Brit Hume failed to challenge L. Paul Bremer's claim that the United States "had enough troops" in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003 to prevent widespread looting, but that U.S. forces "didn't have orders to stop the looting." In October 2004, Bremer had asserted that the United States "never had enough troops on the ground" to stop the looting, and that "it would have been helpful to have had more troops ... to stop the looting."
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On the July 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, guest host and Fox News Washington bureau managing editor Brit Hume failed to question an apparent reversal by L. Paul Bremer III, former chief administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, concerning whether the United States had sufficient troop levels to prevent the widespread looting that occurred in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. During the interview, Bremer stated that the United States "had enough troops" in Baghdad to prevent the looting, but that U.S. forces "didn't have orders to stop the looting." However, in October 2004, Bremer repeatedly asserted that the United States "never had enough troops on the ground" to stop the looting, and that "it would have been helpful to have had more troops ... to stop the looting."
In the chaos following the invasion of Iraq, looters undertook widespread plundering of shops, homes, factories, and museums, including looting tens of thousands of ancient artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which spurred outrage among academics and the international community. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed the looting as an "untidy" consequence of Iraqis' newfound "freedom," adding that "stuff happens" during times of transition and instability.
However, Bremer made several statements in October 2004 suggesting that the looting could have been prevented had the United States sent enough troops into Iraq to ensure order following the collapse of Saddam's regime. The Washington Post reported on October 5, 2004, that in a speech the previous day "at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, [West Virginia]," Bremer stated, "We never had enough troops on the ground" in Iraq to prevent the looting. The Post also noted similar remarks by Bremer in a September 16, 2004, speech at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. According to the Greencastle Banner Graphic, the Post reported, Bremer stated that "the one thing that would have improved the situation" following the fall of Saddam's regime "would have been having more troops." Additionally, Bremer wrote in an October 8, 2004, New York Times op-ed that "the United States paid a price for not stopping the looting in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations," adding: "[W]e did not have enough troops on the ground to accomplish that task."
Despite the widespread media coverage these statements received, Hume did not ask Bremer to explain the apparent inconsistency between his October 2004 remarks and his assertion on Fox News Sunday that the United States "had enough troops" to stop the looting in Iraq, but that military "rules of engagement" did not allow U.S. forces to "stop the looting."
From the July 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
HUME: Let's turn to -- you mentioned this issue of number of troops. It has come up time and again.
It has become, I think, almost received wisdom now about the original plan there and the -- and the post-fall-of-Baghdad period when you were there, that the United States simply didn't have enough troops to do what needed to be done, that [former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command] General [Tommy] Franks's plan -- it was brilliant for the accomplishment of the task of toppling Baghdad and ending Saddam's regime -- was simply inadequate to the task that -- that inevitably came after. Your view of that in terms of troop numbers?
BREMER: Let me start with the basics. The basics are that the role of any government -- and we were the government of Iraq -- is to provide security for its citizens: law and order. And when I arrived in Baghdad, there was widespread looting going on in Baghdad, and we weren't stopping it.
In fact, we had enough troops. We had 40,000 American troops in Baghdad at that time, but they didn't have orders to stop the looting. So, the problem wasn't immediately the question of the number of troops. It was -- What are their rules of engagement? -- as the military calls them.
And that problem, I think, that -- the fact that we didn't stop that looting right away in the very beginning, the first month or so of -- after liberation, left the impression with a lot of Iraqis, and perhaps with insurgents, that we were not prepared forcefully to enforce law and order. And I think that was a mistake.
From the October 5, 2004, Washington Post article by staff writers Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks:
The former U.S. official who governed Iraq after the invasion said yesterday that the United States made two major mistakes: not deploying enough troops in Iraq and then not containing the violence and looting immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, administrator for the U.S.-led occupation government until the handover of political power on June 28, said he still supports the decision to intervene in Iraq but said a lack of adequate forces hampered the occupation and efforts to end the looting early on.
"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," he said yesterday in a speech at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "We never had enough troops on the ground."
Bremer's comments were striking because they echoed contentions of many administration critics, including Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, who argue that the U.S. government failed to plan adequately to maintain security in Iraq after the invasion. Bremer has generally defended the U.S. approach in Iraq but in recent weeks has begun to criticize the administration for tactical and policy shortfalls.
In a Sept. 17 speech at DePauw University, Bremer said he frequently raised the issue within the administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was spurned because the situation in Iraq might be different today. "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.
A Bremer aide said that his speeches were intended for private audiences and were supposed to have been off the record. Yesterday, however, excerpts of his remarks -- given at the Greenbrier resort at an annual meeting sponsored by the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers -- were distributed in a news release by the conference organizers.
In a statement late last night, Bremer stressed that he fully supports the administration's plan for training Iraqi security forces as well as its overall strategy for Iraq.
"I believe that we currently have sufficient troop levels in Iraq," he said in an e-mailed statement. He said all references in recent speeches to troop levels related to the situation when he arrived in Baghdad in May 2003 -- "and when I believed we needed either more coalition troops or Iraqi security forces to address the looting."
From Bremer's October 8, 2004, New York Times op-ed:
In recent days, attention has been focused on some remarks I've made about Iraq. The coverage of these remarks has elicited far more heat than light, so I believe it's important to put my remarks in the correct context.
In my speeches, I have said that the United States paid a price for not stopping the looting in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations and that we did not have enough troops on the ground to accomplish that task. The press and critics of the war have seized on these remarks in an effort to undermine President Bush's Iraq policy.
It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know.