tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Speech by former Envoy to Iraq clarifies U.S. approach to terrorism

I remember where I was the day those airplanes brought the Twin Towers down on September 11. I am sure you do to. It is a point in time that every American of my generation will remember for the rest of their lives. The country changed on that day.

The political response has been impossible to miss: stopping terrorism has become our top priority, homeland security became serious business and our military removed the long-standing political regime in Iraq. It is not always easy for ordinary citizens such as me to understand all the connections, to get a handle on the scope of our challenge, to comprehend the motivation of people who would lash out at our country.

L. Paul Bremer III, the former U.S. Envoy to Iraq, spoke to a business group in Phoenix on President’s Day. He described the United States’ response to the terrorist attacks, including its activities in Iraq. Bremer served as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority beginning May 6, 2003. He completed his work on June 28, 2004 when he handed over power to the interim government of Iraq. I found it extremely interesting to get an hour-long presentation on terrorism and Iraq from someone who has been on the front lines. I liked getting the story straight from someone who knows, without the filter of editors. I can make my own allowances for what I suspect to be Bremer’s political leanings.

Bremer knows a thing or two about international affairs. During a 23-year State Department career, he served as special assistant or executive assistant to six secretaries of state. He worked in the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Malawi, and as deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Norway. President Reagan named him ambassador to the Netherlands in 1983, where he worked for three years.

He also has a lot of experience dealing with terrorism. He was President Reagan’s ambassador at large for counter-terrorism. In 1999, he was appointed chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. In June 2002, President Bush named him to his Homeland Security Advisory Council.

What follows are excerpts from Bremer’s February 21 speech:

I was shocked by what happened on September 11, but not actually surprised by it. The reason was I had served as chairman of the National Committee on Terrorism. We had reported to President Clinton and to Congress and the American people more than 15 months before September 11 that we should expect terrorists to conduct mass casualty attacks on American soil, on a Pearl Harbor scale. This was a bi-partisan commission. We were not that smart, we just cited the evidence. And the evidence suggested that we faced a new kind of terrorist attack.

What we found was a different kind of terrorism appeared in the early 1990s. If you look at the terrorism we fought in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, terrorism then is what I would call “old style terrorism.” They used terrorism as a way of attracting attention to their cause, which they thought had broad appeal. So they would kill a few people in order to get the press to come to the site and then they would issue some statement drawing attention to their cause. They didn’t want to kill a lot of people because they were afraid if they did they would turn off public support… They didn’t want to get caught, they didn’t want to die, and they didn’t want to kill an awful lot of people.

We on the National Commission of Terrorism found three trends in the 1990s that told us something new was afoot. First of all, we noticed that in the 1990s, the number of terrorist incidents was declining but the number of casualties was rising. Second, there was a dramatic increase in the 1990s of suicide attacks. They had been almost unknown in the 1970s and 1980s. And third, the states that the American government identified as supporting terrorists were involved in research of weapons of mass destruction. That meant that terrorists could get their hands on those things – nuclear, radiological and biological weapons.

And indeed, it suggested new motives on the part of the terrorists. What do we know about those folks? Actually we know quite a lot because they have spoken very openly. You can study their statements, their fatwas, their press conferences. Now you can study their web sites.

Basically, they are driven by a view that Islam is necessarily at war with the West. And that they must, as a duty, convert or kill all non-Muslims. They are very frank about this. They are motivated by a burning hatred of the West. Not just the superficialities of the West -- our newspapers, our television shows and our movies -- but by the very foundations of the West: universal suffrage, separation of church and state, women’s education, and above all, democracy. These are the things they very clearly state they hate and are against. And they seek not modest change, but basically world changing revolution. And they very dearly want to kill us by the thousands or by the tens of thousands.

People forget that there was a first World Trade Center attack in February of 1993. And we caught a number of the terrorists and they have since confessed that their objective was to topple the two towers together. Their objective was to kill 250,000 Americans.

What’s the root cause of terrorism? Can’t we deal with the root cause? Ladies and gentlemen, the root cause of these terrorists -- these extremists -- is nothing less than our existence and our success.

