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NYT first video "letter to the editor"
September 15, 2007 8:18 AM   Subscribe

The New York Times has published its first video "letter to the editor", a 10-minute mini-documentary by Charles Ferguson on the decision by L. Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi army shortly after the US occupation began. The video is posted as a rebuttal to a recent op-ed by Bremer that tried to redistribute some of the blame for that catastrophic blunder that in large part gave birth to the Sunni insurgency.
posted by stbalbach (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
For more in depth on the period see the excellent Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.
posted by stbalbach at 8:23 AM on September 15, 2007


Much of the material was taken from Ferguson's documentary "No End in Sight".
posted by stbalbach at 8:26 AM on September 15, 2007


Isn't L. Paul technically an "American Official."

And really, the video does suggest that a "Small Group" of people were responsible for disbanding the Army.

One of the interesting things that came during the U.S. Attorney Scandal was the use of "Consensus" at the DOJ. If you use consensus, you never have to worry about taking explicit responsibility yourself. You can always say that whatever happened happened as a result of "Consensus" and how that consensus came about? Well you don't recall. It's quite sad.
posted by delmoi at 8:37 AM on September 15, 2007


Official 'No End in Sight' website.
posted by ericb at 8:41 AM on September 15, 2007


How long would the old army have survived after a few mosque bombings? Considering the plethora of 'mistakes' made, keeping the army would have likely prolonged the insurgency at best.

Although it's nice to see someone's finding some scapegoats.
posted by romanb at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2007


FYI – Charles H. Ferguson was co-founder of Vermeer Technologies (FrontPage) which was sold to Microsoft in 1996. He's a fascinating person. 'No End in Sight' is his first film (Director and Producer) and has been getting great reviews, including a special jury prize for documentaries at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
posted by ericb at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2007


I think those guys may be, erm, overselling the effectiveness of the original Iraqi army. I mean, to say "We could have nipped this insurgency in the bud", that strikes me as implausible.

Still, it would have been far better to keep the Army employed, to keep former bathists employed and running things. It also would have been far better not to invade in the first place.

So in a sense you could never have a competent invasion of Iraq because competent people would never have gone in in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 8:56 AM on September 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


Interesting. My first thought was "why does this need to be a video?" because it seemed like a normal letter to the editor pointlessly illustrated with shots of the people mentioned, the White House, etc. But after a minute or so the video became important, and now I'm interested in seeing the documentary. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2007


So in a sense you could never have a competent invasion of Iraq because competent people would never have gone in in the first place.

That line is worth its weight in gold!
posted by furtive at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2007


For more in depth on the period see the excellent Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

Yes it's a great book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Previous thread on it. Related thread.

His article from last September 'Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq' addresses the incompetence of those sent to rebuild Iraq.

An excerpt from the first chapter of Chandrasekaran's book:
“If you had a complaint about the cafeteria, Michael Cole was the man to see. He was Halliburton's ‘customer-service liaison,’ and he could explain why the salad bar didn't have Iraqi produce or why pork kept appearing on the menu. If you wanted to request a different type of breakfast cereal, he'd listen. Cole didn't have the weathered look of a war-zone concierge. He was a rail-thin twenty-two-year-old whose forehead was dotted with pimples.

He had been out of college for less than a year and was working as a junior aide to a Republican congressman from Virginia when a Halliburton vice president overheard him talking to friends in an Arlington bar about his dealings with irate constituents. She was so impressed that she introduced herself. If she needed someone to work as a valet in Baghdad, he joked, he'd be happy to volunteer. Three weeks later, Halliburton offered him a job. Then they asked for his résumé.

…Whatever could be outsourced was. The job of setting up town and city councils was performed by a North Carolina firm for $236 million. The job of guarding the viceroy was assigned to private guards, each of whom made more than $1,000 a day. For running the palace–cooking the food, changing the lightbulbs, doing the laundry, watering the plants– Halliburton had been handed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Halliburton had been hired to provide ‘living support’ services to the CPA. What that meant kept evolving. When the first Americans arrived in Baghdad in the weeks after Saddam's government was toppled, all anyone wanted was food and water, laundry service, and air-conditioning. By the time Cole arrived, in August 2003, four months into the occupation, the demands had grown. The viceroy's house had to be outfitted with furniture and art suitable for a head of state. The Halliburton-run sports bar at the al-Rasheed Hotel needed a Foosball table. The press conference room required large-screen televisions.”*
posted by ericb at 9:11 AM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Still, it would have been far better to keep the Army employed, to keep former bathists employed and running things. It also would have been far better not to invade in the first place.

