Bremer backpedals

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 3, 2004 5:16PM (EDT)

Well, that didn't take long. The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, now says he was being "unfair" in early 2001 when he publicly upbraided the new Bush administration for "staggering along" on the issue of terrorism. The remarks got a lot of play late last week, but by Sunday, Bremer had backpedaled. Of course, we now know Bremer's pre-9/11 observations were quite prescient. As President Bush told Bob Woodward, "I didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling" about Osama bin Laden before 9/11. The evidence uncovered by the 9/11 commission and testimony of former counterterrorism officials like Richard Clarke also give credence to Bremer's views before 9/11.

But on Sunday, Bremer said his candid remarks in February 2001 reflected his frustration that none of the recommendations offered by a bipartisan commission on terrorism he chaired, which was formed by President Clinton, were implemented by the Clinton or Bush administrations. Bremer now says it was unfair to single out Bush and blame him for the inaction of the previous administration's final months in office.

Sure, Clinton could have begun policy changes in the waning months of his lame-duck term, but Bremer was right to be frustrated that the new administration wasn't taking advantage of the commission's work. Bremer had every right to say, as he did in February 2001, with much conviction: "The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?'"

Now, even though the worst attack ever on U.S. soil happened during Bush's tenure, Bremer suddenly assesses Bush's pre-9/11 policies in glowing terms. Bush did have a plan pre-9/11 after all, Bremer says. "I am strongly supportive and grateful for the President's leadership and strategy in combating terrorism and protecting American national security throughout his first term in office," he said on Sunday.

Perhaps Bremer has heard how this administration treats dissenters. (.pdf file)

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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