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An Interview With

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III

 

June 10, 2008

 

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him."

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III has had a long and distinguished career. Following his studies at Yale and Harvard, he entered the Foreign Service as an economic advisor to Afghanistan from 1968-1971. From 1972-1976 he was an assistant to then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He continued to work in the State Department, serving in Norway from 1976-1979 and as Executive Secretary to Alexander Haig from 1981-83. President Reagan appointed Bremer to be the Ambassador to the Netherlands from 1983-86. In 1999 he was appointed Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. He is recognized as an expert on terrorism and national security. In 2001, Bremer joined former Attorney General Meese as co-chair of the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force, which laid the groundwork for what would become the Department of Homeland Security. In May 2003, President Bush dispatched Ambassador Bremer as his envoy to direct the rehabilitation efforts in Iraq. He remained in Iraq until sovereignty was turned over to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004. Among his many awards was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country's highest civilian award, for his contributions to our country and to world peace.

 

Spencer
You've had a very distinguished career, and few have accomplished so much. What are the most important qualities needed to be able to lead successfully as such a very high level?

Amb. Bremer:
Well, I think the two most important things are integrity and energy. You have to have integrity; certainly in government and in business too. And, you need to have a pretty high energy level. Lazy people don't generally get ahead in the world. And obviously it helps to have vision and intelligence.

Spencer
You must have had incredible energy during your year in Iraq.

Amb. Bremer:
It was pretty intense. We worked 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week for 14 months.

Spencer
You had the privilege of working with some of our nation's most famous leaders-Reagan, Kissinger, Clinton, Bush, and Rumsfeld, just to name a few. Who do youadmire most and why?

Amb. Bremer:

I think there probably would be two answers. I admire Henry Kissinger for his intellect and his grasp of international relations. I think he's got really one of the great minds of the 20 th century in America. I admire Ronald Reagan enormously for his vision and his ability to lay out a vision and, basically, implement it. People used to, people still sort of criticize Reagan, "Well he was simple." Well, he had a couple of simple ideas, but they turned out to be right, the most important of which was that the Soviet empire was a hollow shell and could be brought down by a combination of defense buildup and ideological confrontation. This was a brilliant insight. And a lot of people didn't believe him. I was working at the State Department at that time, and most American diplomats were scornful of Reagan's leadership. He really saw something that all of the so-called experts didn't see.

Spencer

After almost 30 years as an American diplomat, President Bush asked you in May 2003, to become his personal envoy in Iraq. You assumed the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority with full authority over all the U.S. government activities in Iraq. In your book, you said this would be the most dangerous assignment of your career. Why did you accept this responsibility?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, I have always believed in the importance of public service. That's why I joined the diplomatic service more than 40 years ago. My father, who was in the Navy during the second world war, always preached around the dinner table to the kids that we were lucky to have been born in America, the greatest country, at a very good time and that every American owed something back to his society. It could be done in a lot of ways. In his case, he thought public service was a good way to do that.

So I've always believed in public service. That's where I spent some decades, in the diplomatic service. And I believe, as well, that no American citizen can say, "No" to a reasonable request from the President of the United States. You can say, "No" if you have a fundamental philosophical difference with the President, I suppose. As it happened, since I've been involved in the war on terrorism for almost three decades now, I happen to agree with the President. So to me, there wasn't really much of a question and I thought I could help him, so I said, "Yes."

Spencer

Just four days before you left for Baghdad, you met with the President and told him that for you to do your job you would need to follow the principle of unity of command. Can you explain this, and did the President agree?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, the principle of unity of command is actually borrowed from the military, but it's a useful concept in business and in diplomatic service and in life in general; that is, that there's only one boss. There has to be, particularly in something that's as sensitive as the kind of diplomatic mission that I was going on, there has to be only one person in charge. You can't have three people in charge.

