Paul Bremer, the former American diplomat who presided over the initial stages of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, wants the Obama administration to redeploy 10,000 U.S. troops to the country to aid the fight against the Islamic State.
For 13 months between 2003 and 2004, Bremer headed the provisional authority that governed Iraq in the wake of the invasion. It was under the Bush appointee's watch that Iraq's standing army was disbanded and members of the ruling Baath Party purged from the ranks of the government bureaucracy -- two key factors that contributed to the vicious sectarian insurgency that would follow in the years to come.
Bremer was speaking to Al Jazeera English's Mehdi Hasan in an interview that's scheduled for broadcast on Friday. Here's a bit from a summary published in advance by the TV network:
In a forthcoming interview with Al Jazeera’s Head to Head show, Paul Bremer called on Obama to order a "much more vigorous air campaign" against [the Islamic State], adding that US troops should stay "as long as American interests are served by being in Iraq".
Asked how many US troops are required, he answered, "probably 10,000".
He also stuck to his guns, defending his record during a brief tenure in charge:
Bremer, however, denied disbanding the military, saying that when he arrived in Iraq following the appointment by then-President George W. Bush, "not a single unit" of the Iraqi army was standing.
"The question wasn’t to disband. That was a mistake. We should never have used that verb. The question was should we recall the army," he told Head to Head host Mehdi Hassan.
Bremer also defended his order to ban members of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party from government, saying it affected "only one percent" of its membership representing 20,000 people.
"The mistake I made was turning it over to Iraqi politicians" to decide who should be affected, he said.
This is a familiar refrain now from Washington's neo-conservatives. Aghast at the rise and shocking success of the jihadist Islamic State, they have pinned the fault on the misguided, divisive rule of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, while glossing over the American intervention that brought it into being.
"Certainly [it] was not ideal" Bremer tells Hasan in the Al Jazeera interview, referring to Shiite-majority rule, but that it was “the least bad solution."
Bremer remains convinced of the necessity of American power to stabilize the region.
"Only the Americans can help the Iraqis broker across these sectarian and ethnic lines," Bremer told MSNBC last year. "There is nobody else who can do it."
Robert Kagan, one of the ideological architects of the Iraq war, recently argued along similar lines in the Wall Street Journal, urging U.S. policymakers to get over the "trauma" of Iraq:
In recent years, the mere mention of U.S. ground troops has been enough to stop any conversation. Americans, or at least the intelligentsia and political class, remain traumatized by Iraq, and all calculations about what to do in Syria have been driven by that trauma.
Iraqis, who have perished in the tens of thousands since the U.S. invasion, are traumatized, too. And there's little indication that a return to the muscular hubris of the past will somehow have altogether different effects.