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In Their Own Image
September 16, 2006 12:22 PM   Subscribe

"I'm not here for the Iraqis. I'm here for George Bush." How the reconstruction of Iraq was bungled by inexperienced staffers and officials who passed the GOP's loyalty test -- including their views on Roe v. Wade. A WashPost excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new exposé Imperial Life in the Emerald City. (Corruption in Iraq previously discussed here.)
posted by digaman (57 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
isn't this old news? didn't they find out two years or so ago that to get a job within the reconstruction of Iraq you had to post your resume on the Heritage foundation's website?

or is it this news is finally hitting the mainstream?
posted by slapshot57 at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2006


It's the most detailed report I've read so far in a major newspaper.
posted by digaman at 12:32 PM on September 16, 2006


Similarly.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:44 PM on September 16, 2006


I misread the link when I first glanced at the closing line of the FPP. I read: "Corruption in Iraq previously discussed here". It made me laugh.

Back to work...
posted by bodega at 12:46 PM on September 16, 2006


So, this reminds me of the classic Chineese job qualifications in dynastic China. To be a civil servant you had to be proficent in peotry and a whole slew of other non related cultural fields.
The differenace? At least those Chineese had SOME skills.

(I miss spell checker)
posted by edgeways at 12:50 PM on September 16, 2006


Tell me something new.
posted by chance at 12:51 PM on September 16, 2006


Sums it up:
"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 that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort."
posted by ericb at 1:05 PM on September 16, 2006


My former roommate worked at the CPA. His job was handing out AK's to Iraqis who were authorized to have them. He was a hardcore Republican operative who had worked for two GOP congressmen. His first email back was shocking.

Needless to say, despite his continuing GOP alignment, he wants us to get out.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2006


So, this reminds me of the classic Chineese job qualifications in dynastic China. To be a civil servant you had to be proficent in peotry and a whole slew of other non related cultural fields. The differenace? At least those Chineese had SOME skills.

I'm not quite sure what you're talking about. The Chinese had a continuous examinational system running for over a thousand years, which involved learning the Confucian body of thought, as well as the works of other Confucian scholars over the years. I'm sure poetry was involved, but the civil servants who ran china maintained stability for at least a thousand years. The rigid Confucian system had trouble with new western ideas, as china became a target of the colonial European powers in the 1800s, along with a weak Qing dynasty.

Other then that I really have no idea what you're talking about, what sort of 'skills' do you need to be a civil servant, other then common sense? The Chinese examinational system did a pretty good job of placing intelligent people in civil service, in fact, it's entirely unlike the system used in Iraq, where ideological connections were basically the only qualification needed.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on September 16, 2006


Mistakes Were Made
"When President Bush announced in May 2003 that he was appointing L. Paul Bremer as the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq, I received an e-mail from one of his former business colleagues: 'I just heard that Jerry [Bremer's nickname] will be running Iraq. And the Iraqis thought that the worst we could do was to bomb them.'

At the time, I just smiled and dismissed the message. Three years later, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's extraordinary book made me realize how tragically prescient that e-mail had been. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is full of jaw-dropping tales of the myriad large and small ways in which Bremer and his team poured fuel into the lethal cauldron that is today's Iraq. He was not alone and had many eager and powerful partners in Washington, Baghdad and elsewhere."

--from Moisés Naím's review of 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City'
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2006


Garbage in, garbage out.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2006


It's the most detailed report I've read so far in a major newspaper.

Hear, hear. The details are appalling, new and very much postworthy in their own right.
posted by y2karl at 1:15 PM on September 16, 2006


Iraq for Sale
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on September 16, 2006


I wasn't knocking the post by any means, I was just curious if this was old news hitting the mainstream with more details, which it seems to be.
posted by slapshot57 at 1:20 PM on September 16, 2006


Good thing the grown-ups were in charge. Lord only knows what a mess the Dumbocrats and their bleeding-heart smellfare programs would have made of Iraq!
posted by you just lost the game at 1:28 PM on September 16, 2006


or is it this news is finally hitting the mainstream?

Yup, and it's an election year. Most people didn't hear about it before, and the mainstream media did not cover it in depth--if at all-before.

Pravda on the Potomac is only 3 years late with this story--that's good, for them, sadly.
posted by amberglow at 1:34 PM on September 16, 2006


Good thing the grown-ups were in charge....
posted by you just lost the game at 1:28 PM PST on September 16 [+] [!]


Damn, I thought you meant The Grown-ups!

Ah well.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2006


"I'm not here for the Iraqis. I'm here for George Bush."

