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Iraq Is Not a Model for Libya

US Ambassador to Iraq L. Paul Bremer III at Baghdad International Airport, February 23, 2004. (Photo: Zunzanyika/USAF/DOD)

Look who is giving the Libyans advice on transitioning to a stable democracy: L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004.

Writing in The Washington Post, he recommends his supposed lessons from Iraq as a framework for the new government in Libya. For anyone conversant with Iraq's history since 2003, his standing to give advice is nonexistent. One might as well take tips on aircraft navigation from Wrong Way Corrigan.

His first nostrum, “the population must believe that the political change is real and lasting,” he follows with a straw-man argument implying that capturing or killing a dictator will bring stability to a country. While many Iraqis loathed Saddam Hussein, a substantial number of Sunnis (not just Baathists) feared his removal would result in their ethnic cleansing by the Shiite majority – a fear justified by the events that followed, as Shiites bloodily cleared Sunnis from city neighborhoods. Iraqi Christians, unmolested during the previous 25 years, have mostly been driven out of the country by what Bremer later recommends as a “new political order.”

Bremer omits the fact that violence in Iraq, including deaths of US troops, increased after Saddam's capture. US deaths were almost double the total for 2003 (when the heavy initial fighting of the invasion occurred) in every year from 2004 until 2008. Iraq is one of the most protracted wars America has ever fought. Does Bremer seriously believe Saddam's capture settled Iraq's internal strife?

Bremer's second bromide, “someone has to provide security,” is a truism he is ill fitted to lecture anyone about. His predecessor, Gen. Jay Garner, wanted to preserve the Iraqi structure necessary to maintain security and have elections within 90 days, followed by a rapid US withdrawal. This plan did not suit ideologues in Washington, so they replaced him with Bremer. One of Bremer's first acts was to disband Iraq's Army, not only dissolving the chief institution capable of keeping order, but throwing 400,000 newly jobless men onto the streets and providing fuel for the insurgency.

His last admonition, “a new political order must be established quickly,” does not accord with his actions in Iraq. As stated before, he scrapped plans to get a new government up and running by the end of summer 2003. Instead, Bremer himself ruled Iraq for over a year with the powers of a Roman proconsul. His legacy was such a riot of ideological rigidity, poor planning and failed execution that Congress created, over the initial objections of the Bush administration, the post of special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. One of the inspector general's findings was that by the time Bremer had left his post, $8.8 billion in US funds were unaccounted for.

That's some new political order.

The US invasion of Iraq left a bitter legacy, hardly a model either for the Libyan people or for any future US engagement in Libya or anywhere else. It has been mere days since President Obama announced the final withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq – more than eight years after the invasion. Already, there is disquiet – how can we depart a country whose Shiite-dominated government could become a satellite of Iran? But that possibility had already been foreordained by a 2003 invasion based on false premises and exacerbated by an incompetent occupation.

Including service on the national debt, the cost of invading and occupying Iraq is roughly $1 trillion. That needless expense has significantly added to our fiscal crisis. America's misadventure in Iraq has resulted in a regionally stronger Iran, and on balance, substantially weakened the US strategic position in the Middle East. Incidents like Abu Ghraib have damaged our international moral standing for years to come.

If Bremer considers Iraq a success worth emulating, I would hate to see his idea of a failure.

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