- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

In the heart of today’s Berlin there is a wide boulevard called Clay Allee. It is named after Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of the American sector in postwar West Germany. As a tribute to the American proconsul, he who in 1949 led the successful resistance to the Soviet blockade with the historic Berlin airlift, the citizens of Berlin installed after his death a plaque on which were incised six words: “Wir danken dem Bewahrer unserer Freiheit” (We thank the defender of our Freedom).

It is highly doubtful that a shari will ever be named or similar tribute paid to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, our civilian envoy to Iraq, assigned to direct its reconstruction and its transition, if possible, to democracy. Whatever happens, Mr. Bremer is today by far the most important American in the Middle East just as Douglas MacArthur was once the most important American in Asia. As it once was MacArthur’s task to transform a defeated Japan into a constitutional democracy without delegitimizing the emperor, it is Mr. Bremer’s task as Iraq’s civilian administrator to transform a defeated dictatorship into a secular democracy in a part of the world where American power is in inverse proportion to American popularity.

During the early years of the war in Vietnam, a neologism was born: to “wham,” an acronym for the phrase, “winning the hearts and minds.” The process was called “whamming,” meaning trying to win all the Vietnamese, north and south, to welcome America’s participation in a war against a communist takeover.

And that will be Mr. Bremer’s task, whamming the people of Iraq to welcome Saddam Hussein’s defeat, achieved primarily by American might.

For had it not been for President Bush, Saddam Hussein would still be around digging up new gravesites for Iraqi men, women and even children. MacArthur was able to function without concern for hostile neighbors since most of Asia was delighted at Japan’s defeat. (China did not go communist until 1949).

No such luck for Mr. Bremer. As Joshua Muravchik wrote in the Weekly Standard: “Never has the United States confronted so much hostility and distrust.”

He cited Gallup polls in Muslim countries a few months after September 11, 2001, well before the second Iraq war, which showed abysmally low figures favoring the United States. In Turkey, a longtime ally of the U.S., the “very unfavorable” anti-American camp dwarfed the “very favorable” vote by a whopping 67 percent to 3 percent.

We cannot afford to let Mr. Bremer fail in his assigned mission because, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “[No] amount of military capacity or precision will get around the fact that an American presence in Baghdad will carry with it risks and responsibilities that will shape the future of the United States in the world. How the world comes to see this invasion… will be determined by the character of its aftermath.”

It used to be said that the job of NATO was to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down. Mr. Bremer’s job in the Middle East for at least the next five years is to keep America in, Iran out and the Ba’ath Party down. Except that this time the terrorists are under Iran’s control and the Tehran theocrats will do everything in their power to prevent an Iraqi democracy from flourishing on its borders.

As Mr. Bremer told an ABC News interviewer a few days ago:

“We have seen a rather steady increase in Iranian activity here, which is troubling. What you see at the most benign end of it is Iranian efforts to sort of repeat the formula which was used by Hezbollah in Lebanon, [that] is to send in people who are effectively guerrillas and have them get in the country and try to set up social services and decide that these social services are their ticket to popularity. And then they start to arm themselves and you wind up with a serious problem if you let it go too far.”

It will Mr. Bremer’s job not to allow Iran to go too far. Can Mr. Bremer do the job or is he doomed to suffer the fate of Sisyphus, who in the land of the dead was forced for all eternity to roll up a steep hill a boulder that tumbled back down when he reached the top?

No Sisyphean fate overtook Gens. Lucius Clay or Douglas MacArthur. But Mr. Bremer starts with the cards seemingly stacked against him. So when he has a moment, I suggest he read “Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power,” by Niall Ferguson, the British historian, who argues that the history of the British Empire has much to teach the U.S.

Despite its many transgressions during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British Empire left behind as its legacy a rule of law, a parliamentary system adopted by its former colonies and an economic system that encouraged the unhindered movement of capital, goods and labor. So what worked so well during the 19th and early 20th centuries might well be a model for the U.S. in the 21st century.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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