Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Iraq: CPA's Legacy Almost Willful Incompetence

When looking at the news items out of Baghdad it is difficult to remember the optimism of the first months after the invasion and toppling of Saddam. A slew of books (here too) have been or are coming out, confirming the impression leaking on the sidelines in the aftermath of the invasion. One prominent is Washington Post reporter Thomas E. Rick's Fiasco, which I hope to get time to read very soon. Review here at the New York Times.

The two most important elements of ineptitude was first the conscious decision by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld not to develop or implement any Phase IV (post-war) military plans, as first documented with the leaked After Action Report by the IIIrd Infantry Division (Mechanized) (here, large pdf)-- and in its latest installment, through this interview with one central war planner (hat tip to DefenseTech.org). The second element was the apparant incompetence with which the second part of Phase IV -- civilian reconstruction -- was carried out, especially news items describing an ideological and haphazard hiring policy at the CPA in Baghdad. This looks like an important factor behind the blunders and ineffectiveness of the processeses initiated by the CPA.

This second element is the subject of a new book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (hat tip to Dan Drezner), also a reporter at the Washington Post, which brings a long and very interesting excerpt. From "Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq. Early U.S. Missteps in the Green Zone":
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, 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.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. 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.
Thought-provoking stuff, which at the very least leads one to repeat the old saying: never attribute to malice what can be ascribed to pure incompetence. But, given that especially the role of the politically designated O'Beirne at Pentagon is true, one might ask whether there isn't something as willful abdication of reason?

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