When you are the Presidential envoy, there can't be other Presidential envoys. When you're the ambassador to a country, which I had been before, there can't be other ambassadors. Otherwise, the whole communication system gets screwed up. People don't know who is speaking on behalf of the U.S. government and on behalf of the President. The President readily agreed with me - with the concept of unity of command.

And subsequent to that meeting over lunch on May 6 th , he issued an order to me, he sent me a letter, and it basically said I was responsible for all U.S. government activities. I was also responsible for the Iraqi government, but what the President was making clear was I was responsible to him for the U.S. government. Except for, and it's an important exception, I was not in the military chain of command, so I had no authority over the U.S. military, which was quite appropriate. I understood that. I had been an ambassador before overseas where we had American troops, and I understood that the military chain of command goes through a different chain than the civilian chain of command.

Spencer
When you arrived in Iraq, what was your first priority?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, my first priority was to try to establish some sense of security for the Iraqi people, which turned out to be very difficult because we didn't have enough troops. And there was looting going on, actually, even while I arrived, even just coming in from the airport and seeing the city of Baghdad on fire. All of the major ministries, there were 21 ministries in the government, had been burned, some of them to a point where they were completely unusable. Looting was going on actively.

People were just robbing stores and doing whatever they had, so it was very important to establish security. It was important, as well, to establish that we were going to try to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country. So I started meeting with Iraqi political leaders and just going into marketplaces and talking to people and trying to establish that we wanted to help the Iraqi now basically recover their country which had been taken away from them by Saddam Hussein.

Spencer

You spoke about the need to create social shock absorbers. What were they are why were they so important?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, it's a term that I'd used often long before I went to Iraq. If you look, I'm a historian, and if you look at American history or the history of other democratic countries, there's a tendency of a lot of people to focus on elections as being the fundamental attribute of democracy; and it certainly is fundamental because it means the people choose their government. And I happen to believe that's the best way to be governed. And if you don't like the rascals, you throw 'em out. But it's a lot more than that.

And one of the philosophic problems of any democracy, and certainly a democracy as big and as complicated as the United States, is to avoid a situation where the government becomes all powerful. It could happen, even in a democracy. And so the social shock absorbers are those institutions which, in a way, are interposed between the individual and his government. It's things like civic organizations, professional organization, non-government organizations, the press, churches, synagogues.

It's those things which, in a way, make it harder for the government to run an individual's life. And it oughta be hard for the government to run an individual's life. The government's hired on to do a few basic things. You know, to provide security and to look after people. It's not hired on to become a sort of a dictatorship.

So, in a country like Iraq, which was emerging from three decades of one of the most brutal tyrannies, it was very important. We spent a lot of time and money on it, to build these kinds of social shock absorbers, which are quite rare in most of the world. They're not a normal thing.

Spencer
Is that similar to checks and balances?

Amb. Bremer:

Yes. Of course, we have checks, we're lucky because the geniuses who wrote our Constitution set up a system of checks and balances, which is extremely complicated. But it doesn't work in every country. And the checks and balances that we're all familiar with are checks and balances within the governmental structure-the executive branch and the legislature and the judiciary and so forth.

But I'm talking about stuff that's completely outside the government that provides checks and balances. You know, we elect our school boards. We elect our judges in many states. Now you might say, "That's ridiculous. Why should we elect judges? Why shouldn't they just be appointed?" Well, maybe it's a part of this kind of thing I'm talking about where power is diffused into the population as much as possible short of anarchy.

Obviously, the government has to be there to keep it from going too far, but these social shock absorbers are a very important. I mentioned it to the President in our first luncheon. He immediately understood what I was talking about. And I wound up allocating three-quarters of a billion dollars of Iraqi government funds to build these shock absorbers, where you help create constituencies for representative government.

We have 230 years of having lived under democracy; and before that, if you think back on England, since Magna Carta, for 700 years before that. The concept of limited government is very deep in our veins, all the way back to Magna Carta. It's not true in most of the world, and so you have to build constituencies who are interested in representative government and government that is limited.