What creates that kind of hatred? I don’t know; one thing for sure is it is not poverty. The 19 young men who flew those planes into the World Trade Center, into the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania were, every one of them, well educated, upper middle class Arabs, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, who headed al Qaeda, his main theologian is a well-educated Egyptian doctor. These are not poor people. Bernard Lewis, who is professor emeritus at Princeton University, one of the country’s leading observers of the Islamic world, believes a lot of this hatred comes from self-hatred. It comes from the realization that in the last 300 years Islamic countries have had failure after failure, and have not been able to reconcile Islam with the modern world.

These new terrorists are prepared to die for their cause and we have to take them just as seriously. We have got to develop a robust strategy to deal with this.

President Bush has said that the war of liberation in Iraq is related to the war on terrorism. And he is right.

First of all, American administrations from both parties for more than 20 years have identified Iraq as a state that supports terrorism. And the reasons are very clear. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq supported Palestinian terrorists. He gave safe refuge to notorious characters. His government supported Iranian terrorist groups. The bi-partisan 9-11 Commission reported in the fall there was clear evidence of a connection between Saddam’s government and members of al Qaeda throughout the 1990s.

Moreover, it was the stated policy of the American government, supported by both parties, both Houses of Congress, and signed into law by a Democrat president, to seek regime change in Iraq. Therefore, in early 2003, after Iraq had been found to be in violation of 17 U.N. resolutions dealing with WMD, after the intelligence services of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and others, I think it was correct for the president to conclude that the status quo was not sustainable. Sanctions were weakening. The time had come for action.

So when I left for Iraq in May 2003, I had no doubt that this war was related to the war on terrorism…

What kind of situation did we find on the ground? First of all, let’s talk about the evidence of Saddam’s brutality, which was everywhere. People forget that Saddam modeled his society on Hitler. He says so in his biography. He admired the way Hitler and Stalin were able to control their society. Mein Kampf was required reading in Saddam’s intelligence services.

About a week after I got there, I visited the first of the mass graves in a town called Hillah, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. You might remember that after the 1991 uprising in the south, the Shi'a rose up. Saddam sent in his army into the Shi'a town south of Baghdad. They picked up men, women and children, put them on flatbed trucks, took them out to open fields and machine-gunned them down, and threw them into open pits. This site that I visited at Hillah was about three times the size of a football field. And it was covered with little clumps of bones. All over there were people scrambling to see if they could find some evidence, a piece of clothing, an ID card, jewelry, that would identify the bones of a relative. We estimated that there were 20,000 to 30,000 bodies in this grave alone. By the time I left 14 months later, we found over 100 mass graves in Iraq. Human Rights Watch estimates that Saddam killed over 300,000 of his fellow citizens while he was in power. No one will ever know how many he killed. There are more than one million Iraqis still missing.

I also visited the police stations; every police station had a torcher chamber. Most of them had rape rooms, including the Baghdad central police station. I visited a town in the Kurdish region called Halabja, up in the north, on the east border with Iran. One day in March 1988, Saddam used chemical weapons on his own people, killing 5,000.

When it is safe, I challenge you to go to Iraq and visit the mass graves, look at the torcher chambers, talk to some of the survivors of the rape rooms. Go up and see the 5,000 tombstones in Halabja. I guarantee after you see those things you will conclude as I have that we did a noble thing liberating the people of Iraq.

The collapse of the government in Iraq is one of the most dramatic and abrupt in recent history. It was very different from what happened in the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe where the change really took place over about a 20-year period. In Iraq, it happened in three short weeks.

It was clear when we got over there that we needed action in three areas: We needed to get the economy going. We needed to start the process of political reform, and of course, we had to deal with the security situation.

The economy was a wreck. Saddam combined the worst features of corruption with socialism and its unbounded faith in bureaucrats. The result was that over a period of almost 30 years there was a really spectacular misallocation of capital. Between 1979 and 2002, the World Bank found that Iraq’s per capita GDP dropped more than any country in the world. In the decade of the 1990s, when Saddam was arguing for the sanctions to be lifted, he cut health care spending by 90 percent, so that by 2002 Iraq had the shortest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate of any country in the region.

