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Bremer: Try This Game! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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What was striking about the interview with Paul Bremer, the former US Administrator of Iraq, was that he stated that a mistake had been made when they entrusted Iraqi politicians with the debaathication law instead of entrusting this task to judges and professional lawmakers.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Bremer defended his administrative rule of Iraq, including the decision to disband the army and uproot the Baath party, believing that they were two sound decisions and that people had misunderstood. He did not admit that any mistakes had been made in the decision that eventually led to the deterioration of the political and security situations in Iraq and that it could have been possible to avoid many difficulties if these hostile measures had not been taken against a large segment of Iraqis who were surviving on their positions in the army and their membership to the Baath party, even though they did not necessarily believe in the Baathist ideology. These people found that they were being pursued along with their families and that that they had lost their livelihood overnight. They were denied everything: their salaries, security and influence. How would things have panned out if the US administration had not approved the decision of Bremer and the Iraqi politicians who supported him to disband the Iraqi army and hunt down hundreds of thousands of citizens who were members of the Baathist party on various levels? Would we have found ourselves in the situation we are in today in Iraq?

What was even more remarkable was that in his defence Bremer said, ‘It was a mistake. We were under pressure from Iraqi politicians who were pushing for more power; in particular they were pushing for authority over the process of debaathification because it was an extremely popular issue amongst the Iraqi public.’ Then he added that it was a sound decision but the error was in the way the decision had been implemented. He said, ‘But in the end, the decision to give authority of debaathification to Iraqi politicians was a mistake.’

Defending the theory but apologizing for the implementation reminds us of those who believe in totalitarian ideologies. They say that such ideologies hold the key to the truth and the solution. But when theories are implemented the result is bad. They say, ‘The fault is in the implementation, not the theory.’ What can people gain from a wonderful theory and the coherence of its internal logic if the fruit that it reaps in the end is sour?

It is true that there is a difference between political and intellectual theories that regimes have taken upon themselves to put into practice on the ground. Consider for example Marxism in the case of the Soviet Union or political fundamentalism whether Sunni or Shia on one hand, and the implementation [of this] carried out by Iran, Taliban and Sudan on the other hand. It is also true that there is a big difference between major political administrative decisions such as debaathication and the major political “circumstances”. Yet there is a common resemblance manifested in the absolute separation between the beauty of the theory and the ugliness of implementation.

There is no doubt that Iraq would not be in the state it is in today if the errors of implementation that Bremer acknowledged had been avoided, at least where the debaathication process was concerned, or even with respect to the disbanding of the Iraqi army, which Bremer refused to admit was a mistake.

There are many what ifs. What if that bullet had hit President Gamal Abdul Nasser in Manshaya Square in Alexandria in the early stages of the Free Officers’ rule? What if King Farouk had not admitted defeat and had ordered the Royal Guard, the navy, the border guards and nearly half of the army to resist and vanquish the rebellious troops?

What if King Ghazi of Iraq had not died at a young age in a car crash and had lived long enough to rule until his son Faisal II had grown up and allied with his paternal cousin in Jordan?

What if Sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait had not dissolved parliament in 1938 and had enacted the constitution at that moment when fundamentalist currents had no influence whatsoever? What if the Kuwaiti popular political experience had been implemented fully? Would the political experience have been exposed to the disorder it has witnessed today?

What if Imam Ahmed Bin Yahya Hamid Ed-Din [in Yemen] had lived longer and his son Al-Badr had not taken over after him in the heat of the heightening revolution against the Imamate rule? Would Imam Ahmed’s policy and position have been different from Al-Badr’s and so the revolution would have been foiled just as he had thwarted Ibn Al Wazir’s revolution and the attempted coup by Colonel Ahmad al Thalaya?

What if Sheikh Hassan al Banna had been hospitalized the day he was shot and left for dead? If al Banna had survived the attack, would he have led a much more moderate change within the Muslim Brotherhood?

What if President Nasser had responded to the numerous Arab interventions on Sayyid Qutb’s behalf and had pardoned him and lifted the death sentence? Would Qutb have become an “inspirational martyr” and would stories have been about his index finger [as it is reported that he said that he would not write a letter to Abdul Nasser asking to be pardoned with the finger that testifies the oneness of God]? Would his effect and romantic calls regarding governance and the pre-Islamic state have turned into a holy book for all Islamist extremists from the neo-Hashshashin?

What if Saddam Hussein had arrested Khomeini when he was residing in Najaf protesting the rule of the Shah? Would Tehran’s Mullahs have tightened their grip and engaged in the Iraq-Iran war? What if Kuwait had dropped the debts of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and left him without a pretext to invade Kuwait?

What if Bachir al Gamayel had not been assassinated after being inaugurated as president of Lebanon and had served in this post for years? Would this have changed the destiny of Lebanon’s Christians? Would Michel Aoun be present now?

What if General Oufkir had succeeded in staging his famous military coup in Morocco?

What if King Fahd was not quick to accept the assistance of US troops in driving Saddam out of Kuwait? What if he had responded to the suggestions of some Arabs regarding an Arab solution? Would there even be a Kuwait now?

What if Juhayman al Otaibi and his group had been arrested before entering the Grand Mosque in Mecca? Would the situation of Saudi society have changed with respect to its openness or seclusion?

And last but not least, what if George W. Bush had not won the US presidential elections in 2000, and the democratic candidate had won instead? Would the fate of the world have been different? How would a democratic president have handled the 9/11 attacks?

The purpose of these questions is for us to think about other outcomes and to really think about what could happen in the future.

What has happened or what we have been told about what has happened so far is only one part of history’s various dimensions. That is why alternate history literature has been increasingly active, in the case of fiction at least. Dan Brown presents an alternative history to Christianity in The Da Vinci Code, which is based on story within a story.

In any case, the debate on who creates history and who directs its course will continue for a very long time. Is it historical inevitabilities, acts of perseverance and individual heroic deeds or merely small incidents that shape the course of bigger events? Are we the makers of history or is it history that makes us? Are we mirrors on which the image of the truth is reflected – the truth being historical inevitability?

This is a timeless debate but what we do know for sure is this; if a small number of incidents had not taken place and a number of decisions had not been made, history would have taken another course. As a result, imaginations run wild when it comes to alternative endings in history. So try out this exciting sport of the imagination that melts the candles of illusion.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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