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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

L. Paul Bremer

    • Former Presidential Envoy to Iraq
    • International Republican Institute: Former Board Member
    • Americans for Victory over Terrorism: Former Adviser

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L. Paul Bremer is a former career diplomat who was the presidential envoy to post-invasion Iraq, serving as director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance until mid-2004. During his tenure in Iraq, Bremer and his staff—including Coalition Provisional Authority spokesperson Dan Senor—were heavily criticized for providing misleading assessments of the situation in Iraq and severely mismanaging the early occupation. Bremer replaced Jay Garner, the retired general whose tenure as the first U.S. proconsul to post-invasion Iraq was also heavily criticized.[1]

Since leaving government service, Bremer has had numerous occupations, serving as a board member of the International Republican Institute (IRI),[2] an adjunct lecturer at American University's School of International Service,[3] the president of World T.E.A.M. Sports (a non-profit that promotes the involvement of disabled people in organized sports),[4] and a member of the boards of various corporations, including Global Secure Corporation, whose mission is "to secure the homeland with integrated products and services for the critical incident response community worldwide, focusing on prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery."[5]

In February 2012, Alelo Inc., which describes itself as "a world leader in applying Social Simulation technology to language and culture education and training," announced that it had elected Bremer to serve on its board of directors. Explaining the move, Alelo's CEO said: "Ambassador Bremer has impressed me as someone who has a broad and deep experience in both government and business, both in the US and internationally. His government experience spans the diplomatic, homeland security and military spheres. He has served on the boards of major public corporations and growing high-technology companies."[6]

Bremer has also been active as a policy pundit, writing opinion pieces for newspapers and appearing on Fox News to comment on U.S. policy in the Middle East. A longtime advocate of a robust U.S. military presence in Iraq,[7] Bremer penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal lambasting the Obama administration's withdrawal of uniformed U.S. troops from the country in December 2011. "A residual American military presence in Iraq," Bremer wrote, "would have helped us achieve three security goals: striking al Qaeda and Iranian terrorists still active in Iraq; helping train Iraqi security forces; and dampening tensions along the 'green line,' the contested demarcation between the Kurdish north and Arab south. Our withdrawal makes all three objectives more difficult to sustain." He added that the United States had also failed to demonstrate its "lasting interest in containing the Iranian quest for regional hegemony." [8]

Although he suggested earlier in the piece that a contingent of only a few thousand troops "would be barely sufficient to provide for its own protection, let alone carry out the three necessary security tasks," Bremer nonetheless concluded by recommending that the United States should "seek ways to extend our contacts with the Iraqi military, with the eventual goal of returning at least a cadre of U.S. forces to Iraq."[9]

Bremer has drawn on his experiences in Iraq to promote his personnel-heavy brand of intervention elsewhere. In October 2011, for example, after the capture and execution of Muammar Gaddafi by rebel forces in Libya, Bremer wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for western boots on the ground to help stabilize the country. "After a dictator is gone, ensuring security for the population is the most important job of any government," he wrote. "This will probably require outside forces, perhaps from NATO or selected European countries. The American and other governments should also commit resources to help the Libyans build a political scaffolding on which a system of representative government can rest."[10]

Earlier, in 2006, Bremer penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he criticized the idea of setting timetables from U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, arguing: "Some in America speak of setting timetables for the withdrawal of our forces. This would be an historic mistake. Withdrawing our troops before Iraqis can defend themselves would endanger American security by encouraging more terrorism. It would betray the democratic government of Iraq and dishonor the sacrifices of American service men and women. All the audiences to the ongoing drama in Iraq-the Iraqi people, the American people, and terrorists everywhere-must understand that our objective in Iraq is victory and that we will do whatever is necessary to prevail."[11]

In a June 2006 interview with George Stephanopolous of ABC News about the killing of al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Bremer reiterated his argument that there should be no deadline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.[12] His feeling that the United States was in it for the long haul appears to predate his tenure in Iraq. At a gathering of business leaders in Cincinnati shortly before the U.S. invasion, Bremer said: "We're going to be on the ground in Iraq as soldiers and citizens for years. We're going to be running a colony almost."[13]

