Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the former U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq, discussed the current status and future of Iraq with an audience of more than 250 people at the University of Central Florida.

“Iraq in 2011: What’s Next for the U.S.?” was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office. The presentation was part of the 2010-2011 university-wide theme “Global Peace and Security.” Bremer also spoke to other audiences in the community.

Bremer said the upheaval in the Middle East shows “there is a will and an urge” for self-governance in the region. The experience in Iraq provides useful and cautionary lessons for what is taking place elsewhere in the region, he said.

Bremer said the United States has traditionally been seen both at home and abroad as a beacon of hope and freedom for those seeking democracy. Although the U.S. has worked to encourage this image, American foreign policy in the Middle East has not always reflected it.

“Our policy has essentially been to support autocratic governments that could provide stability as our main goal in the region,” Bremer said.

According to Bremer, for many years this contradictory impulse of American foreign policy has served our national interest, but not the interest of people who were subjects to those autocrats. However, the events that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq were a break in this policy, he said.

History, Bremer said, shows that there are real difficulties and dangers in moving too quickly from autocracy to democracy.  Tyranny, by nature, deforms the political, economic, and social structures of the society it rules, he said, and those deformations characterized Iraq after Hussein’s overthrow.

Politics in autocratic regimes are black and white, a polarization that leaves no room for gray, which he calls “the political color of compromise.”

As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, Bremer aimed to establish a responsible, representative government for the nation. The broader task was to address the social deformations in Iraq, which was done in part through the establishment of women’s centers, human rights nongovernmental organizations and foundations for sports.

Seven years later, Bremer said, the process is not finished. Although the direction of events in Iraq is good, he said, progress in transforming from an autocratic to a democratic government can be long and slow.

In addition to Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners of this event included the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, The Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship Program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, LarsonAllen LLP, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Middle Eastern Studies Program, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF International Services Center, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.