Talk about a money quote. Thanks for this post—that was a terrific read.
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on September 16, 2006


So some mistakes were made in the Long War against Islamofascism. You really think a bunch of libtards, Demo-Rats, and pinkos could have done better?
posted by orthogonality at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2006


Yep. 24 y.o. grown-ups.
posted by c13 at 2:04 PM on September 16, 2006


I think the lesson the GOP needs to take away from the last eight years is that you can't run a government the way you run an election campaign.

2004 proved that Karl Rove, with the GOP machine in his hands, could not only sell coal to Newcastle, he could convince them that it's a suppository.
posted by dw at 2:09 PM on September 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


could not only sell coal to Newcastle, he could convince them that it's a suppository... and, if they squeezed hard enough, they could make diamonds.
posted by ericb at 2:12 PM on September 16, 2006


Good thing the grown-ups were in charge.

God that article quotes George Allen as a paragon of grown-upness. Okay, I guess "macaca" is grown up too? WTF-ever.

What an unbearable pile of absurdities.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on September 16, 2006


and, if they squeezed hard enough, they could make diamonds.

and hopefully now they're learning that it was actually Diamonelle™ and Diamonique™. /Home Shopping Network
posted by amberglow at 2:17 PM on September 16, 2006


Haveman arrived in Iraq with his own priorities. He liked to talk about the number of hospitals that had reopened since the war and the pay raises that had been given to doctors instead of the still-decrepit conditions inside the hospitals or the fact that many physicians were leaving for safer, better paying jobs outside Iraq. He approached problems the way a health care administrator in America would: He focused on preventive measures to reduce the need for hospital treatment.

He urged the Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign...
posted by delmoi at 2:24 PM on September 16, 2006


delmoi writes "He urged the [Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority] Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign..."


posted by orthogonality at 2:29 PM on September 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think the lesson the GOP needs to take away from the last eight years is that you can't run a government the way you run an election campaign.

I think the lesson the GOP needs to take away from the last eight years is that you can't run a government the way you run a failed oil company.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:41 PM on September 16, 2006


reality is shrill
posted by matteo at 4:12 PM on September 16, 2006


...the idea that Americans could build a Jeffersonian democracy in an embattled Middle Eastern country.

There are three huge problems with this statement.

First, there's the incredible racism (or is that culturalism? Whatever -ism the European powers were suffering from when they convinced themselves that the Africans were too uncivilized to rule themselves and needed Europeans to do the job for them; that's the 'ism' I have in mind); that assumes Arabs aren't just as capable of living in a democracy as we are.

Second, there's a refusal to accept reality, which is that the Iraqis have forged and have been operating a democracy. They have political parties, they form coalitions and alliances, they have political agendas, and they disagree with each other all the time. That's democracy.

Third, there's the ridiculous assumption that the US is working (effectively or not) to create a democracy in Iraq. The US has done everything it could think of short of a full scale assault on dissidents to suppress democracy. If George Bush had had his way, even the window-dressing election wouldn't have taken place yet. He wanted to do a complete census before allowing the voting to proceed; God only knows how long that would have taken. Pro-democracy forces within Iraq (which are remarkably strong) forced him to abandon this idea and hold the election sooner. Of course, despite the best efforts of these forces, the fact is that the country is still under occupation by the US military, and, consequently, their democracy hasn't been permitted to do much in the way of actual governing. For example, as you may recall, there was recently a push to get the Iraqi government to request that the troops to withdraw. Despite the fact that eighty-five percent of Sunnis and Shiite favor such a move, the request was never made. The media was reporting that it was in the pipeline and then... poof, it was gone. To George Bush, "democracy" means "doing what George Bush tells you to."
posted by Clay201 at 4:42 PM on September 16, 2006


What do Americans want for Iraq?

Haveman also wanted to apply American medicine to other parts of the Health Ministry. Instead of trying to restructure the dysfunctional state-owned firm that imported and distributed drugs and medical supplies to hospitals, he decided to try to sell it to a private company. ...To prepare it for a sale, he wanted to attempt something he had done in Michigan. When he was the state's director of community health, he sought to slash the huge amount of money Michigan spent on prescription drugs for the poor by limiting the medications doctors could prescribe for Medicaid patients. ...The country had 4,500 items on its drug formulary. Haveman deemed it too large. If private firms were going to bid for the job of supplying drugs to government hospitals, they needed a smaller, more manageable list. A new formulary would also outline new requirements about where approved drugs could be manufactured, forcing Iraq to stop buying medicines from Syria, Iran, and Russia, and start buying from the United States.
posted by stammer at 5:06 PM on September 16, 2006


