01 Mar 2004

L. Paul Bremer: In His Own Words

Excerpts from a speech at the National Press Club, July 2003


Mornings at 5 a.m., Bremer jogs around the “once-splendid gardens of Saddam’s former palace.” He is driven around Baghdad in an armored Chevy Suburban. His “wood-paneled office was once the epicenter of Saddam’s government.” A hand-carved motto on his desk reads, “Success has a thousand fathers.”

“The scars in Iraq run very deep. The secret police, the thugs, the informers, the torture chambers, they may have gone. But the people of Iraq will be coping with the horrors of the mass graves and the individual and family tragedies for years to come. Since I’ve arrived in Iraq, I’ve met literally thousands of Iraqis and I can tell you that every single one of them has had his or her family affected one way or the other by Saddam’s cruelty. Repairing the damage inflicted by Saddam – the material, human, and psychological damage – is a huge task, a task that we will only succeed at if we have a real partnership between the Coalition, the international community, and the Iraqi people.

…The Iraqi people went from a life in a police state, in a controlled, highly structured society, to no social and political structure at all, in only three weeks.

…Baghdad in early May was a city on fire, literally. There was no traffic in the streets except for military vehicles of the coalition. There were no shops open. I slept at night in those days with earplugs in my ears because otherwise I was kept awake by the gunfire that went on constantly every night.

…Sustainable growth will require a fundamental transformation from three decades of economic mismanagement and neglect and a Stalinist industrial structure. Even before the war, joblessness was high and public infrastructure was in a shambles.

…It is going to take time and a great deal of outside assistance to transform and bring steady growth to the economy of Iraq. The legacy of Saddam hangs like a black cloud over every aspect of the lives of the Iraqi people, and that black cloud extends also over the economic future. Because of the criminal misuse of the wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people and the decades-long neglect that Saddam imposed on the economy, Iraq is not the rich country it should be today. Indeed it will be a poor country for some years to come.

Excerpts from the Charlie Rose Show, July 2003

Q. Tell me how you got this job.

Bremer: “Well, I’m not entirely sure….I got a call one Wednesday afternoon from Secretary Rumsfeld’s office, asking if I could come in and see him the next day. I came and saw him Thursday, we talked about the job, he said, Are you willing to take it? I said Well, of course, if the President asks me, I can’t say no. We went to the President the next day, and that was it. So it was kind of a quick 36 hours.

…I had ten days to get ready for the job….I’m a historian by training. So the first thing I did was reach for whatever I could find about the reconstruction in Germany and Japan. I reached out and talked to people who have studied the programs in Bosnia and Kosovo, where we’ve also effectively tried to put countries back together, or create countries.…One of the important lessons is that this is hard, long work; it takes patience….We’re not going to fix a country that was rundown over a period of 35 years; we’re not going to fix that overnight.

…It was a surprise to us how run down the place was. I sometimes say, If we’d gone into Iraq, if we for some reason had been put in charge of Iraq on March 1, before the war, we’d face exactly the same problems I’m facing now.

…I was rather happily ensconced in the private sector…. I obviously believe in public service; I spent most of my life in public service. I think it’s rewarding. I don’t think any American can just turn down the President of the United States when he asks you to undertake a job, particularly a job that’s as important as this one, not just to American foreign policy objectives in Iraq or in the region, but to these 25 million Iraqis. We have an opportunity here to make a real difference, and I think we will.

For a recent Newsweek report (“Racing the Clock in Iraq”) on Paul Bremer’s activities, visit http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4121960

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Class of MBA 1966, Section A

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