Spencer
How successful were you at creating these institutions during your year in Iraq and how are they doing four years later?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, we spent 760 million dollars of Iraqi money on these institutions. And for that money, we set up - I had offices in all of the provincial capitals and representatives working for me-civilians-and they coordinated with the military. We set up women's centers in all of the provinces. We set up democracy centers to teach democracy with internet connection and so forth. We set up human rights organizations. We helped Iraqis form a woman's federation and women's groups. I asked my colleagues to establish professional organizations for doctors and dentists and lawyers.

We found, for example - there's a city in the north called Kirkuk, which is a very tense place. It's sort of the dividing line between the Arab and Kurdish world. It's got Shia and Sunnis; it's got Turkomens and a large Christian community-a very heterogeneous city. What we found there was if we set up, and we did, a lawyer's association, that the lawyers-the Kurdish and Sunni and Shia and Turkomen lawyers had more in common as lawyers than they had different as different ethnic or sectarian groups.

I visited an army unit in the Shia south and talked to a reservist, and he was a teacher from Michigan. He had found that in his area of operation - I think there were something like 90 schools - that it was useful to set up PTAs. Now we're used to PTAs in this country. PTAs are a very interesting thing when you think about them. They're part of this social shock absorber because it gives the parents and the teachers a chance to talk about school, which is, after all, pretty damn important.

So he had set up PTAs in these schools all over his area, which I thought was just a great idea. So we then tried to see if we could get other Army and Marine units around the country to set up PTAs. How successful were we? Well, we set up a lot of these things and we spent a lot of money on it.

I was just talking to a friend of mine who - she was very important in helping set up the women's centers, and she says, as far as she can tell, they're still going. There's been, obviously, some serious backsliding on women's rights since we left, mostly because of Shia harassment, not because of the Sunnis. But you know, I think those things are kind of alien to the Iraqi culture, so they're gonna take time. They're gonna take time. I mean, after all, it took us 150 years before women even voted here.

Spencer
On May 16, 2003, you signed order No. 1. What was Order Number 1 and why was it such a high priority?

Amb. Bremer:

Order Number 1 was directed at the top one percent of the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath Party was essentially the party of Saddam's dictatorship, which he modeled avowedly and rather proudly on Hitler's Nazi party because he admired the way the Nazi party used its political control over the Germans. So to be in a position of responsibility in the Iraqi government, you had to be a member of the Ba'ath Party to be a minister or a deputy minister.

Just to go back and talk about shock absorbers, the Ba'ath Party, under one of Saddam's ghoulish sons, Uday, basically ran all of the sports federations in the country, down to the village level. The soccer federation, the basketball - any sports federation was effectively run by a Ba'ath Party member.

So just as we had done in Germany after the War, we decided that it was important to take the top - actually it was much more modest than the German thing - but to basically say that the top one percent of the Ba'ath Party could no longer be members of the government. They couldn't be on the public payroll. They could go out and set up a business, they could start a newspaper, they could become farmers; they could do whatever they wanted to do, but they couldn't be on the public payroll.

And it was important - to answer your question - it was important because it was an important signal that we had not gone halfway around the world and risked and lost American lives simply to put in place another Saddam Hussein. We were gonna change - fundamentally change the political system in Iraq and make it more democratic, more open.

Spencer

But the de-Nazification effort in Germany was different in that many knowledgeable ex-Nazis were, let's say, rehabilitated and placed into important positions to help rebuild. But with the de-Ba'athification policy, it was a total cleansing. Why in general was this, and looking back, was it a policy you might implement differently if you had to do it over again?

Amb. Bremer:

First, let's get the record straight. In fact, it wasn't a total cleansing at all; it was only one percent. In the case – just to give a few numbers, in Germany we sent more than 800,000 to jail. We put them in jail. And we didn't put anybody in jail in de-Ba'athification, and we only affected the top one percent, about 20,000 people. And we didn't say they couldn't earn a living. And a large number of them had already left by the time I got there because they knew what was going to happen– they fled the country. They had just gone away.

