If only

October 06, 2004

THE UNITED States should have had more troops in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad to establish order and prevent looting, says L. Paul Bremer III, who had just shown up in the Green Zone back in May 2003 to take charge of the place as American administrator. He now says he wishes he had argued that point more forcefully.

This isn't exactly a brilliant new insight. Plenty of people were saying exactly that at the time, as crowds ransacked offices, stores, museums, banks, oil rigs, weapons depots and nuclear installations. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called it the excesses of democracy, but Iraqis lost faith in America at that moment. Yet after the public upbraiding of Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki for having the temerity to say that a bigger armed force would be needed, it was clear as day that this opinion was politically incorrect in the Bush administration - and nothing was going to change that.

Does Mr. Bremer, who compounded the blunder by disbanding the Iraqi army soon after he arrived, get points now for speaking out? We don't think so.

As for Mr. Rumsfeld, he said Monday that there was no hard evidence linking Saddam Hussein's regime to al-Qaida. Did he mean it, after all these months? No, he said later that his remarks to the Council on Foreign Affairs had been misunderstood - though anyone relying on the usual noun-verb-object construction of the English language would be hard-pressed to figure out what else he could have had in mind. No matter. The main point is: The war was worth it, whatever it may have been about.

Truly, we find it hard not to admire Mr. Rumsfeld's unflappability in the face of the most appallingly inconvenient facts. But we think Mr. Bremer got it exactly wrong. What if there had been no American troops in Iraq in May 2003? Wouldn't the United States today be a lot better off?

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