Bremer made headlines in October 2004 when, during a talk at a private resort in West Virginia, he suggested that the violence in post-invasion Iraq could have been contained if more troops had been committed. The talk, which occurred during the run-up to the 2004 elections and was widely quoted by supporters of Sen. John Kerry, prompted Condoleezza Rice and other White House staff to call Bremer and ask for clarifications. In an effort to put the issue to rest, Bremer wrote an equivocal op-ed for the New York Times entitled "What I Really Said," in which he argued: "In my speeches, I have said that the United States paid a price for not stopping the looting in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations and that we did not have enough troops on the ground to accomplish that task. The press and critics of the war have seized on these remarks in an effort to undermine President Bush's Iraq policy. This effort won't succeed. Let me explain why. It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know."[15]

Bremer's 2006 memoir, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (co-authored with Malcolm McConnell), recounts his experiences with the Coalition Provisional Authority and describes his doubts concerning the Bush administration's decision to limit the number of troops in Iraq, although he provides little insight into why he remained silent about his concerns at the time. He also provides previously unknown details about negotiations with Iraqi religious authorities over the country's interim constitution as well as efforts to help bring about elections. Opined New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, "Sadly, it's a measure of Bremer's book that the best parts are those that involve events he writes least about. And this memoir is also emblematic of Bremer's tenure as the chief of the American occupation. For 14 months, he presided over an enterprise that, for all its energy, often seemed more about press conferences staged inside the Green Zone than the dangerous and uncertain reality outside."[15]

The Financial Times was more scathing in its review: "If by some quirk or cataclysm of history the main source of information about what happened in Iraq in 2003-2004 turns out to be this memoir by L. Paul Bremer III, future generations would surely get the impression that this U.S. occupation of part of the Arab heartland, if not quite a smashing success, had by dint of Ambassador Bremer's skill and perseverance set Iraqis firmly on the road to freedom."[16]

Pointing to failings in Bremer's tenure in Iraq, including most notably the legacy of a severely divided country, the Financial Times concludes: "Quite why Washington parachuted a former ambassador to the Netherlands—an unknown unknown outside the Beltway—into this chaos remains unclear. True, Bremer had been an ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism. But his viceroyship in Baghdad, if anything, showed a gift for stoking rather than countering it. His first edicts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the army, a measure that left 400,000 men destitute and angry, but armed and trained—easy prey to the insurgency then taking shape."[17]

Observers have debated why Bremer was chosen for the role in Iraq. At the time of his appointment, the Washington Post reported that Bremer was considered to be "a hard-nosed hawk who's close to the neoconservative wing in the Pentagon, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.[18] A writer for Alternet opined: "Bremer is a consummate insider with roots in several presidential administrations: During his 23-year diplomatic service career, he was stationed in Afghanistan, Malawi, Norway, and also served as ambassador to the Netherlands. In 1989 he joined the powerful New York-based Kissinger Associates, and in late 2001, along with former Attorney General Edwin Meese, he co-chaired the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force, which created a blueprint for the White House's Department of Homeland Security. For two decades Bremer has been a regular at congressional hearings and is recognized as an expert on terrorism and homeland security."[19]

Before his stint in the Middle East, Bremer served as an adviser to Americans for Victory over Terrorism, an advocacy group established in 2002 by William Bennett and several other foreign policy hardliners "to defend America's war on terrorism against those who would weaken the nation's resolve and erode our commitment to end the international menace of terrorism."

The ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force (co-chaired by Bremer) was initiated a few days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Its report, "Defending the American Homeland," was published in January 2002. Although some of the recommendations were relatively uncontroversial, including ways to improve the nation's ability to respond to a bioterror attack, the report used 9/11 as an excuse to push for defense programs that would have little impact on the type of attacks perpetrated in New York and Washington. Such programs included the deployment of a national missile defense system, long a key item on the agenda of Bush administration hawks like Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld.[20]

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[1] White House, "President Names Envoy to Iraq," The White House, May 6, 2003, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/05/20030506-3.html.