Now in terms of implementation, when I announced the policy, I said to the press that the policy was going to eventually have to be implemented by Iraqis because we were not going to be able to make the kind of fine distinctions that the policy required. Did Abdul join the Ba'ath Party ‘cause he was a real believer in their ideology or did he join the Ba'ath Party beause he wanted to be a teacher? To be a teacher, you had to be a member of the Ba'ath Party.

We had no way of knowing. We didn't know who Abdul was. It was Iraqis who were gonna have to do it. And after lots of discussions with the Iraqi political leaders, I gave them authority to implement the policy in November of 2003. That was a mistake because what happened was the Iraqi politicians simply implemented it much more broadly that we had written and than we'd intended. They started just throwing – particularly teachers – they just started throwing them out – out of office – whether they were under the decree or not. And we had to walk that back.

So that was the mistake. What I should have done was turn the implementation over to some independent Iraqi judicial body of some kind—set up a special court of somekind which was not political. That would have been a better way to do it.

They would have had to figure out their own system. I don't know what the system was. The decree that I signed—the first order—if you read it, in the last paragraph, says that I reserve to the Coalition Provisional Authority the authority to make exceptions to this policy. And I made scores and scores of exceptions on the basis of recommendations from my advisors. They would say, “This person whom I've come to know at the Ministry of Transportation was a senior Ba'ath Party member, but he's really a good guy and he only joined ‘cause – and blah, blah, blah, and therefore, we think he ought to stay in his job.”And I'd sign an order and say, “Okay, leave him in his job.” But our capacity to do that on a national basis, particularly out in the provinces, was obviously limited, which is why I said right at the start, “We have to somehow turn this over to Iraqis.” And then I made the mistake of turning it over to the politicians.

Spencer

I would guess that December 14, 2003, was one of your proudest days. Saddam Hussein was captured during the evening of December 13. You were informed of his capture around 1:30 a.m. Could you share some of the memorable events of that day?

Amb. Bremer:

Yes. He was picked up, as you point out, on the 13 th in the evening. Well, I remember well – I had just gone to my house at about 1:00, and got a call saying that General Abizaid wanted to talk to me. So I went back to my office and talked to him on a secure phone, and he told me that they were quite sure they had captured Saddam Hussein. They weren't positive they had found him.

He told me about finding him in the spider-hole, and he said, “The man we have has body markings that are Saddam's." But Saddam was known to use doubles, so there was a question as to whether this really was Saddam. And we had captured him in a town outside Tacrete, which is his hometown. They were going to fly him down on a helicopter at 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning and then show him for identification to some of his colleagues whom we had already captured. They were also going do a DNA test on him because we had some DNA samples. The problem was the DNA samples were in Germany, and Abizaid told me it would take about 36 hours to have the DNA. They had a plane ready to take the DNA to Germany. And I said, “This story will never hold for 36 hours—it's impossible. It'll leak.”

So anyway, I also found that the military had a plan which I had not heard of before, that if and when he was captured, they would fly him immediately to a ship, an American Naval vessel, in the Gulf on the fifth fleet. And I told the military that that was just unacceptable. It would be out of the question that we would take him out of Iraq. The Iraqis would insist that he was their prisoner, and moreover, they were very suspicious and would have to actually see Saddam Hussein to know that we captured him.

We knew this problem from his sons, whom we had killed in July. And Secretary Rumsfeld and I were actually in Washington the day that they were shot, July 22. Secretary Rumsfeld and I had a long discussion, because under the Geneva Convention of War, it is forbidden to show pictures, either of somebody who's alive that's humiliating or people that are dead, if they're killed in this kind of action. I said to Rumsfeld, “The Iraqis are so suspicious that we're gonna have to show these bodies.”

