January 27, 2006

Envoy to Iraq Bremer talks in Law School class

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who served as the Presidential Envoy to Iraq and headed the transitional Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) established following the invasion in 2003, discussed his tenure and the future of Iraq Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at the Law School.

In a speech that encompassed virtually every aspect of his government work, from administrative issues to military strategy, Bremer discussed his efforts to reestablish the political system, economic structure, and everyday safety of the war-torn nation.

“We faced a staggering range of issues,” Bremer said. “The collapse of the Iraqi regime was one of the most astonishing in history. They went from tyranny to freedom in three short weeks.”

Bremer highlighted the chaos in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein and the momentous task of returning order to a country recoiling both from war and decades of tyranny.

“The impression of Saddam’s brutal control had woven its way into every aspect of Iraqi life,” Bremer said. He said that his daughter likened Iraq to “a whole nation suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

After reading from his prepared speech, Bremer fielded questions from the audience, which led to some of the afternoon’s more remarkable moments.

One student pressed Bremer on the issue of Iran, questioning both Iranian attempts to meddle in Iraqi politics and the recent news concerning the country’s push for nuclear arms.

“I think we’re heading gradually into a crisis with Iran,” Bremer said. “Over the next few months I think we’re going to see things escalating there.”

Another audience member, who had served in the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Iraq during Bremer’s tenure, asked the ambassador if he thought the insurgency was inevitable and asked what grade Bremer would give himself and the CPA—adding that he was “partial to giving [Bremer] a passing grade, but not by much.”

Bremer said that by not cracking down on the widespread looting immediately following the invasion, “we sent the wrong message; we showed we weren’t going to be as tough as we needed to be.” While Bremer admitted that the insurgency was likely inevitable, he failed to quantitatively grade the overall success of his administration.

The speech was organized by Bruce Ellis Fein for his law seminar entitled “Building Justice in Iraq,” which has focused on understanding and evaluating the measures taken to improve the justice system in Iraq. Fein, who served in Iraq as an Army Reservist from April 2003 to July 2004, is in his second year of teaching the class. This has been Fein’s second high-profile speaker; last year, J. Clint Williamson, who serves on the National Security Council and was the former Minister of Justice in Kosovo, addressed the seminar.

“I hope that my students, and all who attend, will benefit from Bremer’s inside account of the choices he faced, the constraints under which he operated, and how the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ reality dovetailed or clashed with the aspirations of Iraqis, the Coalition, and the world at large,” Fein said before the event. “I hope that they will be able to get their questions answered ‘from the horse’s mouth’ about why the Coalition undertook or forbore various actions.”