Bremer Consults and Cajoles, but in the End, He's the Boss


  Artículo de Rajiv Chandrasekaran en “The Washington Post” del   19.06.2003



L. B.-B., 20-6-03, 12:30


KIFL, Iraq -- The search for local political talent brought L. Paul Bremer out for a bone-jarring drive across Iraq's central farmland and lunch from a communal plate of yellow rice topped with a sheep's skull.

Bremer, America's viceroy in Iraq, was the guest of Sheik Ali Mohammed Abbasi of the Bani Hassan tribe, the leader of hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims. The sheik welcomed Bremer as a head of state, ushering him into a long room lined with 50 tribal chieftains. As the men sized up Bremer during a one-hour chat earlier this month, he considered the sheik as a candidate for a new national political council.

In the end, a bond was forged. "We are with you," the sheik declared.

Dispatched to Baghdad five weeks ago by President Bush to lead the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq, Bremer has emerged not just as the day-to-day administrator of the occupation but also as the central architect of Iraq's political future. He is using negotiation, persuasion and outright fiat to recruit a new crop of leaders who he hopes will lead the country of 25 million people toward democracy.

But until then -- national elections could be two years away -- Bremer has made clear that he is in charge. Over the past few weeks, he has signed a range of far-reaching executive orders to waive import tariffs, seize Baath Party assets, ban heavy weapons and claim licensing power over telecommunications services. When several college presidents asked him to lift a travel ban that had been imposed on academics by Saddam Hussein's government, Bremer promised to do so by the end of the day.

"As long as we're here, we are the occupying power," he said in an interview in the vast Republican Palace on the banks of the Tigris River, which used to be the seat of government under Hussein and is now Bremer's home. "It's a very ugly word, but it's true."

Bremer's influence has made him the most powerful man in Iraq -- and perhaps the most powerful American overseas since Gen. Douglas MacArthur oversaw the reconstruction of Japan after World War II. "This whole mission is riding on Bremer's ability to pull it off," a senior U.S. official here said.

In many ways, Bremer is an unlikely choice. Although he is a former ambassador and a terrorism specialist, he has had little involvement in Arab affairs or with major reconstruction projects. Before coming to Iraq, he headed a crisis consulting firm.

Bush administration officials turned to Bremer to replace Jay M. Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general whose efforts were overwhelmed by the chaos that descended on postwar Iraq. They said Bremer's appointment appealed to both the State Department and the Pentagon, which have feuded over Iraq policy, because of his diplomatic experience, his belief in aggressive action to deal with terrorism and his close relationship with prominent conservatives, particularly former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger.

Bremer maintains that his lack of specialized experience has made him an independent operator. "I don't come with any philosophical baggage one way or the other," he said. "I approach it as a fresh issue." He said he makes decisions based on the advice of his U.S. and British staff members and Iraqis he consults, and on his experience as a diplomat and businessman.

Marching Orders

"When I came out here, the president said, 'Go out and make an assessment, and draw your own conclusions about what we should do,' " Bremer said. "My judgment after we got here was that most of the Iraqis I spoke to were anxious to get something done rather quickly."

His first moves have been bold. He rejected arguments from some in the Pentagon that authority should be handed over to former exiles. He also rejected the contention of many regional experts that Iraqis be allowed to choose a transitional administration. Instead, he decided to slowly devolve power through an advisory council of 25 to 30 Iraqis, whom he intends to select.

Bremer will also control the council, which he wants to shape a new government by selecting delegates for a constitutional convention. He also envisions the panel grappling with issues such as rewriting textbooks and setting trade policies, instead of deferring those decisions to an elected government. Although he promised to "broadly accept their recommendations," he has warned he will veto any of the council's decisions that "are fundamentally against coalition interests" or not in the "better interests of Iraq."

He is purging members of the former ruling Baath Party from government jobs with the assumption that they will fade away instead of regrouping. And he is examining plans to overhaul the economy by privatizing scores of government-owned firms, a move that could increase efficiency but eliminate thousands of jobs.

On Tuesday, Bremer said the U.S. occupation authority would set up a commission to screen judges for human rights violations and links to the Baath Party leadership. In addition, he said the authority would establish a special court to try people accused of committing serious crimes since the war began on March 19 but who are not classified as prisoners of war.

The court, which will have Iraqi judges and prosecutors, will follow sections of the national criminal code passed in 1969 and 1971, and suspects will also have the right against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney. A U.S. official here said the new court would probably try many of the people detained in raids over the past week aimed at suppressing armed resistance to the occupation.

On Baghdad's streets, away from the small groups of English-speaking professionals and well-connected political leaders with whom Bremer often talks, many Iraqis said they feared his agenda was a way to prolong the U.S. presence here and delay self-governance.

"Mr. Bremer doesn't understand what the people want," said Ahmed Abbas, a bookseller. "Most people, I think, would be willing to allow the Americans to provide security and assistance with rebuilding, but they want Iraqis to make the decisions. This is our country."

Although Bremer contends that conditions in Baghdad have "improved significantly" since his arrival -- more shops are open, government employees are being paid, gas lines are almost nonexistent, garbage is being collected and more police officers are on the streets -- he is concerned about meeting expectations. Unemployment is rampant, as is fear of crime. Electrical service is intermittent, and work has not begun to repair scores of government buildings gutted by looters immediately after the war.

