• United States



On war anniversary, Bremer opens CSO Perspectives preaches patience in Iraq

Mar 19, 20075 mins
Core Java

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority that managed Iraq before the new Iraqi government took over in 2004, opened the CSO Perspectives conference here with a broad reaching keynote address in which he championed successes in Iraq, defended his legacy and advocated patience with the Bush administration’s plan to increase troop levels to improve security in Baghdad.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. The country is described by many observers as in a civil war, overrun by violence between Sunni and Shia sects. Reports today on the anniversary cite polls of Iraqis which show citizens there do not feel safe, and polls at home are equally discouraging, showing the war has taken more lives and cost more money than many had expected it would. Democrats in Washington are calling for an end to the war and withdrawal of troops.

Against this panoply of grim news, Bremer said, “I remain hopeful.”

The reason he is hopeful, he says, is because where others only see failure, he sees marked success, starting with the CPA he ran. “The conventional wisdom that the occupation was bungled is wrong,” he said. He cited political success stories from the CPA, such as the elections in which millions turned out despite the threat of violence. Not enough Americans understand the significance to Iraqis of eliminating Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party dictatorship, Bremer said after outlining atrocities committed under Hussein. “I know what the opinion polls say. America did a noble thing by liberating Iraq. I don’t dispute there will be bumps in the road, but I argue there has been great progress.”

Bremer also cited economic victories, reversing the “spectacular theft of Iraq’s wealth during Saddam’s regime.” The CPA created a new currency and fostered marked drops in inflation and unemployment.

But, “those successes were not matched in security,” Bremer said. “The problem, of course, is security. This year has been disappointing.”

Bremer outlined four security concerns from his time in Iraq. First, that there wasn’t enough troops to secure the country. Second that there was no clear military strategy for defeating the insurgency and when the military finally did design a “clear-hold-rebuild” system of securing town, it was only followed “episodically.” Third, the US overestimated how quickly we could transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis. And finally, despite a warrant for his arrest being issued, Muqtada al-Sadr was able to build his support base which eventually fostered sectarian violence. “There was not enough security, particularly for the Shia, so they turned to the militia for protection. What’s interesting is the sectarian problem was not known when I was there.” Now, it is one of the central problems in Iraq.

Both the successes and failures–particularly the issue of whether or not the US needed more troops in Iraq in order to secure it–are dealt with in Bremer’s book, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. And, as he does in the book, Bremer spent some time countering conventional wisdom about Iraq and defending his record there, sometimes on remarkably specific points. For example, on the political front, Bremer said, “Conventional wisdom is we made two mistakes, outlawing the Baath Party and recalling the army. The conventional wisdom is wrong.”

In fact, Bremer said, the decree on the Baath party was more specific, outlawing Baathists on the public payroll. “The mistake I made was when I turned this over to Irqai politicians who wanted to broaden it.”

And on not recalling the army, he said simply, “There was no army.” Most had simply left to go home to protect their families. “To recall would have been a catastrophic mistake.”

Bremer also used the podium to explore the root causes of suicidal terrorism, a phenomenon he dates to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Drawing on work by a Princeton scholar, Bernard Lewis, Bremer suggested that the root cause of Islamic terrorism is “the existence and I would argue success of Western civilization.” He said, citing Lewis, that Islam is struggling to reconcile itself with the modern world, that the religion itself is in a kind of civil war of identity between moderates and extremists.

Bremer argued with fervor, after reading a litany of quotes from radical Islamic players fostering destruction of the West, “the nexus between these killers and WMD is the primary threat to national security.”

After building this case, Bremer took on the doubters at home. He acknowledged the waning support for the cause, but said it would be a catastrophic mistake to leave now. This is precisely the catch-22 many feared when war started four years ago. Even some who oppose war acknowledge that leaving now is as bad or worse than going in the first place. Bremer challenged Democrats advocating withdrawal, an idea he opposes vehemently. Leaving Iraq will not change the hatred the terrorists have for the West, he said. “The proponents of retreat must face the consequences of defeat,” he told the audience. “It will result in a bloody civil war and an increased threat of terrorist attacks on the United States. Those in Washington who support retreat must tell the American people precisely what they will do in withdrawal.”

Instead of scaling back, Bremer pushed for support of the administration’s latest plan to send more troops to secure Baghdad. He compared the situation in Iraq to post-World War II Europe and Japan, and he preached patience. “Americans must be patient,” Bremer said. “It will be a long war, like the cold war.”

— Scott Berinato