The decider didn’t decide

The words seemed to be written with flashing neon lights, the way they demanded a reader’s attention — even though you had to read past some 1,400 other words before you got to them in the article that began on Page One of Sunday’s New York Times.

The words clamored for our attention because they revealed more than what President Bush and his White House spinners ever admitted before about the decision that marked the moment when everything went to hell in the war in Iraq. Or, more precisely, the Decider’s non-decision in the disbanding of the Iraqi army two months after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. That move, experts now conclude, left no security force to halt the looting of arsenals and civil disorder that facilitated today’s sectarian civil war crisis.

The article, based on the news in the just-released book, “Dead Certain,” for which Bush granted extensive interviews to author — and fellow Texan — Robert Draper, reported that Bush acknowledged that disbanding Saddam Hussein’s army was a major mistake. But it was the words that followed that were most revealing — as Bush shifted into a passive voice construction, as if the defining act had occurred through no decision at all, just some sort of natural metamorphosis. Said Bush:

“The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

Draper wrote that he had asked Bush how he reacted when ex-Iraq administrator L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer III forced the army’s dissolution. The president’s response: “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”

We can finally piece together answers to the president’s question because those neon-flashing words also caught Bremer’s attention. Hoping to salvage his reputation, Bremer gave the newspaper copies of his exchange of letters with Bush at the time of the disbanding of Saddam’s army. Bremer surely hoped we would think this proved he got Bush’s approval. But what it really shows is the layered levels of failure.

Bremer’s letter to Bush, dated May 22, 2003, was more suck up than heads up, a chatty “my first impressions” after one week on the job in Iraq. Bremer said he found “an almost universal expression of thanks to the US and to you in particular for freeing Iraq from Saddam’s tyranny.” In Mosul, he wrote, “an old man, under the impression that I was President Bush … rushed up and planted two very wet and hairy kisses on my cheeks.”

Bremer wrote that his dissolution of Saddam’s Baath Party was greeted by joyful Iraqis “literally with tears in their eyes.” In the middle of that paragraph, halfway through the letter, Bremer finally wrote: “I will parallel this step with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam’s military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business.”

The next day, Bush sent Bremer a breezy, 90-word attaboy note: “Dear Jerry … your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.”

Did Bush not see Bremer’s one sentence about disbanding Saddam’s army? Did Bush not ask who would secure Saddam’s weapons? Or secure the cities? Did then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever ask Bremer those questions? Or bring them to the president’s attention? Did Vice President Cheney, always the Decider’s Ultimate Insider? And where was then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on all this? Out of the loop? Why didn’t she raise with the president these questions that every national security adviser has always had to anticipate and coordinate?

It gets still worse. Bremer’s predecessor, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, had argued vigorously to Rumsfeld that Bremer’s decisions to disband Iraq’s army, dissolve the Baath Party and dump Iraq’s most capable leaders were “tragic decisions,” as Bob Woodward revealed in his book, “State of Denial.” But Garner joined the list of those who failed their country when he failed to tell Bush of his vehement objections to Bremer’s actions. Not in his May 27, 2003, farewell memo to the president. And not in his Oval Office goodbye, when what he told Bush about Bremer (as quoted in Woodward’s book) was a 180-degree wimp-out from what he had argued to Rumsfeld. “I think all the things he’s doing are absolutely the right things,” Garner gushed, deep-sixing the words Bush most needed to hear.

Bush is not the first president to be hermetically sealed in an Oval Office bubble. But in the interest of fair and balanced punditry, we need to note that — in addition to this president’s willful incuriousness, ignorance and incompetence — the willfully dysfunctional Bush presidency has nevertheless been a true team effort.

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


  1. SEAL

    ” in addition to this president’s willful incuriousness, ignorance and incompetence — the willfully dysfunctional Bush presidency has nevertheless been a true team effort.”

    That Sums up what we have all been saying for the past 7 years. I’ve never seen such a group of deliberately stupid people in my lifetime. Why the heLl did this nation ever install such a collection of incompetents to such critical positions of world leadership? Even more amazing is why did 50.1% reelect them? History will not be kind to any of us… er… them.

  2. mary cali

    It seems that a requirement to work in the Bush administration is a poor memory. They all need to go
    to a memory loss clinic for evaluation.

    It is more disturbing that Bush supporters do not waiver. Republicans in congress are critical in finding a way out of Iraq. They have enabled Bush to continue his administration of deceit, blunders, and convenient memory lapses.

  3. Steve Horn

    Hey, as he pointed out during the interview Bush can make a lot of money giving speeches to neo-nazi groups, organizations that murder doctors who perform abortions, death penalty advocates, the Church of the Creator and other right wing neocon groups that want to destroy this nation of ours after he leaves office – from his perspective that’s just the American Dream ….

  4. Helen Rainier

    Keith Olbermann had a “Special Comment” about some of the revelations of this newest book and he brought up some perspectives I had not considered.

    These interviews took place last December. At that time, Dubya told Draper that he (Bush) was “playing” for the October time-frame for further progress reports on Iraq. Apparently, Bush had in mind to buy more time for the military action in an attempt to “lock” in a feeling of comfort for the upcoming Presidential contenders to continue this war.

    This is important to recall because it provides proof positive that Bush never had in mind that any so-called surge would actually provide an opportunity for the Iraqi government to try and establish a reconciliation for their various fighting factions.

