The Man Who Ran Iraq
As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ambassador Paul Bremer served as America's "viceroy" in Iraq from May 2003 until the handover of sovereignty to an interim government in June 2004. Bremer, a career diplomat, spoke to U.S. News about his new book, My Year in Iraq.
White House officials are angry about your book, in particular your assertion that you requested more troops to secure Baghdad and were turned down. Do you think the book is disloyal?
No, I absolutely do not. The purpose of writing this book was not typical Washington score settling or tattling. I am trying to record for historical purposes something we had not done for 50 years, which was to occupy another country. Hopefully, we can learn some lessons if we ever have to do this again. I am very loyal to the president. And I think we did a great and noble thing in liberating Iraq.
Do you think more troops are needed today?
No, I actually don't. The administration correctly decided to revamp the training of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police and focus on leadership, not just on getting more numbers. That allows us to focus our forces on going in and clearing places and turning them over to the Iraqis to hold.
You write that removing Baath Party members from government jobs was the right thing to do, but in hindsight did it strip Iraq of too much expertise?
The Baath Party was vicious, openly modeled on the Nazi Party, with many of the same attributes. It was right to outlaw its ideology. De-Baathification was aimed at just the top 1 percent. We weren't going after the other 2 million members. The mistake I made was to have turned it over to a political body to implement. It got politicized, and the implementation went far more broadly than we intended. But it did not rob the government of a great deal of capability. We did have trouble with the administration of ministries. The trouble had less to do with missing the Baathists than with the bureaucratic culture that had grown up.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a socialist state--Baathism eroded the work ethic. How did that complicate your work?
There was a culture of dependency. Good economic policy said you had to get rid of the [state] subsidies. That was the clear lesson of Central Europe after the fall of communism. But in the case of Iraq, putting the state-owned enterprise up against hard budget constraints would have put an additional half million people out of work. The economic arguments were conclusive. So were the political arguments--and the political arguments won.
A lot of Sunnis believe they weren't given a square deal in post-Saddam Iraq. Is there more you could have done to get more Sunnis on board?
It was one of the first things we did. When I met the small group of exiles who some in our government wanted to turn power over to in May 2003, I pointed out the Sunnis were underrepresented. We spent two months canvassing the country trying to find a broader representative group. We wrote into the interim constitution a very strong protection of minority rights. The concept of democracy to many people [in Iraq] is just "majority rules." But as most Americans understand, democracy also depends on protection of minority rights. I preached that theme in my many, many negotiations with Iraqis. I think it is gradually being understood. But I do not know how well it is understood by Sunnis. There are some Sunnis who think they are a majority of the country.