Clay201 writes "First, there's the incredible racism (or is that cultural-ism? Whatever -ism the European powers were suffering from when they convinced themselves that the Africans were too uncivilized to rule themselves and needed Europeans to do the job for them; that's the 'ism' I have in mind); that assumes Arabs aren't just as capable of living in a democracy as we are. "


Bullshit. Total bullshit. Western Democracy as we know it, didn't appear sui generis In Athens or Westminster, fully formed and springing from Zeus's brow. It's a development of some three thousand years, the product of arguments and struggle and war and strife, compromises and contradictions among Greek ideals and European philosophy and Christian theology, an incremental accumulation added to by local power vacuums and labor riots and peasants' revolts and Common Law, abetted by power-hungry lordlings and corrupt machine politicians and avaricious bishops and break-away cults.

Examples: consider the strange history of women's suffrage in the US: women only became enfranchised in the US less than a century ago, and in part because a patriarchal polygamous cult hoped to attract women to its frontier Zion in the Beehive State. Or Consider Martin Luther, whose break-away theology encouraged both peasants' revolts and princes' harsh repression of those revolts, and which led to a compromise that allowed princes to dictate their subject's religion. Or the Magna Carta, a foundation of Democracy that resulted from a Pope and some oligarchs fearing a too powerful monarch.

My point is that Democracy, as we know it, is the result of thousands of years of the interaction of forces and counter-forces, of compromises and accommodations. And the Arab Middle East, having not experienced the Hundred Years War or Wat Tyler or Martin Luther King or Huey Long or the Glorious Revolution or the various Test Acts and their repeal, or the slow growth of Common Law or the town meetings of Plymouth Plantation or the 1848 communes or the Pullman strike or the Ludlow Massacre, haven't prepared the soil required for Democracy to grow. (A soil generally fertilized with the blood of patriots and tyrants, but also by the bones of contention of Locke and Cicero and Aristotle.)

Europe wasn't ready for Democracy until oceans of blood flowed; our American "success" with Democracy isn't a product of our genes but of our cultural patrimony of centuries of European and Roman and Greek trial and error.

It's not racism or cultural-ism to say that a people haven't had the experiences of another. It's just the painful truth. After much pain, Democracy may appear in the Middle East. But it will be an organic local Tree of Liberty, a bastard child of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate and the Koran, purchased with the lives of Arab philosophers and arab theologians and Arab rulers and millions of Arab peasants. It won't be something we impose, it won't be something we can repress. It'll be their Democracy, not ours.
posted by orthogonality at 5:31 PM on September 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about the Confucian system (rote memorization of impractical trivialities, bureaucracy for its own sake), but at its heart it has the best interest of the country put up front. Here, we've got an obvious problem -- hiring and policy decisions were based on domestic partisan issues. As if Mosul was a future battleground in the debate of the privatization of Social Security.

These people and those who supported them (i.e. Republicans) really, honestly believed they could just waltz into Iraq, remove the entire government and much of the infrastructure (a corrupt regime no doubt, but one that provided stability nonetheless) and -- what? the power vaccuum would fix itself with a mix of good will, crossed fingers, and a few copies of Capitalism and Freedom?

So unbelievable. And so much cause for anger among Americans who are paying, and will continue to pay, for this debacle well into the 21st century.

And the revelation that one of the assholes responsible for this mess is Kate O'beirne's husband? Here's my surprised face.
posted by bardic at 5:34 PM on September 16, 2006


My point is that Democracy, as we know it, is the result of thousands of years of the interaction of forces and counter-forces, of compromises and accommodations. And the Arab Middle East, having not experienced the Hundred Years War or Wat Tyler or Martin Luther King or Huey Long or the Glorious Revolution or the various Test Acts and their repeal, or the slow growth of Common Law or the town meetings of Plymouth Plantation or the 1848 communes or the Pullman strike or the Ludlow Massacre, haven't prepared the soil required for Democracy to grow.

You make your point eloquently, but your argument is flawed. There is no reason to assume that the people and events were necessary for the development of democratic rule (stunted, flawed and whored-out as it is), merely that they were sufficient.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 PM on September 16, 2006


Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least its an ethos, Dude...
posted by papakwanz at 6:04 PM on September 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


But everythings okay now, because they;re going to build a bloody big trench.

Someone who makes concrete is going to make a hell of a lot of money.
posted by Artw at 6:18 PM on September 16, 2006


My point is that Democracy, as we know it, is the result of thousands of years of the interaction of forces and counter-forces, of compromises and accommodations.