[2] IRI, "Bremer, Newman and Wethington Join IRI Board," IRI Press Release, July 7, 2006, http://www.iri.org/news-events-press-center/news/bremer-newman-and-wethington-join-iri-board.

[3] American University, "L. Paul Bremer," http://www.american.edu/sis/faculty/bremer.cfm.

[4] World Team Sports, http://worldteamsports.org/; "Directors," http://worldteamsports.org/about-us/board-of-directors/.

[5] Global Secure, "Executive Bios," Global Secure, http://web.archive.org/web/20060515232919/http://www.globalsecurecorp.com/about/about_bios.html.

[6] Alelo Inc., press release, "Ambassador L. Paul Bremer,III Joins Alelo Inc.'s Board of Directors," February 10, 2012, http://www.pr.com/press-release/389721.

[7] See, for example, Michael Holden, "Iraq war badly planned, poorly resourced – Bremer," Reuters, May 28, 2010, http://in.reuters.com/article/2010/05/28/idINIndia-48884120100528.

[8] L. Paul Bremer, "Iraq's Tenuous Post-American Future," Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203391104577122261824791858.html.

[9] L. Paul Bremer, "Iraq's Tenuous Post-American Future," Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203391104577122261824791858.html.

[10] L. Paul Bremer, "What's next for Libya?" Washington Post, October 21, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whats-next-for-libya-paul-bremer-says-to-remember-post-saddan-iraq/2011/10/20/gIQAPbXB4L_print.html.

[11]L. Paul Bremer, Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2006.

[12] Lucy May, "Homeland security adviser speaks to local business leaders," Business Courier, February 25, 2003, http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2003/02/24/daily23.html.

[13] Bill Berkowitz, "Bremer of Iraq," AlterNet.org., May 9, 2003, http://www.alternet.org/story/15864?page=1.

[14] L. Paul Bremer, "What I Really Said," New York Times, October 8, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/08/opinion/08bremer.html.

[15] Dexter Filkins, "Desert Sturm," New York Times, February 26, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/books/review/26filkins.html?pagewanted=all.

[16] David Gardner, "Diplomatic Baggage," Financial Times, February 4, 2006, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d96117ea-9524-11da-b2f7-0000779e2340.html.

[17] David Gardner, "Diplomatic Baggage," Financial Times, February 4, 2006, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d96117ea-9524-11da-b2f7-0000779e2340.html.

[18] Mike Allen, "Career envoy to take over rebuilding of Iraq," Washington Post, May 2, 2003, available at http://old.post-gazette.com/World/20030502postwarworld5p5.asp.

[19] Bill Berkowitz, "Bremer of Iraq," Alternet.org, May 9, 2003, http://www.alternet.org/story/15864?page=1.

[20] The Heritage Foundation, "Heritage Foundation Assembles Homeland Defense Task Force," The Heritage Foundation, October 11, 2001, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2001/10/Heritage-Foundation-Assembles-Homeland-Defense-Task-Force.

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L. Paul Bremer Résumé


    • Heritage Foundation: Former Member, Homeland Security Task Force
    • Americans for Victory over Terrorism: Former Senior Adviser


    • Presidential Envoy to Iraq: May 2003-June 2004
    • National Commission on Terrorism: Chairman, 1999
    • Ambassador at Large for Counterterrorism: 1986-1989
    • Ambassador to the Netherlands: 1983-1986


    • Alelo Inc: Board Member, 2012 -
    • Global Secure Corporation: Former Chairman of Advisory Board
    • Marsh Crisis Consulting: Former Chairman and CEO
    • Kissinger Associates: Former Managing Director
    • Air Products and Chemicals, Inc: Former Member, Board of Directors
    • Akzo Nobel: Former Member, Supervisory Board


    • Harvard University: MBA
    • Institut D'Etudes Politiques of the University of Paris: CEP
    • Yale University: BA


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