L. Paul Bremer with Malcolm McConnell, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.
Reviewed by T. Hatch
Some one recently asked me what is the funniest book you have read in the last five years? Honorable mention has to go to Pervez Musharraf's In the Line of Fire: A Memoir. But, for real belly laughs the undisputed champion is L. Paul Bremer's My Year in Iraq. The most endearing quality of the book is that despite the absurdity of any situation Bremer finds himself in he never fails to convey a sense of absolutely childish sincerity.
It is hard to know where to even start. Shortly after the U.S. invasion, in a surprise turn, the Iraqi army “self-demobilized.” Despite this setback Proconsul Bremer valiantly stuck to his principal mission, which was providing for the material well-being of the Iraqi people. Bremer was besieged by a range of issues such as “...what to do about subsidies, the state-owned enterprises and the currency, down to the price and availability of rice and beans.... We had inherited a structural crisis” (p.28). In a corollary to Mickey Rooney in virtually any Andy Hardy movie Bremer might have been heard saying: “Hey kids, let's put on a structural adjustment.” After all, just as sure as there were weapons of mass destruction to unearth, the decrepitude of Iraq's industrial base was due to Saddam Hussein's “economic mismanagement, lack of investment, and cockeyed socialist economic theory” (p.62). As everybody with an economics background knows, the way to turn around an economy with eighty percent unemployment is to put into place a flat corporate tax rate of fifteen percent. Privatizing state industries and devaluing the currency are also helpful in this respect.
Bremer, a master of improvisation, need not have concerned himself with any of the technical literature which erroneously maintained that the state sector in Iraq was established with little regard given to the competing models of collectivism or free enterprise. Imagine the naïveté of any one believing for a minute that the thing that mattered in Iraq was the relationship of senior figures in Saddam's regime to various enterprises, be they state industries or private ones. Patrimonial state development? Get outta here!
Despite a media that refused to report on the good news stories and focusing instead on all manner of negativity, Bremer remained steadfast in his hope for the people of Iraq. In a reflective moment he opined: “One day... a free Iraq with its educated, hardworking people will help transform this region” (p.70). Some what like Henry Fonda in Young Abe Lincoln, walking off into the sunset to the strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Bremer remained positive to the end. “Once secure, this country will be a tremendous economic success” (p.388).
Bremer, who I argue missed his calling in life, like all great comedians has “got a million of 'em.”
Burling 1st Floor DS79.769 .B74 2006