Recently, I picked up my local daily paper and read that Mr. Paul Bremer had spoken at a fundraiser for a small, local library. Bremer, you may remember, was the former U.S. Administrator for Iraq.
President George Bush gave him the powers of a Viceroy, that imperial title given British Victorian-era Consuls before they were sent to administer the far-flung realms of the Empire. Because the countries these Viceroys administered were so far away, and communication facilities from London so abysmal, the Viceroys were given the power to take whatever action they saw fit - without prior permission.
That was the case with Mr. Bremer, who exercised total authority in Iraq. First he disbanded Iraq's civil service because it consisted of members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Then he disbanded Iraq’s military. This left a war-torn country of 30 million citizens with no civil service, police, or security - except for American soldiers and contractors who were completely unprepared for the occupation and policing of Iraq.
I am among those who believe that this dissolution of government began the process of converting Iraq to the failed state it is today – and helped set the stage for the mess that is today’s Middle East.
So imagine my surprise when I read that Mr. Bremer told his library audience that he still believes that the U.S. should be the world’s policeman. “If not us, then who,” was his apparent reasoning.
But I am reminded that Mr. Bremer was part of the inner Bush circle that spent 6 trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan to invade and police those countries with little to show for it - except death and injury to roughly 40,000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of local civilians. These actions also significantly increased the number of people around the world who now hate Americans.
It was brave of the Library Trustees to invite Mr. Bremer to discuss his controversial stewardship of Iraq and his view of U.S. foreign policy in the 21 st Century. So I hope the library made some money.
If they did, I’d recommend investing a portion of the proceeds in a U.S. Leadership collection for the library with a section on government best practices - including Mr. Bremer’s own book, in which he attempts to account for his time as U.S. Civilian Administrator for Iraq.
He now maintains a second home in Chester, where I’m told he has taken up landscape painting, a favorite pastime of retired politicians. I hope he’s good at it. History might judge him more kindly had he taken up that profession sooner and chosen Chester over Baghdad.