I'm told that Dan Senor went on Paula Zahn's show this evening to try to push back on the al Qaqaa story, and that it wasn't a pretty sight. They've just uploaded the transcript. So I'm going to read it shortly. But before I do, an idea ...
When Jerry Bremer headed up the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Dan Senor was his right hand man. He's still playing that role for Bremer here stateside now that the CPA has gone out of existence.
Now, Sunday evening I noted that there was one big dog who hadn't barked in this whole brouhaha. And that's Bremer. Yes, we're caught up with all this mumbojumbo about whether there are any aerial photographs of what was happening at al Qaqaa in March 2003. But Bremer's really the guy at the center of all this.
He was the administrator of Iraq for almost the entire period of the occupation. All these issues were part of his brief. He was the senior US government official on the ground. And according to Monday's article in the Times, the Iraqis told Bremer in May of this year of their concerns about al Qaqaa. Bremer would also almost certainly know about US pressure on the Iraqis not to communicate these concerns to the IAEA.
Yet, Bremer's not talking. The Times piece made that clear. And journalists who are trying to get him to talk are getting a particularly feeble excuse for why he won't.
He's telling them his publisher isn't letting him talk to the press.
(Back on July 4th of this year Bremer told Fox's Chris Wallace that he was about to "turn to writing a book about my experiences" in Iraq. So presumably that's what he's talking about.)
So when Senor hits the shows, shouldn't the hosts be asking him why his boss isn't willing to answer any questions on this topic from the press? Is the Times right that Iraqis told Bremer about the problem at al Qaqaa last May? Does he know about the pressure CPA officials put on the Iraqis not to talk to the IAEA?
Those would all be great questions to have answers to. But let's talk for a moment about the real reason Bremer is probably observing radio silence.
Let's go back to the beginning of this month.
What got Bremer in hot water a few weeks ago were his indiscreet remarks about how the US occupation force in Iraq was undermanned and the looting that ensued because of it.
"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," the Washington Post quoted him as saying. "We never had enough troops on the ground." In another speech, he reportedly said, "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.
Later, after the firestorm erupted, Bremer wrote an OpEd in the Times tried to do as much damage control as he could with his remarks. And he did so by pulling his criticisms and dissents back to the earliest stages of the occupation. In that way, his already public criticisms would only apply to this very limited period of time.
As he wrote in the Times, "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."
Now, here I think we may be on to the root of the matter. A few weeks ago, the widespread looting and destruction of critical infrastructure in the first weeks of the occupation seemed an out-of-the-way and politically safe point.
Now, not so much.
When CBS interviewed the commander of the unit that visited al Qaqaa with that NBC news crew on April 10th, they heard the following ...
The commander of the first unit into the area told CBS he did not search it for explosives or secure it from looters. "We were still in a fight," he said. "our focus was killing bad guys." He added he would have needed four times more troops to search and secure all the ammo dumps he came across.
This really is the same issue, the heart of the matter: the lack of a sufficient number of troops early on to secure critical infrastructure and facilities. And it seems to be one to which Bremer's given quite a bit of thought.
I know it's not fun to get on the wrong side of your publisher. But somehow I think that's not the only reason Mr. Bremer's staying mum.
Special thanks to TPM reader ADJJ for recalling for me what Bremer said in the Times OpEd.