Even in the wonderful land between the waters in Mesopotamia, there was a water crisis. The U.N. estimated that every day tons of untreated sewage was being dropped into the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Almost all of Iraq’s state-owned enterprises were bankrupt. The banking system was bankrupt. There were state-owned banks that made loans on political dictates, not according to the markets.

We had a budget crisis, the size of which was not that clear to us because under Saddam, the budget was a state secret. We found to our surprise that only 8 percent of the national budget was actually spent by the ministries; 92 percent was spent directly out of the presidency, by Saddam. We knew we were going to go broke by the end of 2003. The consequences of fiscal indiscipline were dramatic. Saddam had simply run his printing presses throughout the 1990s to cover his deficits. His people told us that at the end of 2002, inflation was running at the rate of 115,000 percent. We faced a challenge as great as the challenge the United States faced in the Depression.

I decided we needed to move economically on two dimensions. We needed to get consumption going quickly. And we needed to start longer-term reform, and to put reasonable macro-economic policies in place. Getting the economy going was tough. We had unemployment of about 50 percent. But, we the government were the largest employer. We could find no good payroll records in any of the ministries. The pay system was all over the place. There were special systems, under the table payments, bribes, kickbacks, all kinds of things. We cut through it very quickly. Within a week of arriving, I mandated a four-grade pay scale, and subsequently put in a more sophisticated 13-grade pay system, which we did in August. That wasn’t so easy because we had no banking system, so we had to pay in cash, by hand. Our payroll was about $200 million a month, including pensions. This money had to be transported around the country while the war was going on.

I also knew that we had to create jobs and I immediately allocated hundreds of millions of dollars of the Iraqi budget to new WPA-like public works programs. We were able to create several hundred thousand jobs in the first few months.

We also needed to start the longer-term process of starting macro-economic reform. Within 90 days, we had established a regime of open tariffs; we got rid of Saddam’s tax on foreign investment to encourage outside investment in the country.

In July 2003, I created a central bank for the first time in the country’s history. We freed interest rates. We let markets set the rates. We cut taxes on businesses and individuals. We simplified business procedures so you could start a new company in Iraq in 10 days. We modernized and strengthened patent and copyright laws. We opened a stock market. We replaced the entire stock of currency. It was about 2,200 tons of currency that had to come in. 13,000 tons of old currency had to be destroyed. The new currency alone filled twenty-seven 747 airplanes. We did this over a 90-day period without a single incident, with no telephones, no electricity, lousy roads, and a war. On balance, I think the economy is doing rather well. Reconstruction is going forward.

During the 14 months we were there, we completed over 20,000 reconstruction projects, most of them small projects, but very important to people. Re-opening a school, building a generator for a hospital, repairing windows in a municipal center, and refurbishing a soccer field. Oil production is running at about 2.2 million barrels a day, roughly what it was before the war. Unemployment has fallen to about 20 percent, it’s half that in major urban areas. Inflation is running at an annual rate of 3 percent. With better security, I don’t think there is any doubt that Iraq will take its place as one of the leading countries in the region.

How do you get a model political system in a country that had never known it?… Fifteen months ago, working with Iraqis, I laid out a clear plan for Iraq’s transition to democracy. We laid out a number of steps and we followed every step along the way. We said we would have a new constitution by the end of February, we did. We said we were going to appoint a broader Iraqi interim government by the end of May, we did. We said we would return sovereignty to the Iraqis by the middle of June and we did. And we said we would have elections by the end of January, and we did.

The pundits in this country have consistently under-estimate the Iraqi people and the American government’s will to follow this path. The constitution, which I signed into law March 8 a year ago, established a balance of power. It contains a completely unprecedented bill of rights, guaranteeing the kinds of freedoms which we take for granted: the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, freedom of religion. All Iraqis are guaranteed equal rights, regardless of their background. A man is innocent until proven guilty. The right of habeas corpus was established. The elections which just took place are a great victory for democracy and freedom over tyranny and terrorism. The president said every vote cast was an act of defiance against the terrorists.

