Ambassador L. Paul Bremer spent more than 13 months under heavy fire as the most powerful administrator in an occupied Iraq. Standing behind a podium in Morrell Gymnasium last week, he became the target of an entirely different kind of bombardment.
Hecklers in the 850-person crowd occasionally interrupted Bremer's speech on Friday night. But the most intense moments occurred during interchanges with students during a question-and-answer session.
Ben Kreider '05, who protested outside the gym prior to the event, asked about hidden reasons for the war, alleging that the war was a test for the "neo-conservative agenda of advancing American business," and said that "American business is running Iraq."
"How do you know American business is running Iraq?" Bremer responded, eliciting both cheers and sneers from the crowd. "When were you last there?"
Colin Beckman '07 questioned Bremer's assertion that terrorists cannot be persuaded by non-violent means.
Bremer quickly dismissed the criticism. "If my statements sound self-assured, it's because I'm sure," he said.
Because the terrorists' "burning hatred of the West" is based on "creed," he said during his speech, "no compromise is possible."
"The root cause of terrorism is a hatred of who we are, not what we do," Bremer said. "And most of all, they hate democracy."
Other questions evoked more substantive responses.
Ben Stranges '05 compared pre-war atrocities in Iraq to the deadly conflicts in the Dharfur region of Sudan and asked the ambassador if the U.S. should intervene.
Bremer responded by saying that American officials have "looked the other way" for too long. "The time has come for the world community to take it seriously," he said.
One student asked why there is so much concern for the safety and rights of Iraqi women when women at home need assistance, too. Another raised a similar issue, expressing a concern that so many resources are dedicated to funding U.S. activities in Iraq when some Americans suffer from hunger and poverty.
"I say we have to do both," Bremer said. "It isn't a question of doing one or the other."
When asked why it is the role of the United States to spread democracy, he said that Iraqis are embracing their new political system.
"We are certainly not imposing democracy on the Iraqis," he said. "They were delighted to have self-government."
In his talk, he invited dissenters of this view and of the Iraq war to "go to Iraq" and "go visit the mass graves" from Saddam's regime.
"I guarantee once you see these things with your own eyes, you will see that we did a great and noble thing by freeing these Iraqis," he said.
Bremer refused to answer a question about what he would do differently in Iraq, saying he was saving that information for an upcoming book.
Bremer took 12 questions from the audience. The lecture itself covered terrorism and the challenges he faced in rebuilding Iraq. He said progress had been made in post-war reconstruction, including efforts to combat insurgent attacks.
"The security situation, though it is still very troubling, is moving...in the right direction," he said. "I am optimistic about the future of Iraq."
He also praised the country's political progress since the fall of Hussein, citing the January elections, the recent selection by the Iraqi Assembly of a new president and prime minister, and events in Egypt and Lebanon he said demonstrated a rising democratic tide in the region.
"This is not a coincidence," he said. "These things are consequences of what has happened in Iraq."
Bremer said the media has not reported on many instances of progress. He said he oversaw 20,000 reconstruction projects in 14 months?"good news stories you're not likely to hear about."
A number of security and contractual restrictions distinguished Bremer's visit from usual campus speakers. A number of agents from the U.S. Secret Service were present as Bremer's security detail, backed by local law enforcement and Bowdoin Security. According to The Washington Post, the Secret Service still protects Bremer because of death threats from Osama bin Laden.
Due to contractual obligations, cameras were not allowed into the gymnasium. The Orient was given special permission to take photographs as Bremer was walking onto the stage and until he began his speech. Bremer's agent would not permit an interview, and the Office of Events and Summer Programs was restricted from releasing the cost of the event.
Nearly 20 students and adults protested Bremer's visit at the gymnasium entrance.
Kreider wrote and distributed a fact sheet he said showed the "other side" of Bremer's story he felt people on campus were not aware of.
Many protesters opposed the war itself as much as the former administrator's role.
"We went in there illegally, we went in there for oil, that was the only reason, and we need to get out," said Gretchen Kamilewicz, whose son Benjamin is scheduled for deployment to Iraq in June.