So? So is physics. Or biology. Do they really need to repeat ALL of the mistakes that we did? I don't know, I'm asking...
posted by c13 at 7:04 PM on September 16, 2006


So? So is physics. Or biology. Do they really need to repeat ALL of the mistakes that we did? I don't know, I'm asking...

It certainly seems that way: pretty much every country that has had democracy imposed from without has wound up with massive corruption and third world conditions.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 7:28 PM on September 16, 2006


Except Germany and Japan.
posted by stammer at 7:56 PM on September 16, 2006


It's a development of some three thousand years, the product of arguments and struggle and war and strife, compromises and contradictions among Greek ideals and European philosophy and Christian theology

Wow. Speaking of racism and cultrually-centric thinking. Democracy is a product of European thought, Greek ideals and Christianity? So any culture that isn't white and Christian can't be democratic? This will come as a huge shock to the Japanese, I imagine. Oh, wait... you say we (the white Christian nation) gave democracy to the Japanese? Well, if it can be transplanted so easily... isn't it possible that the people in Iraq (or Iran or Saudi Arabia or wherever) might take democracy? That they might look at it and say "Hmmm. Yeah, I think I like that idea" and then set out to adapt it to their own situation? I mean, you're not suggesting that they're such ignorant savages that they're incapable of having such a thought, are you?

As for this notion that it takes democracy thousands of years to develop, that's (to use your term) the real bullshit.

There is no set number of years that it takes to develop a particular cultural institution. There is no set of laws governing history; this isn't physics or biology. If Haiti can develop real democracy and elect a liberation theology believing priest in the face of US power, I'd say democracy can develop just about anywhere at any time. There just aren't any set rules when it comes to this sort of thing.

But more to the point here... I can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that you are wrong because not only is it possible for Iraq to develop a democracy, they have already done so. Yes, it's true that the military occupying their country is working hard to destroy it and may yet succeed in doing so, but it doesn't change the fact that democracy is there. And if the military does succeed in destroying it, it will not be because the Iraqis are anti-democracy. It will be because you and I allow it to happen.
posted by Clay201 at 8:12 PM on September 16, 2006


SilentGoldfish;

Could you please provide a list of countries that have had democracy "imposed" on them from outside? You might be able to make a case for Germany and Japan (though we really should ask just how democratic a country can be when its trade policy or foreign policy is dictated by an outside power), but I can't think which other countries would make this list.
posted by Clay201 at 8:15 PM on September 16, 2006



posted by ericb at 8:52 PM on September 16, 2006


two-words: hostile takeover.

One picture:


posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:12 PM on September 16, 2006


America needs a Gordon.
posted by wrapper at 10:34 PM on September 16, 2006


Clay201 writes "Speaking of racism and cultural-centric thinking. Democracy is a product of European thought, Greek ideals and Christianity? So any culture that isn't white and Christian can't be democratic? "

I should have specified "among other things". I didn't say anything about "white" and explicitly disavowed any genetic component. As to Christianity, I dunno. Certainly some Christian ideas are democratic, broadly speaking, and some are not. (And no, Israel's not a counter-example to Christian influence; its Jewish population is culturally European. Japan, on the other hand, may be.)

I don't know what combinations of cultural forces is sufficient for Democracy to develop; I do know that whatever is required, it hasn't ever happened in the Arab Middle East, and that it is a form of cultural imperialism to assume we can export a central element of our culture and expect it to flourish in another culture's soil, absent the underpinings that sustain it in our cultural soil. I don't think it's an absurd argument that a culture whose central religious ideal is to be a "slave to God", and one that a century ago consisted largely of patriarchal nomadic tribesmen, may not embrace the values and assumptions necessary to underpin such ideas as Universal Manhood Suffrage or equality under the law.

My larger points are that history is contingent, that cultural forces and intellectual history extraordinarily hard to predict, and that cultures usually change slowly and organically.

A conclave of the tribes, in which the various tribes' leaders and strongmen and shamans swap and bargain and trade, in between shooting each other, is not a Democracy; that is what we have in Baghdad. Calling that a Parliament and the current Caliph a President or a Prime Minister does not a Democracy make.
posted by orthogonality at 11:13 PM on September 16, 2006


a culture whose central religious ideal is to be a "slave to God"

Which culture were you talking about again?
posted by papakwanz at 11:24 PM on September 16, 2006


orthogonality:

it is a form of cultural imperialism to assume we can export a central element of our culture and expect it to flourish in another culture's soil

Well, if by "a central element of our culture" you're referring to democracy, I don't see how we can know one way or the other whether this "export/flourish" scenario you describe is possible. I mean, if we had tried doing it, say, a dozen times and it failed every single time, then I think an argument could be made that it's not possible or at least that there are significant obstacles. But since we haven't tried to do it even once, ever, in the middle east and have, in fact, worked long and hard to do exactly the opposite of what you're describing - that is, to eradicate democracy whenever it reared its head - we really have no information at all on whether it's possible to "export" democracy to the region.