I would be for paying the soldiers a pension, but keeping the Baath-led army on the street could have alienated the Shiites and everyone else who lost under Saddam. The video asserts that the army leadership was not sectarian, but I'm not exactly sure how true that is.
posted by thrako at 9:16 AM on September 15, 2007


Poll: Civilian toll in Iraq may top 1M. A British survey offers the highest estimate to date.
posted by homunculus at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2007


I would be for paying the soldiers a pension, but keeping the Baath-led army on the street could have alienated the Shiites and everyone else who lost under Saddam. The video asserts that the army leadership was not sectarian, but I'm not exactly sure how true that is.

Well Saddam was never 'sectarian'. He had Shiites and Kurds (and women!) in high places in his government. Certanly a lot less sectarian then Al-Maliki. But I did say "employed" not necessarily patrolling the streets.
posted by delmoi at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2007


The video does a pretty devastating job on Bremer's argument. Yes, it names three other people involved in the decision ... but more damning is all the people who were omitted from the process.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:00 AM on September 15, 2007


The sad reality is that there is no easy answer for this. Sure, keeping the grunts would have helped at first (use them to lock down borders to get them out of the shia's face; basic security in the many areas in which they would have been accepted). You don't have to keep them all if there are sufficent shia/kurd volunteers later, and some would surely resign if they thought they could get jobs elsewhere. However, an army functions because of its officers. Finding which officers to keep is a nightmare job. The current Iraqi army doesn't work for precisely this reason. Every army that purges its high officers is doomed for decades as the slow work of rebuilding a competent loyal corps goes.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2007


I don't think that anyone can say with any certainty that maintaining the Iraqi Army would have prevented the chaos that exists in Iraq today. The last official on the tape, Hughs?, states very carefully that it influenced the insurgency and that I can believe - half a million armed men without a way to feed their families is a disaster on all grounds. What strikes me about this piece is that it is one more carefully documented example of the arrogant decision making of the Bush Administration and its officials, particularly so in its callous disregard to the effects of its decisions on real people. For me, one of the defining moments of the Bush administration is the photo of George Bush peering out of the window at the the Katrina devestation high above from Airforce One. In Iraq, I'm not sure they ever even looked.
posted by bluesky43 at 10:24 AM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not sure why he leaves out Cheney and Chalabi. I think the order could have only come from Cheney's office. Those are all Cheney's men.
posted by empath at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2007


It's only the first digital video letter they have published, not received; they refuse to publish my many short movies of myself reading their stories out loud while making mock masturbatory gestures with my right hand.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on September 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


Disbanding the army is a perfectly sensible idea if your goal is to create chaos and thus have cause to permanently occupy the country. There's no doubt in my mind right now that permanent occupation of Iraq was on the checklist long before 9/11 happened.
posted by mullingitover at 1:50 PM on September 15, 2007


Yeah, creating 400,000 unemployed trained killers isn't such a great idea immediately following an invasion. I don't necessarily think it would have stopped an insurgency (laughable-- if a foreign power invaded your home nation, would you not become an insurgent? Wouldn't it basically be your prerogative to become an insurgent?), but certainly bad strategy.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:49 PM on September 15, 2007


My previous comment makes no grammatical sense... I meant to say: it would not have stopped the insurgency if they had kept the Army. It was bad strategy to disband it.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:50 PM on September 15, 2007


I think the implication is that a standing army would remain standing, and it was nationalist, not sectarian; people released from the army and looking for a place to go turned to their communities and religious leaders, and, voila, massive amounts of fuel on the fire.

The US implored a huge army to desert. They did. What do 300,000 off-duty soldiers do?
posted by blacklite at 7:35 PM on September 15, 2007


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