Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator for Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion, appeared to have left the public eye for good.
After a tumultuous tenure, during which he was blamed for some of the worst blunders of the war, Bremer fell off the grid, becoming a ski instructor in Vermont.
And then, he heard from his family that he’d become the star in a viral teen meme.
Last month, Bremer’s granddaughter told him that a 15-year-old clip from his time as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was blowing up online. He was fascinated.
“I’m not a meme guy, so I was watching them with great curiosity,” Bremer told The Daily Beast.
The meme adopts footage from, perhaps, the seminal high point of the Iraq invasion. In it, Bremer announces to hoots and cheers that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been captured. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “we got him.”
But starting this summer, the old video began to be remixed with pop music and clips of celebrities being exposed in various ways. Dubbed “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” a person or character is shown getting “busted” in some way while the 2012 pop song “Baby I’m Yours” by Breakbot plays in the background.
When the particular moment of revelation arrives, the Bremer clip appears to declare “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.” Then he’s replaced with a distorted version of the song and footage of a SWAT team breaking in. In one popular version, controversial conservative professor Jordan Peterson struggles to name his favorite woman writer. As an interviewer glares at Peterson, the Bremer clip pops up to announce “we got him.”
Bremmer, now 77, said he was surprised by the clips when he was shown them.
“Many times I couldn’t figure out what the connection was with the announcement,” Bremer said. “How are the words fitting into the memes?”
But the videos have been devoured online, often by young people who likely weren’t even alive during the Iraq invasion. The clip, especially when combined with the Breakbot song, first became popular over the summer, according to Know Your Meme managing editor Don Caldwell. Since then, interest in the meme has remained high. YouTube compilations of the meme have been watched millions of times. There’s an entire popular subgenre of the meme based around the idea that rappers Drake or Tekashi69 are disturbingly focused on underage girls.
The meme has also proliferated on TikTok, a musical app popular with young people. A representative TikTok video, for example, might show a teenager holding up signs slamming an internet foe. Then the Bremer audio plays, and the video’s creator starts doing a dance from Fortnite.
It is a surreal bit of online fame for a man who hasn’t been remembered too favorably in history books. Bremer is blamed for two catastrophic errors that fueled the Iraq insurgency: disbanding the Iraqi Army and banning high-ranking members of Saddam’s Baath Party from government. Coalition forces were able to capture Saddam after those decisions were made. But it quickly became apparent that that wasn’t going to change the tide of the war. Bremer left Iraq under a cloud of scrutiny in 2004. He published a memoir in 2006 and then got into making oil paintings of New England countrysides. Little was heard from him again, until 2018, when it was reported that he had become a ski instructor at Okemo resort in Vermont.
Bremer said he has taken his new internet fame in stride. He even decided to film a new version of the clip in his kitchen for his granddaughter.
He has regularly defended his decisions as the Iraq administrator since leaving government, and insists he’s not the real star of the clip. Instead, he said the Saddam video is really about a “pivot point” for the Iraqi people.
“The important people in that room at that time were not those of us on the stage, me and the military guys,” Bremer said. “The important people in that room were the Iraqis.”
Bremer hopes that the meme will increase interest among young people in Iraqi current events and history. But mostly, Bremer is just baffled by his online resurgence.
“If you can explain to me how these things go viral on the internet, I’d be pleased to be educated,” Bremer said.