Bremer arrived in Baghdad on May 12, 2003, to take charge of reconstruction and government formation. "I would be the only paramount authority figure—other than dictator Saddam Hussein—that most Iraqis had ever known," he reflected. My Year in Iraq is a day-by-day account of his tenure, an endless series of meetings and bureaucratic shuffles. He portrays himself as the ultimate problem-solver, able to unravel the most vexing problem with a brief pronouncement.
While Bremer's chronology is helpful and his depiction of the breadth of Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) activities useful, My Year in Iraq is at best an incomplete record. Bremer's failure to analyze is frustrating given his bird's-eye view of Iraq's reconstruction. He describes events as they unfold but fails to ask either why they occurred or how their replication might be avoided.
Equally as important as what Bremer includes are his omissions. He speaks little of his strained relationship with senior military officers. He treats Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez with polite detachment and fails to mention Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who held sway over Iraq's second-largest city Mosul and with whom Bremer often clashed on such issues as de-Baathification and responsibility for negotiations with neighboring states. The only mention of Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division based in Tikrit, comes as Bremer sends him a congratulatory note on the capture of Saddam Hussein. Far more valuable for both practitioners and historians would have been introspection into the debates and events that led to such strains in civil-military relations.
Key events—such as Shi‘i firebrand and populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's uprising—are treated superficially. Bremer provides little description of the decision to arrest Sadr, nor does he explain how Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi militia infiltrated so far and wide outside the notice of both the CPA and Central Intelligence Agency. How did the rebel forces coordinate?
Other problems receive no acknowledgment. Eight days before the U.S. presidential election, The New York Times reported that looters had made off with 380 tons of explosives after U.S. forces had failed to secure Iraq's Al-Qaqaa military facility. Former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay spoke of Iraqis carting off ordinance unmolested. But My Year makes no mention of weapons depot security.
Bremer's lack of introspection and vision is striking. Even as he describes his media appearances, he seems unaware of how Iraqis ridiculed them. While he derides the ineffectiveness of Iraqi politicians, he does not consider that Iraqis voiced the same complaints about his administration. While he concentrates on day-to-day reconstruction, there is little discussion of overriding vision.
Bremer presided over the U.S. government's most ambitious reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan, but his lack of vision, at least as chronicled in My Year in Iraq, is striking. Events overwhelm and analysis falls short. While historians will debate Bremer's record, My Year will ultimately contribute little to their verdict.