How to squander goodwill amongst the liberated

Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, summarising part of his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, argues that one large contributor to the current distrust and militancy amongst Iraqis is the way that the Bush Administration chose people to oversee the transition from dictatorship to democracy under the aegis of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Jim O’Beirne of the Pentagon vetted who went, and the people he passed as suitable were mostly not qualified experts in the Middle-East or post-conflict reconstruction, but they were known Bush loyalists:

A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance — but had applied for a White House job — was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though they didn’t have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

When the CPA was established in 2003, Iraq was comparatively quiescent and waiting to see what would happen under the CoW occupation. The CPA had $18billion in reconstruction funds and a remit “to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government”. If this had been achieved, the recruitment rhetoric for the insurgency would have been constricted, and the chances of civil war minimised. However, instead of concentrating on basic tasks that are still not achieved today, such as “training the army, vetting the police and increasing electricity generation”, the CPA largely preferred to enact ideologically-based changes such as “instituting a flat tax, [s]elling off government assets, [e]nding food rations” (and ending free medical care) from inside their resort-like enclave in the Green Zone.

By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashioned by the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq’s interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

That’s just from the first of 5 pages: he goes on to reveal how O’Beirne and his staff bypassed regulations that should have prohibited questioning candidates on political leanings.

He and his staff used an obscure provision in federal law to hire many CPA staffers as temporary political appointees, which exempted the interviewers from employment regulations that prohibit questions about personal political beliefs.

The political vetting led to a strange atmosphere in the CPA offices in Baghdad:

As more and more of O’Beirne’s hires arrived in the Green Zone, the CPA’s headquarters in Hussein’s marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations. In addition to military uniforms and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” garb, “Bush-Cheney 2004” T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.

“I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one staffer noted to a reporter over lunch. “I’m here for George Bush.”

When Gordon Robison, who worked in the Strategic Communications office, opened a care package from his mother to find a book by Paul Krugman, a liberal New York Times columnist, people around him stared. “It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick,” he recalled.

Chandrasekaran’s litany of incompetence and petty neo-con bloodymindedness is appalling. It is difficult to conclude other than that the Bush administration is far more interested in ideological purity than it is in achieving the actual results it says that it wants. This is far from a surprise to most observers, but the ruination of a nation in which many had such hopes from reconstruction, through what appears to be essentially sheer pettiness, is especially sobering.
Found via Feministe

Categories: culture wars, Politics

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