Counter-terrorism and Corporate Crisis Management Specialist Heads Iraq's Reconstruction
by Bill Berkowitz
May 15, 2003
When L. Paul Bremer III sets down in Iraq as the U.S.'s new overseer of reconstruction, he'll be bringing a lot of baggage along with him. Chosen by President Bush for his expertise in counter-terrorism, crisis management and diplomacy, Bremer has a resume that includes extended service in the Reagan Administration, an eleven-year stint at Kissinger & Associates, and the co-chairmanship of the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force.
That President Bush has turned to a civilian and a skilled negotiator -- the president called Bremer a "can-do-type person'' -- is indicative of the administration's fear that events in post-war Iraq are in danger of spinning out of control. Bremer, the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Marsh Crisis Consulting, a subsidiary of the Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), will take the reins of the multi-billion dollar reconstruction project from retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the administration's first civil administrator, and assume command over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs.
Early commentary on this leadership change focused on whether Bremer's appointment was a victory for a beleaguered State Department. While Secretary of State Colin Powell may be in need of victories, the Washington Post pointed out that Bremer is "a hard-nosed hawk who is... supported by Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.” Furthermore, “White House aides said the appointment affirms Bush's satisfaction with Pentagon control over Iraq until a new government is in place." Bremer's appointment indicates that there continues to be substantial support for the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Dr Ahmad Chalabi.
Robert Gelbard, a retired career diplomat who led post-conflict efforts in Haiti, Bosnia and East Timor, told Newsday that "In terms of finding someone to manage this process, which has not started out well, I do not believe that [the White House] could have done better" than to select Bremer. According to Gelbard, administration sources believed that Garner "was not sophisticated enough to supervise the transition."
Who is L. Paul Bremer and why is the White House counting on him?
Bremer is a consummate insider with roots in several presidential administrations: During his twenty-three 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 Dept. 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.
According to the Web site of Financial Executive International, Bremer currently sits on the board of directors of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., Akzo Nobel NV, the Harvard Business School Club of New York and The Netherland-America Foundation. He is also a Trustee of the Economic Club of New York, and is a member of The International Institute for Strategic Studies and The Council on Foreign Relations.
Bremer's bread and butter issue is terrorism. According to the World Socialist Web Site, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig appointed him as his special assistant in charge of the department's "crisis management" center. From there he became Reagan's ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism -- a tenure that coincided with Reagan Administration-sponsored "low intensity" wars in Central America and Africa. Although Bremer co-chaired the Operations Sub-Group at the National Security Council along with Oliver North, according to Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive, Bremer was on the "periphery" of the Iran/Contra Scandal.
Bremer has consistently espoused a get-tough stance towards terrorists. In an August 5, 1996, Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled "Terrorists' Friends Must Pay a Price" Bremer called on the Clinton administration to "get serious about the fight against terrorism." Bremer advised Clinton to deliver ultimatums to Libya, Syria, Iran and Sudan telling them to close down terrorist bases or they will "receive the full weight of American might." Ironically, Iraq was not mentioned in the piece.
In September 1999, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert named Bremer Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. This commission reviewed America's counter-terrorism policies and, in June 2000, it reported its recommendations to the President of the United States and to the Speaker.
Two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bremer wrote: "Our retribution must move beyond the limp-wristed attacks of the past decade, actions that seemed designed to "signal" our seriousness to the terrorists without inflicting real damage. Naturally, their feebleness demonstrated the opposite. This time the terrorists and their supporters must be crushed. But," he added, "we must avoid a mindless search for an international 'consensus' for our actions. Tomorrow, we will know who our true friends are."
In October 2001, the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation named Bremer and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III as co-chairs of its Homeland Security Task Force. The Task Force's January 2002 report titled "Defending the American Homeland" claimed the U.S. was "dangerously vulnerable" to terrorist attacks. It made a number of recommendations including: increasing security at U.S. borders, encouraging greater sharing of information among various federal law enforcement agencies and with local law enforcers, changing federal law to allow greater monitoring of foreigners in the United States, securing federal computer networks and information systems better, moving ahead with the plan to bury nuclear waste beneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, improving communications with the public in the event of attack or increasing threats and "unleash[ing] market forces to mobilize the private sector to promote infrastructure security." A number of these recommendations have already been put in place.
The Homeland Security Task Force fused the war against terrorism to the mission of the Heritage Foundation -- privatization, de-regulation and smaller government -- maintaining that "many government initiatives, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), antitrust legislation, liability concerns, and current tax policies, inhibit the development of a true partnership for security between the private sector and the government."
In June 2002, President Bush appointed Bremer to the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. Composed of American businessmen, academics and political leaders, the Council ostensibly provides the President with independent advice on the defense of the American homeland.
Bremer is also listed as a senior advisor to William J. Bennett's Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). A few months back he was a featured speaker at the AVOT-sponsored "teach-in" at UCLA. At that event, former CIA chief R. James Woolsey described the war against terrorism as a "fourth world war."
A month after 9/11, Jeffrey W. Greenberg, Marsh & McLennan Companies' chairman and chief executive, recognized that the terrorist attacks, which killed 295 of its employees, was also a new business opportunity. "Within days of the twin towers' destruction," the Wall Street Journal reported, Greenberg and top company officials "began planning to form a new subsidiary to sell insurance to corporate customers at sharply higher rates than were common before Sept. 11." The company also "accelerated plans to launch a new consulting unit to capitalize on heightened corporate fears of terrorism." On October 11, Marsh Crisis Consulting was launched with Bremer at its head. Bremer told the Journal that the unit would concentrate on catastrophic risks, those that in some cases could put a company out of business.
In addition to retaining retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, Bremer's team in Iraq is being peopled with former Iraqi exiles and assorted Reagan and Bush I retreads. Doug Henwood, editor of the Left Business Observer, told Inter Press Service's Emad Mekay in late April that the selection process is "very much like the Bush administration itself -- a bunch of private sector alumni called upon to perform the task in government they were performing in the private sector."
Mekay noted that recent appointees included "agricultural industrialist" Dan Amstutz, who will "lead the US government's agriculture reconstruction efforts in Iraq" and Peter McPherson, a long-time Washington insider and deputy US treasurer in the Ronald Reagan administration, who will be "financial coordinator" for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). His deputy in Iraq will be George Wolfe, a senior US Treasury Department lawyer.
Bremer's greatest challenge will be to create the trappings of a democracy while ensuring that a fundamentalist Islamic government does not win control over the country. If the Shiite majority prevails in democratic elections, post-war Iraq could take on a decidedly anti-American cast. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told WBAI Radio's Doug Henwood in late April that such a government would not want the U.S. to control its oil or establish military bases on its soil -- and would not be likely to recognize Israel.
What special expertise about Iraq or the Middle East is Bremer bringing to Iraq? None, says a former senior State Department official who has worked with Bremer. He is a "voracious opportunist with voracious ambitions," the official told Newsday. "What he knows about Iraq could not quite fill a thimble. What he knows about any part of the world would not fill a thimble. But what he knows about Washington infighting could fill three or four bushel baskets."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.