The original U.S. plan for Iraq was to go in and out as quick as possible. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was opposed to nation building, and he was given control of postwar Iraq. He wanted the American forces to withdraw as soon as the invasion was over. President Bush had campaigned against the U.S. attempting to rebuild countries as well, and signed off on the Pentagon’s plan for Iraq. When Jay Garner and the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) the first group in charge of postwar Iraq looked like it was overwhelmed, the Bush administration turned to Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Bremer had a completely different philosophy wanting time to not only rebuild, but restructure Iraq’s institutions. When he was chosen to run Iraq was when the U.S. committed to a long-term occupation.
On May 6, 2003 President Bush named Paul Bremer as the Presidential Envoy to Iraq to head the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). U.S. Central Command chief General Tommy Franks had mentioned the CPA in his Freedom Message on April 16. The Americans always had plans to replace Jay Garner with a regular civilian ambassador, it just happened much quicker than expected because of the chaotic situation in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld didn’t think that Garner was doing the job, and by the end of April had decided that Bremer would replace him. Either the Pentagon didn’t ask Bremer about his plans for Iraq or they didn’t care since he had the exact opposite vision for the country as the Defense Secretary had.
Bremer’s strategy for Iraq was based upon classic nation building. Before he went to Iraq Bremer read a RAND study on post-World War II Japan and Germany. In both countries, the U.S. had spent years reforming their institutions and economies. That was a great inspiration for Bremer and what he thought he could accomplish in Iraq. Before he left for his assignment he went to lunch with the president at the White House. Bremer told Bush that the U.S. would have to be committed to Iraq for the long haul. The president told him he had as much time as necessary to rebuild the country. The fact that this was a 180 degree turn around from previous plans didn’t seem to matter to the White House either.
One of the first signs that Bremer was committed to a long-term occupation of Iraq was his dismissing of the plans for a transitional Iraqi government. The Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) had talked with Iraqis about creating an interim governing body in April and May, and U.S. ambassador to the Iraqi opposition Zalmay Khalilzad had been working on putting together an Iraqi leadership group. This work was supposed to be completed by July. When Bremer was appointed he dismissed the plan because it didn’t fit his vision for the country. Secretary of State Colin Powell objected to this move, but National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice informed him that Bremer now had full authority over Iraq. Again, a quick handoff to Iraqis was part of the Pentagon’s original plan for Iraq. Rumsfeld had no interest in running the country after Saddam was overthrown, and had already followed a similar pattern in 2001 in the invasion of Afghanistan when a loyal jurga was formed to run the country. Bremer however wanted to change Iraqi society, politics and economics, and knew that would take months to accomplish.
Bremer quickly announced what his vision of Iraq was. He had a seven step, 540 day plan to set up an Iraqi constitution, hold a referendum on it, have Iraqis pass an election law, and then hold a vote for a new Iraqi government. Bremer informed the press in June 2003 that creating a democracy in the country could not be rushed, and would take time. He brought up the U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II, which he had just read about, as examples of what his vision for Iraq was. He passed along the same information to the White House in his first report. The president said that he backed Bremer. Bush too signed off on the Defense Department’s plan that would see a quick invasion and then withdrawal of U.S. forces. When there was so much post-war chaos however, Bush changed course and was willing to support his man on the ground, Bremer and his strategy.
The White House would later vacillate and push the CPA head to cut short his plan, but even then the path was set. American forces would be in the country until 2011. That was in part due to the poor pre-war planning that was chaotic and dysfunctional and based upon best case scenarios, and then made worse by Bremer’s decisions such as disbanding the military. Things were going badly in the nation, which was why Bremer was sent in to gain control of the situation, but it turned out he only made things worse and ironically led the U.S. into just the kind of occupation and nation building that Bush campaigned against when he was originally running for president.
Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, “The Final Word on Iraq’s Future,” Washington Post, 6/18/03
- “U.S. drops assembly idea for interim political council,” San Francisco Chronicle, 6/2/03
Elliott, Michael, “Occupation Hazards,” Time, 6/9/03
Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story Of The Struggle For Iraq, From George W. Bush To Barack Obama, New York, Pantheon, 2012