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AFTER THE WAR

U.S. Choice for Iraq Post Seen as Wise Pick

Veteran diplomat's strengths as a tough administrator will serve him well, his backers say.

May 02, 2003|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It won't be easy rebuilding Iraq, but even some of his detractors say that L. Paul Bremer III is a wise choice to take charge of the herculean effort to establish a government, create an infrastructure and referee competing political and economic interests.

Bremer, who is known as Jerry, served for 23 years as a career foreign service officer before becoming a private consultant in 1989. He was special assistant or executive assistant to six secretaries of State beginning with Henry A. Kissinger, and he capped his State Department career with a presidential appointment as ambassador at large for counter-terrorism.

Bremer, 61, also helped lead several government terrorism commissions before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, gaining a reputation as a fearless administrator willing to mediate disputes, take on difficult issues and assign blame.

After leaving the State Department, Bremer joined Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm headed by his former boss. He chaired Congress' National Commission on Terrorism in 1999 before becoming chairman and chief executive of the crisis consulting practice of Marsh Inc., a global "risk services" firm, in October 2001. Last June, President Bush named Bremer to the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Bremer's political skills will allow him to flourish where many others might fail, according to former colleagues, associates, friends and critics.

"My first reaction has been, 'Wow,' " said Juliette N. Kayyem, one of 10 terrorism experts who served on the National Commission on Terrorism in 2000.

"He and I couldn't disagree more on almost every substantive issue I could think of," said Kayyem, a former Justice Department official who now lectures at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "But I have to tell you, he is very fair, incredibly honest and really consensus-driven."

On the panel, Kayyem said, Bremer helped break logjams as experts clashed over whether to criticize the U.S. intelligence community -- and governments such as Pakistan and Greece -- for not doing enough to deter terrorism before Sept. 11.

Bremer forged a compromise, and the panel issued a report that was highly critical of those entities and called on the U.S. government to prepare more aggressively against future attacks.

"He got a very diverse group of people to agree on a set of recommendations when, from the outset, it was not at all clear we could get to that," Kayyem said.

A telegenic diplomat who favors expensive suits and bow ties, Bremer also has many supporters on Capitol Hill. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bremer's name has been floated, and seriously considered, for positions within the Bush administration, including director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.

The news of his impending appointment was not universally supported. There were complaints Thursday that Bremer lacks experience in Iraq-related issues, unlike many who will report to him, including retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who heads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq.

"Bremer doesn't know anything about Iraq," said one conservative Mideast specialist. "I wonder if it's not one more episode in [the State Department's] attempt to wrest this from" the Defense Department.

But others disagreed, saying Bremer's strengths as a tough administrator and a veteran diplomat are more important than an intimate knowledge of Iraq.

Michael A. Sheehan, a former ambassador at large for counter-terrorism, said Bremer must choreograph the massive rebuilding operation in Iraq while maintaining a political equilibrium in Washington.

"He has an enormously difficult job," Sheehan said. "For that, you don't need an Iraqi specialist.... He's a very tough guy. I think he's an inspired choice."

*

Times staff writer Johanna Neuman contributed to this report.

*(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Record of service

L. Paul Bremer III, 61, is a Yale graduate who served 23 years as a career foreign service officer. He was President Reagan's ambassador at large for counter-terrorism from 1986 to 1989.

* Bremer joined a consulting firm run by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in 1989.

* He was appointed chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism in 1999 to review U.S. counter-terrorism policy.

* He currently heads the crisis consulting practice of Marsh Inc., a major risk-assessment firm. Last year, Bremer was named to the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Los Angeles Times

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