Paul Bremer - New Canaan's Pontius Pilate

By William A. Collins

02/08/06 "
Minuteman Media" -- -- Paul Bremer came to New Canaan the other night to speak. It is, after all, his old hometown. Thus, the visit was, first of all, a case of local boy makes good, which, of course, a lot of New Canaanites do. It was also the tour kickoff for Bremer’s new book, “My Year In Iraq.” His listeners well understood book tours, and publishing, and publicity, and hype.

And colonialism. You’ll recall that President Bush appointed Bremer as the first head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, as soon as the military’s mission in Iraq was “accomplished.” The Romans once called this job “proconsul,” the appointed ruler of a conquered territory. Their most storied incumbent was Pontius Pilate, though our grasp of his actual duties and performance in Judea remain somewhat hazy.

Not so with Bremer’s. His work was precisely laid out in Washington and he performed it with quiet ferocity. His first task was to turn over Iraq’s traditional publicly owned enterprises to foreign investors. He started with electricity. (In California, this was analogous to deregulation.) Next to go was the public water supply, and soon the telephone system. New Canaan can identify with this sort of privatization.

Then came the banks, followed shortly by the insurance companies, all quickly gobbled up by outside money. Now even farmers are not allowed to plant their own seeds, but must buy genetically modified models from Monsanto, Cargill, or the like.

Tariffs, taxes and corporate restrictions were also redrawn for the benefit of foreign businesses and investors. And not only were these investor-friendly rules imposed, they were written into Iraq’s Constitution. Perhaps you wondered why Washington felt so obsessed with Iraq’s need for a constitutional democracy. There’s more, and the oil industry comes next.

One doubts that Pilate was so productive. Or the British governors of the American colonies. This compares more with the Spanish rulers of Peru or Mexico, or the British Raj in India.

Needless to say, Bremer’s was the kind of performance that New Canaan could cheer, and did. But there were complications. His talk was sponsored by the public library, so there were overtones of free speech. At least until the library detected that anti-war folks were planning to attend.

That changed everything. Abruptly the venue was shifted to St. Luke’s private school out in the four-acre zoning wilderness. Names of known protesters who had signed up early disappeared from the approved attendance list. The police blanketed the entrance to keep out dissidents while the Secret Service patrolled inside. The town takes care of its own.

For those who live outside the Gold Coast, you should know that lower Fairfield County is not in fact a total monolith of greed. It only looks that way. Two weeks after the Bremer incident, the Westport library hosted a talk by Victor Navasky, editor of “The Nation” magazine. He basically opposes everything Bremer stands for. No police or Secret Service were needed for that one. And other libraries are also doing their best to undermine the frighteningly intrusive rules of the Patriot Act. Thus it seems to be the New Canaan library alone that stands out as a bulwark of colonialism and avarice.

Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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