By Michael Youhana
When, at the end of May, President Donald Trump threatened to gun down looters in the streets of Minneapolis, some heard echoes of Paul Bremer. The top civilian administrator presiding over the occupation of Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004, Bremer is usually remembered for his decisions to disband the country’s military and fire countless state employees under the imperatives of de-Baathification. Because the viceroy’s reckless policies kicked off an insurgency, it’s often forgotten that the Bush administration dispatched him to restore law and order to the Middle East. Upon arriving he sought to build a muscular Iraqi police force in collaboration with former New York Police Department Commissioner Bernie Kerik. Bremer also tried to change the military’s rules of engagement to allow American soldiers to fire on looters drifting through Baghdad’s debris-peppered streets.
Read against current events, anecdotes of Bremer’s first days in Iraq bring to mind Stuart Schrader’s observation that “the history of US empire is the history of policing experts teaching indigenous cops how to patrol and investigate like Americans… But the flow is not one-way: these institutions also return home transformed.” The crises of the past few years reveal that this dialectic extends beyond law enforcement to encompass the entire metropole. The Pentagon’s growing transfers of military surplus left over from the Iraq War to police departments correlate with a coarsening of the United States’s political culture. And it is with an eye towards this broader embrace of brutality and impunity that Brendan James argues that the Iraq War is “a skeleton key for where we are now.” Continue reading “How Wars Find Their Way Home”