Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III ’63, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, spoke about terrorism and the state of Iraq at a Berkeley Master’s Tea on Wednesday afternoon.
Bremer had a 23-year career in the State Department before he was named Presidential Envoy to Iraq in May 2003. Interim Berkeley College Master Norma Thompson introduced Bremer as one of the world’s leading experts on crisis management, terrorism and homeland security.
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Bremer, who said he has worked on issues concerning terrorism for 25 years, said terrorist tactics have changed in recent years. In the 1990s, terrorists used violence primarily to draw attention to their cause rather than to kill civilians, Bremer said, but now terrorists have increased the magnitude of their efforts to try to create a larger amount of violence.
“The attacks of 9/11 changed in a profound way the way in which the American government and people perceive terrorist attacks,” Bremer said.
He said he believes the best way to combat extreme terrorism is to promote democracy. It is crucial to give people in countries like Iraq “charge over their own destiny,” Bremer said, so that they can steer away from violence and extremism.
“People want the choice of their own government,” Bremer said. “They want to choose how their country will be run.”
Bremer said he was dissatisfied with the United States’ effort to rebuild the Iraqi economy after the war. Billions of dollars were needed for infrastructure reconstruction, Bremer said, but the delay in ratifying the constitution meant concrete results have not yet been implemented.
Bremer stressed the importance of prevention rather than preemption in solving many of the problems facing Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, and he said pulling out of Iraq now would produce significant drawbacks to the advancement of Iraqi democratization. Preventing countries from developing nuclear weapons was just one way that the United States has helped to curb terrorist efforts, Bremer said.
Students had mixed responses to Bremer’s speech.
Some students said Bremer was evasive in his responses, especially when he was challenged by audience members about the success or failure of the war.
Steven Brandwood ’10 said he thought Bremer did not actually address the problems caused by the war in his talk.
“When he was questioned, he deflected the questions to impossible answers such as ‘Well, ask the Iraqis,’” Brandwood said.
Ian Cutler ’10 said he thought most of the students in the room “were hostile” to Bremer’s optimism about the war in Iraq.
But Alexander Wolf ’10 said he appreciated Bremer’s arguments, especially his points about how America benefits from helping the Middle East.
Heather Liu ’10 said although she did not always agree with what Bremer said, she believed he was very persuasive.
“I like the way he defended himself,” Liu said. “I don’t think he could have given an answer that all people would have liked, because the administration is so often criticized.”
In 2004, Bremer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s most prestigious award for contribution to the interests of United States.