war in the midst of which the CIA director publishes a book about the beginning of the war."

Part of the reason lies with President Bush's refusal to blame his subordinates for their mistakes, said Kagan, who added that the president's loyalty is an admirable quality. "But it facilitates this blame game because he won't hold anyone responsible even when it's clear that the decision was not his. It allows them to say, 'It wasn't me' because it's not clear where [Bush] stands."