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Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism

He cited the first two orders Bremer signed when he arrived, the first one banning as many as 50,000 members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government jobs and the second disbanding the Iraqi military. Now there were hundreds of thousands of disorganized, unemployed, armed Iraqis running around.

Third, Garner said, Bremer had summarily dismissed an interim Iraqi leadership group that had been eager to help the United States administer the country in the short term. "Jerry Bremer can't be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You've got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people."

Garner made his final point: "There's still time to rectify this. There's still time to turn it around."

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. "Well," he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are."

He thinks I've lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I'm absolutely wrong. Garner didn't want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. "They're all reversible," Garner said again.

"We're not going to go back," Rumsfeld said emphatically.

Later that day, Garner went with Rumsfeld to the White House. But in a meeting with Bush, he made no mention of mistakes. Instead he regaled the president with stories from his time in Baghdad.

In an interview last December, I asked Garner if he had any regrets in not telling the president about his misgivings.

"You know, I don't know if I had that moment to live over again, I don't know if I'd do that or not. But if I had done that -- and quite frankly, I mean, I wouldn't have had a problem doing that -- but in my thinking, the door's closed. I mean, there's nothing I can do to open this door again. And I think if I had said that to the president in front of Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld in there, the president would have looked at them and they would have rolled their eyes back and he would have thought, 'Boy, I wonder why we didn't get rid of this guy sooner?' "

"They didn't see it coming," Garner added. "As the troops said, they drank the Kool-Aid."

What's the Strategy?

In the fall of 2003 and the winter of 2004, officials of the National Security Council became increasingly concerned about the ability of the U.S. military to counter the growing insurgency in Iraq.

Returning from a visit to Iraq, Robert D. Blackwill, the NSC's top official for Iraq, was deeply disturbed by what he considered the inadequate number of troops on the ground there. He told Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, her deputy, that the NSC needed to do a military review.


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