Wednesday, August 8, 2018

CPA’s Bremer: Iraq Is Not Vietnam, An Early Rejection Of Counterinsurgency Tactics

(Getty Images)

As early as July 2003 Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was complaining about the lack of forces. He got no real response from Washington, which was still thinking of drawing down its troops. Bremer would later write that the U.S. was failing in Iraq by the fall of 2003 because there was no strategy to defeat the insurgents. The CPA chief blamed the American commander General Ricardo Sanchez for this dilemma. Bremer and Sanchez barely talked and the lack of unity of command between the civilian authority and the military went a long way to undermining overall U.S. policy. What this discussion overlooks was whether more troops would have solved the problems in Iraq. Would Bremer and Sanchez been able to come up with a plan to counter the militants?

In the summer of 2003 retired Colonel Gary Anderson was sent to Iraq by the Pentagon to advise on how to deal with the growing violence. He suggested tactics learned from the Vietnam War could be applied to Iraq. Bremer completely rejected that premise declaring that Iraq was not Vietnam. General Sanchez’s plan was to build up the Iraqi security forces and eventually turn over responsibilities to them. Neither seemed to have any concept of counterinsurgency, and Bremer was actually adverse to the idea because it had been framed in terms of Vietnam. There was also no overcoming the abject animosity between Bremer and Sanchez. That probably meant that by the 2003-04 period under the CPA when the insurgency was just taking off, simply applying more soldiers and Marines might not have had that much of an effect without a sound strategy behind them, and the continued dysfunction between Bremer and Sanchez.


Ballard, John, from storm to Freedom, America’s Long War with Iraq, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010

Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story Of The Struggle For Iraq, From George W. Bush To Barack Obama, New York, Pantheon, 2012

Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006
- “In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam,” Washington Post, 7/23/06

Woodward, Bob, State of Denial, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2006

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