Middle East

Iraq's special envoy, with a special task
By David Isenberg

Once upon a time, in an administration both far away and far right, a newly-hired bureaucrat, known as Jerry to his friends, sat at an office desk at the US State Department; room 7224 to be exact.

Now that bureaucrat is about to become America's proconsul, or top civil administrator and special envoy in diplomatic jargon, in Iraq. Congratulations L Paul Bremer III, you've come a long way, baby.

Bremer, 61, received his BA from Yale, a CEP at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of the University of Paris, and a MBA from Harvard, and entered the Foreign Service in 1966 where he stayed for 23 years. During his time at the State Department he became a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. His assignments have included posts in Afghanistan and Norway, and among his posts since 1981 he has served as executive secretary and special assistant to the secretary of state.

During his career he received the State Department Superior Honor Award, two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards and the Distinguished Honor Award from the Secretary of State. He is a duly certified member of the establishment, belonging both to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and The Council on Foreign Relations.

The recent news coverage about his selection to be the man to whom retired general Jay Garner will report, generally describe him as a longtime former diplomat. His selection is also billed as some sort of victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is depicted as a moderate, at least compared to the uber-hawk Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But such a sound bite description does not begin to do him justice.

He is not, by an stretch of the imagination, a dove. One article noted that like the neoconservatives, he has long called for a very hard line against what he calls "extremist Islam" and for aggressive tactics, including assassination, in pursuing and preempting suspected terrorists.

In a 1996 Wall Street Journal article he called on then-president Bill Clinton to deliver ultimatums to Libya, Syria, Iran and Sudan to cease any support for terrorism or face military action. His rhetoric in that regard has been labeled as distinctly "Rumsfeldian".

In 1986, after being ambassador to the Netherlands for three years, he was appointed by then-president Ronald Reagan to succeed Robert B Oakley as director of the office of counterterrorism and emergency planning at the State Department. He later became ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism until 1989. In June 1989, after retiring from the State Department, he became managing director of [Henry] Kissinger Associates, where he stayed until 2000.

Bremer is a member of several corporate boards, such as Air Products & Chemicals Corp (since 1993) and Akzo Nobel NV (since 1997).

He chaired the congressionally-established National Commission on Terrorism in 1999 to review US counterterrorism policy. That role made him something of a doomsayer, a role that came naturally after years of warning about terrorist threats. In 2000, Bremer warned in congressional testimony of such scenarios as a radioactive release that "made 10 miles of Chicago's waterfront uninhabitable for 50 years". Shortly after the attacks of September 11, Bremer warned that the country faced the risk of a catastrophic terrorist event "which will have tens of thousands of deaths".

But such warnings had already been made by other, more prescient commissions, such as the US Commission on National Security for the 21st Century (chaired by former US Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman), which submitted its last report to Congress in February 2001.

He became chairman and chief executive in 2000 of the global "risk services" firm of Marsh Inc, part of Marsh & McClennan Companies Inc, and has warned clients about the danger posed to businesses operating overseas from "growing income gaps and social tensions". Marsh is in a position to speak about that. Nearly 300 Marsh employees were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Bremer was also co-chairman of a Heritage Foundation report, "Defending the American Homeland" which came out in early 2002.

Last June, President George W Bush named Bremer to the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Bremer' appointment is likely to cause, at least initially, as much confusion as it solves. Press reports do not say what his relationship will be with the provisional Iraqi government scheduled to be elected in late May. Reportedly, under Bremer, Garner will stay in charge of reconstruction, while Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush's special envoy to Iraq, will oversee the political transition that now centers on forming an interim Iraq authority.

As Bremer has no particular Persian Gulf or Iraqi expertise, his selection seems to signal that the Bush administration is less interested in a democratic revival of Iraq than in ensuring that it cannot serve in the future as an kind of base for threats against the American homeland, which was one of the rationales offered by the Bush administration for its invasion in the first place.

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May 8, 2003

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