Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What went wrong in Iraq? Notes from Rajiv Chandrasekaran |

In my continual quest to find out how Iraq has gone so badly, I am delighted to find that Rajiv Chandrasekaran (BIO) is describing his views as described in his book:
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Over at TPM Cafe he plans to discuss "...the people, the place and the policies -- that form key themes of Imperial Life in the Emerald City." over the next three days. Today he is discussing the selection of the staff for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). But first let me quote from Rajiv how it started out and where it is now.

Initially, before the fall of Saddam's government, didn't President Bush pledge that the United States would transform Iraq into a democracy? Then, of course, in the heady days after Saddam was overthrown, the Bush administration's ambitions grew larger. Iraq wasn't just going to be a democracy, but it needed to be a secular democracy. And a federal democracy. And it's economy needed an overhaul. State-owned industries would need to be privatized. Government subsides needed to end. Iraq needed capitalism. Oh, and we can't forget the army. Ambassador Bremer decided Iraq needed a new one.

Now, it seems, the White House would be content with anything but civil war. Raids by the militia-riddled police that violate Iraq's constitution? No problem, so long as you're getting the bad guys. Reconstruction? The pledge to generate 10,000 megawatts of power? To provide clean water to major cities? Forget about it. Forget even about generating enough electricity to meet the nation's demand. The country is generating the same amount of power it was under Saddam -- and that was under U.N. sanctions.
Rajiv points out that he is specifically NOT considering the question of whether we should have invaded Iraq in the first place. What he is doing is documenting what happened there after Saddam fell and we took control of the country.

[I'm still looking for a good description of what happened to the original U.S. post-war plan which was to place retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in charge of the post-war operations. Somehow that was cancelled six weeks after the invasion (suggesting that something that was politically unacceptable was attempted by Lt. Gen. Garner), and the CPA under Jerry Bremer was suddenly introduced. This transition has yet to be adequately described, let alone explained. It isn't in this article by Rajive Chandrasekaran, either.]

From today's TPM article on the personnel selection policies of the CPA:
Instead of sending the best and brightest, in many cases we sent the loyal and the willing. The result was that the CPA was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.

Many of those who worked for the CPA got their jobs through James O’Beirne, the White House liaison at the Pentagon. He and his office took charge of personnel recruitment, dispatching queries for résumés to the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks, and GOP activists. To pass muster with O'Beirne's office, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

Fred Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA’s Washington office, told me that O’Beirne once pointed to a young man’s résumé and pronounced him “an ideal candidate.” The young man’s chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

O’Beirne’s staff asked questions in job interviews that could have gotten an employer in the private sector hauled into court. Two CPA staffers said that they were asked if they supported Roe v. Wade and if they had voted for George W. Bush.

One former CPA employee who had an office near the White House liaison staff wrote an e-mail to a friend describing the recruitment process: “I watched résumés of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to ‘the President’s vision for Iraq’ (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was ‘uncertain.’ I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, ... and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.”

Another CPA staffer told me that when he went to the Pentagon for his predeployment interview, one of O’Beirne’s deputies launched into a ten-minute soliloquy about domestic politics that included statements opposing abortion and supporting capital punishment. The staffer didn’t agree with what was said, but he nodded. “I felt pressure to agree if I wanted to go to Baghdad,” he said.
If this same process of selecting only "ideologically pure personnel" rather than those who are skilled and experiences were used to staff the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and to fill vacancies at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)then the hapless performance of both agencies is easily explained.

Tomorrow and the next day we will get a discussion of the place and the policies from Rajiv. In the meantime, let me suggest (strongly) that you go to the TPM Cafe article and get the details and embellishments the author offers.

By the way, the Communist Party hierarchy of the USSR promoted people in government based on their adherence to Communist ideology rather than their demonstrated expertise. I learned of this problem by reading U.S. evaluations of the effectiveness of organizational motivation techniques of the Soviet military. This was (in my opinion) a major reason for the collapse of the USSR. I believe that promotion based on ideological purity rather than technical competence was a major reason for the failure of the Soviet government to be able to control a modern industrial state. An organization (government, corporate or non-profit) gets from its employees what it rewards, and fails to get what it fails to reward.

Apparently the American anti-Communist conservatives learned a lot from their soviet enemies during the Cold War. In this case, they seem to have learned how to fail in a competitive situation between nations.

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