Bremer speaks at Clark, 100 protest
Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2005 at 9:47 PM
Bremer speaks at Clark University April 18. 100 protest. Students "want a refund".
" I knew it would be a hard hour and a half when he began with a joke about hostages," said one Clark Student.
April 18, L. Paul Bremer, the Presidential Envoy overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, spoke to a full Atwood Hall at Worcester's Clark University. He began with a joke about baseball, to form a common bond based on hatred of the Yankees. He then dove into what many deemed an inappropriate, distasteful and stereotypical joke about killing hostages.
Bremer's joke was roughly this: Three people are held hostage by terrorists, a British person, a French person, and an American person. The terrorists give each a last wish. The British person wants one last horse ride. "Sorry", says the terrorist, "we have none here in the desert." The French person wants a five-course meal with fine wine. Again, the terrorist says, " sorry, we have none." Finally, the American says, "I want to hear a speech from the American Ambassador," to which the British and French people reply, "Kill us now."
Bremer's speech was announced on Clark's campus just four days before the event. Many professors learning about the speech from their students. About 100 from the community voiced their concerns outside as students lined up to enter the hall. Among those gathered, some spoke on the immorality of the occupation of Iraq. Many colorful protesters yielded signs such as "Freedom of Speech, not Double Speak," "Freedom for all political prisoners," and a body, symbolically hung from a tree, with a sash reading "War Criminal."
Bremer's agents had informed its hosts at Clark that no press would be allowed to cover his speech. No steps were taken to check credentials at the door, or prevent audience members from taking notes.
Citing the example of a small group of extremists, who want to convert every non-Muslim to Muslim and hate all things western, Bremer generalized the resistance to the US occupation of Iraq. From separation of church and state, free press, and schooling for women, he attempted to reduce the concerns of all Middle Easterners to a hatred for the very existence and success of western society. Later, when asked, "Do you think this war will deter terrorists and lessen hatred for the US?" Bremer responded, "Yes I do."
Bremer's speech was very slick and canned; leaving many students upset their university paid him what is rumored to be $40,000 for a speech readily available on the Internet. He defended the United States' role in Iraq; repeatedly saying the resistance hates democracy. This speech was, as expected, very cut and dry, with no room for debate. Most students agree their money would have been better spent on a speaker who would have some dialog with students.
Bremer emphasized the human rights advances made since the fall of Hussein's regime, saying this was "one of the most abrupt regime changes in recent history."
He challenged those against the war to go to Iraq. He says the US intervention averted an Iraqi civil war. As he stated “torture is now illegal” there were many scoffs and boos from the audience. Also, as he said this a handful of audience members put on hoods symbolizing those used on abused Iraqi detainees. There were 4 visible police officers inside the auditorium, who shifted about as this happened. The crowd was very nervous, keeping an eye on the police.
He ended by highlighting three points. The United States is optimistic, as Iraq is a rich country, which obviously has oil among many resources, and a people who are “delighted to be liberated”. He sees many benefits for those in the region and in the United States. Lastly, he sees the struggle against terrorism as both good and bad. He described the United States as being in a similar position to after World War 2. The US is fighting not a war against communism, but a war against terrorism.
Once he completed his prepared speech, students began lining up to ask questions. Most questions were critical, but presented in a respectful way. Most reflected the students’ concern for human rights violations in Iraq and mismanagement of the war.
When asked what he thought of reports of $9 billion missing from the funds to rebuild Iraq he said I suggest you not worry, as that $9 billion was Iraqi money, not US money.
A graduate student, studying international affairs, asked Bremer if he had considered the impact, on the local economy, of only 2% of rebuilding contracts going to Iraqi contractors, and also where he derives his policy. He averted the first part of the question. Answering the second, he cited the success in Poland after WWII, in rebuilding their economy. Later the student said this is a typical neo-liberal response, using Eastern European economies to prove successes for capitalism.
Another student repeated the same question a Bowdoin student asked at a previous speech, “We’re paying you $40,000 to be here, you’re not going to get out of answering this question. I would like to know three things you would do differently in Iraq.” To this Bremer responded, “ I will tell you what I told them, I'm saving that for my book... I need more time to reflect.”
The next speaker suggested he had a “thankless job” and asked him what it was like once the United States arrived in Iraq. There is a common misconception that there were no plans. There were plans, but they were the wrong plans, Bremer replied. We planned for refugees and humanitarian problems, and we didn’t have those problems.
A woman wearing a symbolic hood announced into the microphone “We are not going to listen to your lies” and provoked about 50 students to walk out. They chanted, “We want a refund” as they departed.
Many students felt frustrated by Clark’s dean and the student responsible for bringing this speaker. Both encouraged the student body to be polite, respectful, and to "be good Clarkies". One student thought the dean asking the students to swallow everything Bremer said goes against the school's primary goal, to create critical thinkers.