So we arranged, in the case of the sons, for a group of, I think, 10 or 12 forensic doctors—Iraqis—to go and examine the bodies and confirm to the Iraqi people that they were indeed dead and that they were the sons. So when we captured Saddam, we had the same problem. We couldn't fly him somewhere. The Iraqis would say, “He's still alive,” or “The Americans have cut a deal with him,” or something.

After we sorted all that out, I notified the Iraqi government and asked them to put together a delegation to go see Saddam so that we would have Iraqis go on Iraqi television that night and say, “We've seen him and it really is Saddam Hussein.” So that's what we did. We organized a visit to see him with some Iraqi politicians, I think five of them.

Spencer
Well, during the press conference following his capture, which I'm sure was very memorable to you, you kicked it off by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.”

Amb. Bremer:
Right.

Spencer
Did you get the response you expected?

Amb. Bremer:

Yes. Although one thing that was interesting about the press conference was the reaction of the Iraqi journalists. Now when we got there – when I got there in May, we said, “It's a free press.” We had 100 new newspapers being published within three weeks of my arrival, so by December, I don't know, we had 150 newspapers in Baghdad and newspapers all over. But of course, there was no tradition of independent journalism. There couldn't be.

But what was interesting was the Iraqi press corps was just shouting during the press conference and, in fact, when Saddam's picture was put up by General Sanchez, they were weeping. They had not actually believed they would ever see Saddam Hussein a prisoner. It was a very emotional . The president of the Iraqi government, who was also there, Adnan Pachachi, was in tears. He's a very dignified 85-year-old man who had been foreign minister under the King back in the 1950's, and he was in tears.

Spencer
You mentioned the meeting with Saddam. After the press conference, together with several members of the governing council, you met with Saddam, being held in a secret location. What were some of your thoughts and emotions as you stood in the room face-to-face with Saddam? Did you believe this was the finality of evil?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, I was really not a participant in the discussion. It was really the Iraqis' show. These five Iraqis went, and we were in a small room, and Saddam was sitting on a bunk bed kind of thing and facing them. General Sanchez and I just sort of stood in the door. Saddam paid no attention to us. He had certainly no idea who I was. He knew, obviously, that Sanchez was a general ‘cause he had his uniform on, but he didn't know who I was. So we played no part in it. This was really the Iraqis' show.

And there was a young army captain, I think, who spoke Arabic who was trying to keep us informed as to what was being said back and forth between them. It was quite emotional for them because they were confronting this monster. And he was completely unrepentant. I mean, he showed no regret whatsoever to what he had done. Three of the five of them had been tortured and imprisoned at one time by Saddam.

Several of them had had their relatives killed by Saddam, which they confronted him with. He had absolutely no – no repentance at all—none whatsoever. He said they were all – they were Iranian agents, or they were enemies of the state or something.

Spencer
Besides those confrontations, what were some of the specific questions asked to Saddam that you can remember, and how did he respond?

Amb. Bremer:
Well one of them confronted him – he's now the national security advisor there, Dr.Mowaffak al-Rubaie. He confronted Saddam, if I remember correctly, with the fact that Saddam had killed some of his relatives, and he named who they were. And Saddam's reaction was they were Iranian agents, so they, in effect, they had it coming. I mean, he was completely unrepentant.

Spencer
On June 28, 2004, you signed a document that formally transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi government. So much had been accomplished during the 14 months in Iraq. What was the last day like?

Amb. Bremer:

Well the last day turned out to be quite short, actually, because, as I mention in my book, the actual departure date was designed as a surprise. The President came up with the idea about two weeks before – we were supposed to leave by June 30, And the President had the idea that the terrorists would – knowing what day we were gonna leave, would try some spectacular, so that it looked like we were leaving under pressure, as we had left Vietnam many years ago.