"This country went from night to day at literally lightning speed, so the process of repairing its economic, political and, I would say, even its psychic capital is not going to be done overnight," he said.

Focus on Terrorism

Known as Jerry to his friends, Lewis Paul Bremer was born in Hartford, Conn. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Yale University and a master's in business administration from Harvard. He joined the State Department and was stationed in Afghanistan, Malawi and Norway. After serving as ambassador to the Netherlands from 1983 to 1986, he was named President Ronald Reagan's ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism.

Bremer, who is married and has two grown children, retired from the government in 1989 to become a managing director of a consulting firm run by Kissinger, for whom Bremer had served as an executive assistant in the 1970s. As concern about international terrorism grew in the 1990s, Bremer spoke and wrote extensively on the subject, warning that radical Islam posed an imminent risk to the United States.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he became a regular guest on television talk shows. A month later, he was named chairman and chief executive of the crisis consulting arm of insurance giant Marsh & McLennan Co., and last year, he was appointed to Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Although he had not been a prominent advocate of confronting Hussein, he adopted a more hawkish stance after the 2001 attacks. In January, he concluded an op-ed piece in the Washington Times by stating: "Regime change in Iraq, long a sponsor of terror, would be an excellent way to bring home to friends and foes that we are serious about terrorism and show that opposing the United States has a high cost."

Although his role as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the formal name of the U.S.-led occupation administration -- does not give him control over U.S. military forces in Iraq, he does receive regular security and intelligence briefings. The increasing frequency of attacks against U.S. troops has become one of his top concerns, a U.S. official said.

A trim, 61-year-old former triathlete who appears a generation younger, Bremer usually wakes at 4:45 a.m. At 5, he goes running for about 20 minutes on the palace grounds, covering about 21/2 miles.

By the time his daily staff meeting starts at 7 a.m., he has read the morning newspapers on the Internet -- often printing out articles of interest for his deputies -- and has gone through overnight correspondence from the United States. Although he and his staff remain in close contact with officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, often holding conference calls late into the evening, he appears to have a broad mandate from Washington.

"He's not Rumsfeld's lackey," said a person familiar with the occupation authority's decision-making, referring to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "He has a great deal of freedom to do what he thinks is right."

Bremer contends his plan for an appointed council does not mean he has backed away from the formation of a democratic government. "If we just slap together something quick -- even though that may be what some people want -- it's not going to work," he insisted. "I am committed to establishing a democracy here. But to do this right, it will obviously take time."

Although he plans to offer seats on the council to several established political figures, U.S. officials here said he also will anoint some tribal sheiks and Iraqis with liberal religious and social beliefs with the goal of increasing their profile as future national leaders and muting the growing influence of conservative Shiite clerics.

"Every Iraqi should be able to look at the council and see themselves represented there," he said.

To persuade Iraqis of the wisdom of his course, Bremer has hit the road almost every day in an armored Chevrolet Suburban. Dressed in a dark suit and tie despite the 110-degree heat, with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket, he has been to schools, hospitals, local government offices and even a tribal conclave. At times, crossing the street to shake a man's hand or hoisting a young boy onto his lap, he seems like a politician. At other times, he displays the reticence of a career diplomat, reading briefing papers in his car.

Much of his time is spent inside the Republican Palace, which is off-limits to all but a few Iraqis. He sleeps there on a wooden cot covered with a mosquito net, in a tiny room that lacks air conditioning and looks over a row of portable toilets. He said he would rather live and work somewhere else because he does not like "the impression of the new rulers coming in and occupying the rather lavish seats of power of the tyrant."

An avid reader of history, he said he has been studying the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II. A major conclusion he has drawn is that progress in Iraq has been comparatively quick.

"We are actually, in most areas, going faster than was the case in Germany and Japan . . . talking about when elections might be held and starting the constitutional process," he said.

Even so, he said, "this is going to be a long, difficult job. It's going to take a lot of patience. We will make mistakes. But as we make them, hopefully we'll learn from them and adjust."



L. B.-B., 20-6-03, 12:30


Uno tiene la impresión de que Bremer empieza a redireccionar la situación iraquí, evitando su descomposición. No obstante, desde la distancia, sin estar a pie de obra, me atrevería a plantear un interrogante: ¿la necesaria reestructuración del Ejército, la policía y la Administración iraní exigen partir de cero? ¿o bien, bastaría solamente con descabezarlos de baasistas? ¿No se estarán creando innecesariamente enemigos al dejar en el paro armado a sectores militares y policiales? ¿y qué sucede con el resto de la Administración? ¿existe? ¿se está haciendo lo mismo?

También tiene uno la impresión de que todavía no se están utilizando en cantidad suficiente los recursos necesarios para dirigir la transición. Alemania ofrece ayuda, la Unión Europea inicia una nueva política internacional, ¿por qué no pedirles que aporten recursos para despegar más rápidamente de una vez? El liderazgo lo tienen los miembros de la coalición, los demás están rectificando el rumbo seguido anteriormente, así que se podrían potenciar mucho más las energías de reconstrucción.