Bremer and Sisyphus

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 8, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Bremer and Sisyphus


Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the heart of today's Berlin there is a wide boulevard called Clay Allee. It is named after Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of the American sector in postwar West Germany. As a tribute to the American proconsul, he who in 1949 led the successful resistance to the Soviet blockade with the historic Berlin airlift, the citizens of Berlin installed after his death a plaque on which were incised six words: "Wir danken dem Bewahrer unserer Freiheit" (We thank the defender of our Freedom).

It is highly doubtful that a shari will ever be named or similar tribute paid to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, our civilian envoy to Iraq, assigned to direct its reconstruction and its transition, if possible, to democracy. Whatever happens, Mr. Bremer is today by far the most important American in the Middle East just as Douglas MacArthur was once the most important American in Asia. As it once was MacArthur's task to transform a defeated Japan into a constitutional democracy without delegitimizing the emperor, it is Mr. Bremer's task as Iraq's civilian administrator to transform a defeated dictatorship into a secular democracy in a part of the world where American power is in inverse proportion to American popularity.

During the early years of the war in Vietnam, a neologism was born: to "wham," an acronym for the phrase, "winning the hearts and minds." The process was called "whamming," meaning trying to win all the Vietnamese, north and south, to welcome America's participation in a war against a communist takeover.

And that will be Mr. Bremer's task, whamming the people of Iraq to welcome Saddam Hussein's defeat, achieved primarily by American might.

For had it not been for President Bush, Saddam Hussein would still be around digging up new gravesites for Iraqi men, women and even children. MacArthur was able to function without concern for hostile neighbors since most of Asia was delighted at Japan's defeat. (China did not go communist until 1949).

No such luck for Mr. Bremer. As Joshua Muravchik wrote in the Weekly Standard: "Never has the United States confronted so much hostility and distrust."

He cited Gallup polls in Muslim countries a few months after September 11, 2001, well before the second Iraq war, which showed abysmally low figures favoring the United States. In Turkey, a longtime ally of the U.S., the "very unfavorable" anti-American camp dwarfed the "very favorable" vote by a whopping 67 percent to 3 percent.

We cannot afford to let Mr. Bremer fail in his assigned mission because, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, "[No] amount of military capacity or precision will get around the fact that an American presence in Baghdad will carry with it risks and responsibilities that will shape the future of the United States in the world.

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