And so we came up with the idea about why don't we pull a surprise departure a couple of days early, and I thought that was a good idea. And so I discussed it with the Iraqi prime minister, Prime Minister Allawi, and it depended on our not having had several days of violence because I didn't wanna make it look as if we were being driven out of Iraq. So we watched very closely – the 28 th was a Monday – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to see how the level of violence was around the country.

As long as the level of violence was normal and not abnormal, then we could leave on the 28 th . The President was in Istanbul at a summit meeting. The British were having some cold feet about whether we should in fact leave the next day, and so the President had to meet with Prime Minister Blair to get that sorted out.

The way I left it with Dr. Rice was we would talk early the next morning, I think around 7:30 or 8:00, and if the night had been quiet, then we would go ahead and leave. So the day turned out to be quite short because I arranged to meet the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at 10:00. We didn't tell the press what the purpose was; we just said, “There's gonna be a meeting.”

My security detail was extremely nervous about the period between the time we handed over sovereignty and when I left because while we were, hopefully, surprising – and we did – surprise the terrorists that we were leaving two days early, there was always a problem, which was this. Every time I left Iraq, almost every single time, I left on an Air Force C-130, which is pretty easy to see, and I left from Baghdad International Airport. The security guys were very concerned that the terrorists, knowing that I was leaving that day, would have time to set up an attack using surface-to-air missiles. We'd had attacks on C-130s and on other planes. So we needed to shorten the time between hand-over of sovereignty, when it became public, and my actual departure in order to get out before the terrorists could figure out what was going on.

So the last day was very short. I handed over sovereignty at 10:26 in the morning. We talked for a while, the press was there; I said good-bye to the Prime Minister, went back to my office. General Sanchez and I said good-bye. By that time, a group of people from the CPA staff were standing around. I said good-bye to all of them in the vestibule and then got on a helicopter with the Deputy Prime Minister and went to the airport to leave right away.

And then we set up this shill that we were gonna go out on a C-130. I got onto a C-130 and went out the back of the C-130 and got on a different plane. I think we were out of the country by noon.

Spencer
Today in Iraq, there is a constitution and a freely-elected democratic government. The economy is growing. What obstacles remain and what do you think Iraq will be like in five to ten years?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, the obstacles are, on the political side, finding a way to, if you will, kind of normalize the political process. So it is important that the people get used to the fact that they in fact choose their government. What's very important this year is that there'll be provincial elections scheduled for the end of the year, and then next year parliamentary elections—choosing a government.

The provincial elections will give an opportunity to the people at the provincial level to have more control over their governments, part of this whole idea that the more power that can be dispersed down through the system, the better and the less likely it is that you get reversion to a central government dictatorship. It doesn't become impossible, but it becomes harder.

So on the political side, they need to do that. And as they do that, they will continue the process of reconciling a lot of their disagreements—the Arabs, the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shia, the problems with the Christians and the Turkomen and the minorities and so forth.

You know, I'm a historian. When I look at American history and you consider that we didn't even write our Constitution for 12 years after our independence, and we didn't have political parties till the end of the 18 th century. Well the Iraqis have done all this in a very telescoped way with none of the positive historic baggage, if I can put it that way, that we had from the British. They didn't have Magna Carta back there 700 years ago.

So it's new stuff, and there are going to be bumps in the road. One of the biggest problems – well, two of their biggest problems are economic. One is fairly straightforward and relatively easy to fix, and that is their economy is still distorted by subsidies, particularly subsidies for energy and subsidies for fuels, subsidies for food. They really have gotta get away from that. These subsidies distort economic activity and they absorb a huge amount of their gross domestic product.

The second problem, which is much harder to fix, is their very heavy reliance on a single commodity—oil. And if you look around the world, there aren't an awful lot of countries that are totally dependent on a single commodity. In the case of Iraq, certainly when I was there, we estimated that oil and the oil industry was responsible for something like 95 percent of the gross domestic product. That's not healthy, particularly when that commodity is owned by the government; and that's a real risk to the Iraqis. They've got to find that it's both a political and an economic risk.

