Covering their butts

Now, parading into view, here comes affable Jerry Bremer. Officially, L. Paul Bremer, who famously spent a year as Our Man in Iraq. He has joined the parade of Bush ex-officials — ex-greats and ingrates — rushing to recast their images and cover their aspirations in time to get on the right side of history in Bob Woodward’s next tome.

Like ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s ex-chief of staff Lawrence B. Wilkerson (who said Vice President Cheney led a cabal advocating torture) and, for that matter, like the ex-Sec himself, Jerry Bremer wants to make sure you can see that he has always been the guy in the white hat, riding the white horse. He wants you to see this clearly, but not too closely. Otherwise, you will discover that his steed was not a white horse but a weasel.

In Bremer’s case, a gelded white weasel _ as we all saw with our own eyes Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Bremer was there to plug (yup, you are getting good at this) his new book _ 417 pages of image enhancement and payback for the roughly 365 days he ran Iraq for America. The image he is enhancing is his; the payback is for all who didn’t listen to his wisdom, especially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Moderator Tim Russert put Our Man and his weasel through their paces in Sunday’s riding lesson. Russert quoted what Bremer told us in his book and what he’d said while in office.

Bremer wrote of his disagreements with Rumsfeld and others on troop levels, the danger of Iraq’s insurgency and the looting of Iraqi arsenals. He wrote that he sent Rumsfeld a memo recommending a Rand think tank study early in 2003 that concluded 500,000 troops would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq _ far more than the 160,000 U.S. troops there. Bremer wrote: “I never heard back from him about the report.”

But Russert then read this exchange from Bremer’s later appearance on the show in July 2003:

Russert: “Have you asked Secretary Rumsfeld for more American troops?”

Bremer: “No, I have not.”

Russert: “Do we need more?”

Bremer: “I do not believe we do.”

“That seems to be contradictory to what you were suggesting to the secretary,” Russert noted last Sunday. Bremer said it was not _ “…I didn’t ask for more troops.”

Russert read another passage of Bremer’s tell-all, from May 2004, when he asked Gen. Ricardo Sanchez what he could do if he had two more divisions of troops and the general replied: “‘I’d control Baghdad.’ ” Bremer sent Rumsfeld another memo, recommending one or two more divisions in Iraq. Again, he wrote, “I did not hear back from him.”

After leaving Iraq for good, Bremer said in a Sept. 17, 2004, DePauw University speech: “The single most important change _ the one thing that would have improved the situation _would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout.”

Naturally, then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry quoted Bremer’s statement. Then, three weeks after he’d spoken candidly to the kids at DePauw, Bremer said just the opposite to the rest of us. In an October 2004 New York Times op-ed, he wrote: “For the task before us now, I believe we have enough troops in Iraq.”

Just over 232 U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq when Bremer first arrived there. Today, more than 2,000 American troops have been killed in Iraq.

Late in Sunday’s interview, Bremer, trying to justify his years of weasel-riding, actually got to the heart of what was so wrong with the conduct of the parade of image-polishing ex-officials. “You don’t expect a government person to come on and say everything is wrong unless he’s resigned,” Bremer volunteered. “If you have real concerns and you can’t support a president’s policy … then you resign.”

Exactly. There is no greater public service than that of an official who sees what is horribly wrong _ and resigns in public protest, so we can fix it in time to save lives. Too many have paid too high a price because a few ex-officials chose to ride on, keeping mum about the wrongs they knew _ or even worse, misleading us _ as they rode on.

Now, as the parade passes in review, we can see that those weren’t white horses that Messrs. Bremer, Powell and Wilkerson were riding. But those who missed the parade and are now chasing after it may indeed still be confused. The evidence left behind _ by the principals, not their steeds _ may lead you to think they’ve been riding white horses, after all. So be careful where you step.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)