    It was ALL a sham to keep our military resources and financial resources committed indefinitely. That this phoney patriot would not even have the decency to try and clean up this god-forsaken mess on his time (since he started it) is one of the most treasonous and traitorous actions I have seen on the part of any person who is supposed to be a leader of a country — particularly the once great United States of America.

    I have never been so ashamed of being an American, of being caucasian by birth. I am proud however of being a political and religious independent and a veteran who still believes in the America I grew up believing in.

  5. lexiedogmom

    Lexie Homewood
    This column and the comments that follow should be required reading for all of the mouth breathing, knuckle dragging Bush supporters who remain devoted to this abomination in the Oval Office.

  6. geyser

    This is for Lexie Homewood,
    The Brain Dead Losers still in love with bush, will read the column and true to form, place blame not on bush but, on Bremer and General Garner.
    When bush received Bremer’s letter, he either skimmed over it, missing the letting go of the Iraqi Army or did not read the letter at all. Since bush claims not to read Newspapers, he missed that chance of finding out.
    Abolishing the Iraqi Army was the second big mistake made with the first being invading Iraq.
    There is another revelation in the book, bush tells that he “cries alot” he says it is over the deaths of our soldiers. We will never really know if that is true or not. Bush has lied throughout his time as president. By now, he can’t tell what is true or not. It becomes real to people that live in lies, they start to believe the lies as being true and actually happen.
    We do have to be glad and lucky, bush is not writing this himself. The way he miss uses words and kills grammer, the book would have to be re-written once it is proof read. Hopefully a professional will do the proof reading, not a crony friend, needing a pay check.

    Taking One Day at a Time

  7. SEAL

    I wonder if what Bush does can be called lying? He has always been able to do whatever he wants and never had to take the responsibility for it. He has his own reality by ignoring what the actual reality is. He just decides what he wants it to be and then declares it to be so. He has been able and enabled to do that his entire life. Even this congress that we elected upon their promise that they would say no to him has enabled him to continue to do that. What will happen if they do say no to him this month? How will he react to not having his way? That is the million dollar question.

    I do not believe that enough of this congress has the balls to find out. Do they know that Bush is dangerously unstable, a volitile unpredictable spoiled brat? Many professional headshrinks have labeled him unstable, etc. Remember he sucked up a shipping drum of coke during the first half of his adult life. He’s a Harvard MBA but mangles English?Are they afraid to find out what he would do if denied what he wants?

    I believe they will give in once more and let him continue his reality of the Iraq fiasco. All they will do is try to get him to accept enough restrictions to hold the damage to a minimum until his term expires.

    I know this sounds ridiculous, but what if it is true that everyone up there, even his own people, know they have a child that is a raving lunatic for a president? That would explain why everyone closest to him, including his most trusted comrade, his baby sitter KKKarl Rove, have quietly and gently with much praise of him left his side, not wanting to be there when the inevitable happens. Notice that Rove is writing his book to cover his own ass for the time when the exposue and/or explosion finally happens. Only Cheney remains and he’s a loose cannon all by himself. I’ve been balls to balls with his type many times and was the one who walked away alive.

    One thing we all know is that something is very very wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washinton DC. Something is preventing congress from using their power to strip Bush of his power. It simply is not possible they are all so stupid they agree with him or that they are all in cahoots with the Bush crime organization. But it is possible that enough of them are that much afraid of what he might do. What other answer is possible?

  8. Bill Robinson

    “The Buck Stops Here”. Harry Truman’s remark still holds true, despite denials by everyone in the White House. Bush is to blame, and as Seal says, he is a spoiled brat who always and still gets “his way.”
    Bush can lie about his lies about his lies, but the facts are that he, as President, is responsible. Cheney may pull his strings, but Bush bears the burden of responsibility despite his mock bravado as he declares himself “The Decider.” One wonders about his lucidity as well as his ability to confront the facts and the truth.
    Bush travelling to Vietnam disgraces the brave men and women who died there. The same goes for his visits to Iraq. He disgraces the memories of the soldiers who gave their lives in that stupid war and he disgraces those who are still stuck there. The only way he could really honor them would be to go to Dover with Cheney in tow and greet each and every coffin that returns to the USA from Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s see him turn that into some mock grandstanding.
    As for the Congress, the only thing I can think of that keeps these supposedly intelligent representatives of the American People from removing both Bush and Cheney from office is money. The members of Congress, both Representatives and Senators, are making too much money to want to disturb the status quo. If you disagree then please explain to me why a supposedly intelligent man or woman would spend multi-millions of dollars to be elected to a job that pays around $200,000 a year with all the benefits? It’s the MONEY! They are all getting fat on this war and they like that money that keeps rolling in over and under the table.
    Sure there are a few with noble motives like Feingold and Waxman, but the vast majority want the bucks and nothing else. Once elected they are there for life, unless they commit some venal sin like being caught with their pants down or their private parts stuck somewhere that does not conform to the Victorian attitudes that still prevail in this country.
    We need to re-evaluate our electoral process, but the problem is that those who could legally change it are those who are in violation of their sworn oaths to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
    But you know what, they didn’t swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Bill of Rights, did they?
    Maybe that’s the problem…
    Bill Robinson