The political risk is if you got that big a percent of your gross domestic product in the hands of the government, no matter what your political setup is, you got a risk because too much of the money is in the hands of too few people—the ministry of oil, the minister of electricity, the prime minister. It's too much centralization. The economic risk is as long as that's the case, they're going to have trouble getting substantial investment from other countries, and particularly the big oil companies. So they've got some work to do.

Spencer
In March 2006, Congress agreed to the creation of the Iraq Study Group to analyze the situation in Iraq and to recommend strategies for the way forward. I would be interested in your opinion of the report.

Amb. Bremer:

I didn't think much of the report at the time, and I think it's been fundamentally proven wrong since then. They reported, as you know, at the end of the year, I think, in November of 2006. The President faced then a fundamental choice. Does he accept the view of the Iraq Study Group which effectively was that we've lost in Iraq and we have to find a way to hedge our bets? I mean, that's what it all boiled down to. Or do I, as President, do I double my bet, change my strategy, change my personnel, and try to win this war.

And the President went the right direction in my view. I think he made it quite clear from the start that he didn't accept the premise of the Iraq Study Group, nor did I. And I think the people of the Iraq Study Group, whom I know and have a lot of respect for, made a very tactical mistake in not really consulting with the Iraqis about it.

They basically produced this report as an insider Washington answer to the problems we had in Iraq, and it was therefore never gonna work with the Iraqis, even if the report had made sense here which, in my view, it didn't. It was never gonna work with the Iraqis because it was made in Washington, which was a sovereign government. Iraq had been a sovereign government for two and a half years at that point.

Spencer
Looking back on your years in public service, of what are you most proud?

Amb. Bremer:

Well, I think I had three assignments towards the end that were important. One is Ambassador to the Netherlands, where we were in the middle of a major alliance crisis of trying to counter Soviet threats to Europe, Soviet missile threats. In those days it was an SS-20, it was called. And we were trying to persuade our NATO allies that a) this was an important threat, and b) they had to do something about it. And what they had to do, in effect, was accept that we were going to deploy nuclear-tip cruise missiles in their countries.

Four of the five countries, by the time I went to the Netherlands, had agreed to this; the Netherlands had not. And so in a broad, strategic sense, the Netherlands became—which is unusual for it in modern times—a focal point of Russian-American confrontation, with the Russians, pushing very hard to get the Netherlands to say they would not accept the cruise missiles which would have, in effect, fractured NATO. And our government saying, “You have to take the cruise missiles.”

Anyway, it had a happy ending. The Dutch government agreed to take the cruise missiles. The Russians, faced with a united NATO and with President Reagan's defense buildup, basically brought Gorbachev to power shortly after the decision on the cruise missiles; and the rest is history.

I came back after that to become ambassador-at-large for counter terrorism. The problem I had then was, and I didn't know it at the time, that President Reagan had quite unwisely begun to sell arms for hostages and money for hostages. We'd been taken hostage in Lebanon, and he was trying to deal with the Iranians. And what that meant was that our stated policy of not making deals with terrorists was being undercut by a Presidential directive, a secret Presidential directive, in fact, to do deals with terrorists, with the Iranians.

So the policy I was supposed to carry out, which I believed in strongly, was like a trap door opened under me. About three weeks after I took the job, the whole Iran-Contra controversy became public, and I had to spend the next several months wondering if the President would reverse his policy. He finally did after a lot of urging; not just from me, but particularly from Secretary Schultz. And we were then able to rebuild a credible counter-terrorist policy and we were able to capture and kill some very bad terrorists.

We encouraged a lot of European cooperation against their terrorist groups and, in fact, by the end of the 1980s, when I left government, the Europeans had pretty much wrapped up their terrorist groups; not only because of us, but certainly that was part of it. And then, of course, I went to Iraq, and we've talked a lot about Iraq.

Spencer
This has been so powerful and so important. Thank you so much for meeting with me.