I will agree, though, that if we ever did try to do such a thing, it would be incredibly arrogant (though not really empirialistic; a genuine attempt to create democracy, even if completely misguided and ineffective, would not lead to conquest. Hence, we would not be expanding an empire. Hence, the actions wouldn't be "empirialistic.") and most likely a bad idea.

But that doesn't really matter anyway, because as I said, that's not what we're trying to do. Besides, there's evidence that the Arabs in the middle east can and will (given half a chance) create their own democracies. Look at the recent trends in Iran. Look at the political opposition to the US occupation in Iraq. Look at the Palestinians. I mean, they're poverty stricken, poorly armed and occupied by the fourth most powerful military in the world. When they do hold an election, Isreal holds a gun to their head and tells them who not to vote for. And yet they still - at least some of the time - manage to elect people who represent their interests. True, those represenatives have very little power to deal with the relevant problems, but that's because Isreal has tanks and missles, not because the Palestinians are ignorant about democracy.

Hell, even in Afghanistan - where the political landscape is so fractured that even the US military doesn't dare rock the boat too much - the Afghanis got together and pushed for the former king to be elected president. Somehow, despite their culture being so many centuries behind our own, they figured out how to organize a bunch of people who don't agree on a lot of things and built a majority to back a single candidate for the presidential election. Of course, that candidate declined (cough cough) to run and the US backed candidate (who no one in Afghanistan had heard of) won instead and, besides, once he bacame president, he wielded almost no actual power anyway. But still, the Afghanis clearly knew what democracy was and tried really hard to practice it. It's just that the guys with the guns and the humvees got in their way. Which is how it usually works.

A conclave of the tribes, in which the various tribes' leaders and strongmen and shamans swap and bargain and trade, in between shooting each other, is not a Democracy; that is what we have in Baghdad

The democracy that we currently see in Iraq doesn't have a whole lot to do with the guys who have titles and offices in Bahgdad. The real democracy is being practiced by the organizations headed by guys like Sistani. When some minister holds a press conference and talks about the progress that's being made in "securing" (read "conquering") Iraq, that's not democracy. That guy doesn't represent the interests of the citizens. When a bunch of Iraqis in the street protest the occupation and demand a timetable for withdrawal, that's democracy. They're voicing the concerns of the majority.
posted by Clay201 at 12:27 AM on September 17, 2006


I guess I'm not quite jaded enough because I was still rather shocked by this article. Will there ever be war-crimes trials?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:56 AM on September 17, 2006


so does this tip it over into 'criminal negligence' or what? Al Franken's been pointing this stuff out since it started. The details this book contains are useful to any candidate with cohones this fall.
posted by Busithoth at 5:56 AM on September 17, 2006


Let's hear it for the saviour of the world - America, liberator of the downtrodden, the oppressed! Land of the brave and home of the free!

I hope the people reading this who voted for Bush and the GOP are ashamed of themselves. But I would guess they're probably not.
posted by tomcosgrave at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2006


I don't know what combinations of cultural forces is sufficient for Democracy to develop; I do know that whatever is required, it hasn't ever happened in the Arab Middle East

You forgot about Egypt.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:52 AM on September 17, 2006


I would just like a little democracy in the U.S.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2006


Harry Shearer, on his Le Show last week, read a news item quoting someone as saying that Rumsfeld forbade--forbade--anyone from doing any postwar occupation planning.
posted by neuron at 9:52 AM on September 17, 2006


Rumsfeld forbade--forbade--anyone from doing any postwar occupation planning.

Here's the article which revealed that: Iraq post-war plan muzzled

Unbelievable.
posted by homunculus at 12:28 PM on September 17, 2006


Why Did We Let Bush Try to Bring Wal-Mart to Iraq?
posted by homunculus at 9:52 PM on September 17, 2006


The Washington Monthly's Who's Who
December 2003:
Special Baghdad edition

posted by amberglow at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2006


In this astonishing confessional by an Oxford graduate who worked in the green zone of Baghdad, we see the perversity of the American version of a 'free press' in Iraq.
posted by homunculus at 10:14 PM on September 18, 2006


What if Halliburton's CEO came clean?
posted by homunculus at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2006


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