Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2003 / 25 Elul, 5763
Bremer's Tug of War
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | . A man with $20 billion to spend is certain to accumulate a lot of things, including new troubles and determined rivals for control of that fortune. The hot seat that L. Paul Bremer occupies as America's proconsul in Iraq is about to get even hotter.
Bremer of Baghdad has exercised uncontested authority with a toughness and dogmatism needed to surmount the chaotic conditions he found when he arrived in Baghdad in May.
Those qualities won him support even from Iraqis and Americans he had to rebuff; in today's rapidly changing diplomatic and political environment, similar stubbornness could easily undermine Bremer's early successes.
The maxim of the Watergate scandal follow the money is a good guide to understanding the heated scuffling that has erupted on Capitol Hill, in high-level diplomatic talks about a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq and in increasingly tense behind-closed-doors exchanges in the Bush administration over Bremer's place in the presidential chain of command.
Bremer has little to fear from open challenges to his authority, whether they come from France at the Security Council, from congressional Democrats eager to force the administration into admitting error on Iraq or from Iraqi politicians. They are not likely to influence President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the two officials to whom Bremer reports in Washington. It is the hidden agendas he must fear.
A host of newfound friends will cluster around Bremer and the $20 billion that Bush proposes to spend on Iraqi reconstruction in the coming year. Saddled with weak U.S. staffing and infrastructure in Baghdad and still reluctant to share authority and information with Iraq's Governing Council, Bremer will personally decide how to spend sums so huge that they are difficult for most humans to comprehend.
He also faces new pressures to accelerate his seven-point political plan to get Iraqis to write and ratify a new constitution and hold national elections before the coalition hands over sovereignty.
Bremer is insisting on his timetable with a rigidity that is troubling other nations, Iraq's fledgling leadership and some of his colleagues who for a variety of motives are extraordinarily careful about saying anything critical of Bremer.
The battle over a new Security Council resolution revolves around the desire of other nations to put Bremer not U.S. forces under U.N. control. That effort may provide the State Department with an opening to have more of a say in Bremer's operations as well.
State Department officials have chafed at their exclusion from decision-making on Iraq since Rumsfeld chose Bremer, a hawkish retired career diplomat, from a White House list of 15 or so candidates to head the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
The diplomats on Bremer's staff in Baghdad report directly to him, not to Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell has told friends that he has to rely on newspapers and the diplomatic reporting of other nations that is shared with State to follow developments in Iraq.
Powell no doubt has a point: The lack of communication within the Pentagon itself is a well-known problem, and the fierce rivalries between the two departments rule out what might be described as meaningful contact. This has become a severe problem for Bush, who has tolerated an unacknowledged but visible war between Powell and Rumsfeld.
But having Bremer report to the United Nations or to State instead of Defense or giving State budget authority over the $20 billion reconstruction fund would not solve those or other problems. Such changes would add to the confusion and disarray that currently hobble the U.S. effort in Iraq.
The path out of Iraq runs through Bremer's maintaining the unity of command that working with the Pentagon offers, and his moving with greater speed to turn over responsibility to the Iraqis on the Governing Council and in its cabinet.
Bremer shows signs of increasing irritation with Iraqi politicians such as Ahmed Chalabi and others who easily rival the presidential envoy in displays of strong will and considerable ego as they push for greater power sooner.
That is perhaps no bad thing: Chalabi and his colleagues must show that they are defending Iraq's national interests to maintain credibility with the Iraqi populace.
Bremer should not mistake Iraqi prodding on a timetable as an attempt to sabotage him. In this administration, that is more likely to come in Washington.
Bremer is in Baghdad to fix the country by working himself out of a job as soon as he can. It is time to let Iraqis help him get on with it.
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