Bremer, in Vt., Calls for a U.S. Resurgence
Former U.S. Administrator to Iraq L. Paul Bremer is criss-crossing the country to sell his memoir and to buff up his tarnished reputation after the debacle in Iraq. Bremer meets with the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, January 23, 2006. (Peter Tobia/Philadelphia Inquirer/KRT)
Weathersfield — U.S. diplomat L. Paul Bremer told a packed room at the Weathersfield Meeting House on Saturday that the United States must reassert its position as a global superpower.
The talk was part of a fundraiser for the Weathersfield Proctor Library, for which residents are collecting funds for a $1.1 million renovation.
In his one-hour talk, titled “Is America Still An Indispensable Nation?” Bremer argued that the United States needs to increase its influence in world affairs, especially in conflict-ridden areas like the Middle East.
Bremer, 72, who served various posts in the State Department beginning in the 1960s, is best known for serving as the civilian leader of the government of Iraq for 14 months following the U.S. invasion in March 2003.
“The situation in the Middle East is a very severe problem, and a problem that threatens American interests and Americans,” Bremer said.
Bremer said the present security situation in Iraq is the worst it has been since 2006, and said this was partly the result of the withdrawal of American combat troops from the country in 2011.
In neighboring Syria, Bremer praised the Obama administration for pushing the government of Bashar al-Assad to surrender its chemical weapons, but said the U.S. limited its influence in the country by not conducting airstrikes.
“We went from leading from behind to effectively sitting on the bench,” Bremer said.
Bremer said the failure of the United States and European nations to check the aggression of Russia after its annexation of part of Ukraine set a dangerous precedent.
“The taking of Crimea, whatever Russia’s historical interests, represents the first time Europe’s borders have been redrawn by force since the end of the Second World War,” Bremer said. “There was no effective response from us or the Europeans.” Bremer cited a recent Pew poll, which found that many Americans wished the U.S. would mind its own business when it came to foreign affairs. Bremer said he believes this sentiment is a consequence of the fact that most Americans today were born after World War II and take for granted things like security and free trade.
“Seventy-five percent of Americans today were born after the Second World War,” Bremer said. “They grew up in a world that was the most prosperous in history, economically, and they took for granted freedom of the seas, open trade, and prosperous, independent political lives. The trouble is, they forgot to study history.”
Bremer said the United States, since the end of World War II, has protected liberal ideas across the globe as the sole superpower. He argued that if the U.S. adopted isolationist policies, powerful nations that do not espouse liberal views, like China and Russia, would exert greater influence on the global stage.
“We should not take for granted the rather peaceful last 60 to 70 years,” Bremer said. “If you don’t want to be the policeman of the world, who do you want to be the policeman?”
Bremer said if the United States relinquishes its role as the world’s leader, another nation, such as Russia, China or Iran, will take its place.
Bremer rejected the idea that an international organization, such as the United Nations, could effectively police the world.
“The idea that some international organization is going to be able to enforce a liberal world order is pure fantasy,” Bremer said. “It’s based on the assumption that nation states will do things that aren’t in their interest just because a group of other nations said they should do it.”
Bremer has been criticized for disbanding the Iraqi army in 2003 and purging government ranks of members of the ruling Ba’ath Party. Bremer himself was critical of the Bush administration for not properly planning how the U.S. was going to run the country after the initial invasion.
Specifically, Bremer said, the 2003 occupation force was simply not large enough to provide security to Iraq, a nation 36 million people roughly the size of California.
“We did not have enough troops on the ground, which is the fundamental role of the government,” Bremer said. “I tried for the 14 months I was there to get more troops.”
Bremer, a Republican, also said the decision of the Obama administration to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2011 directly contributed to the deteriorating security situation in the country today, where insurgents currently control large swaths of territory.
“It was a mistake,” Bremer said. “Effectively what it meant is we no longer had people on the ground to do counterterrorist training, to do intelligence collection, to help conduct special ops against targets.” Bremer rejected the notion that United States did not properly train Iraqi security forces, who have suffered several defeats at the hands of insurgents this year. Bremer blamed these losses on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who he said has dismissed U.S. trained officers.
“We trained a very good army, and a lot of them — a couple hundred thousand,” Bremer said. Al-Maliki “purged quite a number of officers we trained, right down to the brigade level.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the talk, Martha Hennessey walked to the front of the room, stood next to Bremer and held up a sign that read “Paul Bremer unindicted war criminal.” Bremer continued to field questions for another five minutes until concluding his remarks.
After the talk, Hennessey said she believed that Bremer, President George W. Bush and other American leaders of the U.S. occupation of Iraq were war criminals for dismantling the government in Iraq.
“If we continue to destroy nations, like we have been doing — Libya, Yemen, Pakistan — we’re not being held accountable for our crimes, and these things will continue to happen,” Hennessey said.
Bremer, originally of Hartford, Conn., earned degrees from Yale and Harvard before joining the Foreign Service in 1966. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Bremer the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, a post he held for three years.