Ten years ago this week, President George W. Bush issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to complete his disarmament obligations under 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions or face the full brunt of a military assault from an allied coalition of 40 nations.
In the intervening years, even the basic facts of what happened that caused the second war in Iraq, let alone the overwhelming unanimity that bound together the president, Congress, the American people, and most of the world, has been trampled underfoot by President Bush’s political adversaries, to be replaced by the Code Pink mantra, “Bush lied, people died!”
Like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and countless others in Congress, I was a strong supporter of the president’s decision to end the long stalemate with Saddam.
Unlike those distinguished former senators, I remember well that the strategy established by the president and his secretary of defense, a strategy that had strong bipartisan support, was simple yet powerful: smash Saddam Hussein’s regime and his ability to threaten his neighbors or his own people, then hand over the reins of power to the Iraqis and leave.
The war plans never called for an occupation. That was the work of Jerry Bremer, President Bush’s hand-picked representative in Baghdad.
For someone who had never been posted in the Arab world, Bremer arrived in Baghdad on May 12, 2003 with all the certainty of someone who had been waiting for that moment all his life.
Within days of taking his new job, he issued three fateful orders that set aside the president’s strategy and substituted something quite different: 1) he dissolved the Iraqi army, effectively creating 300,000 unemployed, frustrated, and increasingly angry young men with guns; 2) he outlawed the Baath Party, right down to school teachers and ordinary traffic cops; and 3) he fired the Iraqi Governing Council, the very group of brave Iraqis the United States had been grooming for years to take over power after the liberation.
I have written all the sordid details of this amazing coup d’état in “Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender.”
The book and this story were featured by Rush Limbaugh on his show and in his monthly newsletter at the time it appeared. And yet, even today, Bush opponents still conveniently forget the facts.
I have just returned from Iraq, where I took part in another painful anniversary: the commemoration of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the town of Halabja on March 16, 1988.
In the years following Halabja, much of the media and most politicians got the basics right: Saddam Hussein was a genocidal maniac who was willing to use chemical weapons on his own people, and the international community needed to do a better job of ensuring that the dangerous technologies that enabled him to build those weapons never again be transferred to dangerous regimes.