Bremer's task: Regain momentum in Iraq

He takes charge of postwar rebuilding this week, bringing a diplomat's touch.

L. Paul Bremer, who this week takes the helm of the troubled reconstruction effort in Iraq, is no dewy-eyed diplomat. The counterterrorism specialist with 23 years' experience in the State Department was tough on what he called "Islamic extremism" before the Sept. 11 attacks, and he is known to favor much of the world view of the man he will report to: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But as a business risk analyst in his post-public-service career, Mr. Bremer also put his diplomatic experience to work. He emphasized the link between democracy and free-market economies, and warned of the risks of investment in countries with nondemocratic regimes.

As he directs the effort to put Iraq back on its feet - controlling the rampant insecurity that greeted him when he arrived Monday in Baghdad, to clear the way for political reformation and an interim Iraqi administration - Bremer will need both toughness and a diplomat's long-term vision to succeed.

"Jerry Bremer is very smart, very energetic, and a very tough man," says Charles Dunbar, a former ambassador to Yemen and other countries, who worked with Bremer during his State Department career. "He believes Iraq can be transformed, and I'm sure he'll be tough with anybody not prepared to go with the program for rapid transformation of Iraq's political economy."

Bremer replaces retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who will stay on indefinitely to assist the new team. The reasons for a reshuffling of the American authority directing Iraq's reconstruction can be found both on the ground in Iraq and in the power hallways of Washington.

Deteriorating security on Iraqi streets and a failure to quickly bring a range of services back on line reinforced the early concerns about the abilities of General Garner, who, from Washington's perspective, failed to hit the ground running. Garner also had trouble communicating the American message to the Iraqi people.

Those factors encouraged the White House, which had never envisioned Garner's as a long-term appointment anyway, to consider something different. In the meantime, officials at the State Department - already concerned that the Pentagon was encroaching on its foreign policy territory, and determined not to see that tendency confirmed in Iraq - wanted a more civilian face put on the reconstruction effort.

The State Department's view was bolstered by rising discomfort among US allies, including the British, about working with what much of the world sees as a military occupation.

"It's a good thing to have somebody with 'ambassador' rather than 'general' attached to his name," says Walter Cutler, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. "It helps to dispel the impression that we are occupiers rather than liberators. The military did their job very well, but, in the reconstruction phase, the fact you have a civilian rather than military image is good."

The State Department, backed by supporters in both the National Security Council and the CIA, was also keen to establish a reconstruction team more to its liking, before the determination was made of how Iraqis will parti- cipate in an interim authority.

Yet while some observers have characterized Bremer's naming as a point to chalk up for Secretary of State Colin Powell, others say that fails to recognize what may be Bremer's leading quality for a tricky administrative job: his acceptability to both camps and demonstrated ability to work with occasionally warring administrations.

"He knows how to coordinate, he knows how to operate among sometimes conflicting priorities and visions, and that's going to be invaluable," says Mr. Cutler, who is now president of Meridian International Center in Washington, a cultural exchange organization. He notes that as head of State's secretariat, Bremer had to coordinate not only within that department but also State's interaction with the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSC.

Characterizing Bremer as a "State" victory also overlooks his philosophical closeness with dominant Pentagon thinking.

"Basically, what we've got here is the best civilian for the job who also happens to see things as does the hawkish part of the administration," says Mr. Dunbar, now a professor of international affairs at Simmons College in Boston.

With Bremer's first order of business in Baghdad being to get the spiraling public disorder under control, his job should be made easier by the fact that he is a civilian, some experts say.

"You can see from the chaotic situation Bremer's taking over that he'll need to employ an iron fist, and as a civilian he can do that," says Edward Sherman, an expert in military law at Tulane University in New Orleans. "He can take stronger measures in terms of security and not have it automatically tinged as the act of a military occupying force."

And in the long run, Mr. Sherman says, a civilian-headed reconstruction should also have an easier time developing and turning over the reins of power to a civilian Iraqi authority.

What does raise the eyebrows of some Middle East experts about Bremer is his nearly complete lack of experience in the region. Those who know and have worked with Bremer say they have no doubt that he will bring in a team that includes the experts he needs to better understand the culture - and how to work within it.

But some observers say people should expect Bremer to work as someone won over to what is called the "neoconservative" vision of the postwar period - that Iraq can be refashioned into a democratic beacon for the rest of the Middle East to follow.

Says Cutler: "I think he's prepared to be very radical in this new post."

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