It is clear there will be bumps on the road going ahead. The movement from tyranny to freedom is never easy. I was recently reading a story of a country moving from tyranny to freedom and it describes the characteristics of that country: looting, crime, mobs, the storming of government buildings, the breakdown of government structures that had been responsible for security. Rampant inflation. Supporters of the former regime roaming the streets and countryside. Endless delays and bickering over the establishment of a new government.

I am describing the United States in 1783. I do that to encourage Americans to take a bit more perspective on what’s happening in Iraq. And not to be too quick to criticize the process. Remember that it took us seven years to win our independence. It took 12 years to write our constitution. And it took us 20 years before we even had political parties. Iraq has done all of this in less than two years and without the benefit of the great Anglo-American tradition that we benefited from in the 18th century. The key here is that the process has started, and the direction is good.

Who are we fighting over there? There are basically two groups. There are the Saddamists. They have a simple vision for Iraq, which is to take Iraq back. In fact, they call themselves “the party of return.” Then there are the al Qaeda terrorists. Their vision for Iraq is also very simple. It is to do to Iraq what they did to Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. Both of these groups are anti-democratic. They cannot win an election, so they have to be against the elections. And not surprisingly, the Iraqis were targets in the election. But the Iraqis came forward. Thousands went to the poles. They come forward everyday to be recruited into the police and the National Guard. Iraqis are literally dying for democracy every day.

From day one, security was a multi-national effort. Even today, there are 27 other countries with troops on the ground along side ours in Iraq. But in the long run, security in Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. So we have set up very robust training plans. For example, the world’s largest training plan for police was set up -- to train 25,000 police in less than a year and a half. We set up training for a new Iraqi army and National Guard. Today there are about 130,000 Iraqis in these various groups. They are improving, and they did a very good, commendable job at the elections.

Al Qaeda is operating there. Al Zarkowi is running al Qaeda there. He is followed by bin Laden, the prince of al Qaeda. These guys understand fully the danger to terrorists of a pluralistic, democratic Iraq. Bin Laden, in his latest statement, in December, condemned
the elections as un-Islamic. Why? Because they would put man and not God in charge of Iraq. Zarkowi, more than a year ago, in a note to his colleagues, said there is no place for us in a democratic Iraq. And just a week before the elections, he issued a statement declaring what he called a bitter war against this evil principle, democracy. The terrorists understand full well that when we succeed in Iraq, they fail. And when they fail in Iraq, it will have very big implications not just for Iraq. Go back to Bernard Lewis’ analysis. If Iraq can be relatively pluralistic and stable, it can give an example of a successful Islamic state modernizing in this world. That is remarkable.

It may be too early today to know who the winners in the Iraqi elections are, but you know who the losers are. You can find out by watching reports of the television coverage of the Iraqi elections in Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran. Because when they covered the elections, they were covering pictures of Iraqis living in Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran voting in the election in Iraq -- the same thing we saw here when the voters came out of the voting booths in Detroit, Nashville and Washington. They saw Iraqis dancing in the streets of Riyadh and Hamah and Teheran. That must, in the end, be a rather frightening thing for these rather non-democratic governments.

The president speaks of “an arch of reform” stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan. Already municipal elections have just been held in Saudi Arabia for the first time in history. There is an arch of reform. The example of Iraq is already spreading like a very helpful contagion in the area.

Iraq has a very skillful people. The vast majority wanted to be liberated from Saddam and want nothing to do with going back.

We are engaged in a noble enterprise. We are only at the beginning. It is likely to be a long, difficult struggle. It is like where we were at the end of the Second World War when we faced communism. I think we will succeed. It is likely to define American security policy for a generation to come. We just need to be as patient and as tough-minded as we were in the war against soviet communism. American history suggests we will succeed. We are not quitters. We will not fail America, Iraq or the people of the world who face this new challenge.

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