September 17, 2006

...The Whole Universe to Improve...

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in a must-read WaPo piece:

Twenty-four-year-old Jay Hallen was restless. He had graduated from Yale two years earlier, and he didn't much like his job at a commercial real-estate firm. His passion was the Middle East, and although he had never been there, he was intrigued enough to take Arabic classes and read histories of the region in his spare time.

He had mixed feelings about the war in Iraq, but he viewed the American occupation as a ripe opportunity. In the summer of 2003, he sent an e-mail to Reuben Jeffrey III, whom he had met when applying for a White House job a year earlier. Hallen had a simple query for Jeffrey, who was working as an adviser to Bremer: Might there be any job openings in Baghdad?

"Be careful what you wish for," Jeffrey wrote in response. Then he forwarded Hallen's resume to O'Beirne's office.

Three weeks later, Hallen got a call from the Pentagon. The CPA wanted him in Baghdad. Pronto. Could he be ready in three to four weeks?

The day he arrived in Baghdad, he met with Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing state-owned enterprises. (Foley, a major Republican Party donor, went to Harvard Business School with President Bush.) Hallen was shocked to learn that Foley wanted him to take charge of reopening the stock exchange.

"Are you sure?" Hallen said to Foley. "I don't have a finance background."

It's fine, Foley replied. He told Hallen that he was to be the project manager. He would rely on other people to get things done. He would be "the main point of contact."

Before the war, Baghdad's stock exchange looked nothing like its counterparts elsewhere in the world. There were no computers, electronic displays or men in colorful coats scurrying around on the trading floor. Trades were scrawled on pieces of paper and noted on large blackboards. If you wanted to buy or sell, you came to the exchange yourself and shouted your order to one of the traders. There was no air-conditioning. It was loud and boisterous. But it worked. Private firms raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling stock, and ordinary people learned about free enterprise.

The exchange was gutted by looters after the war. The first wave of American economic reconstruction specialists from the Treasury Department ignored it. They had bigger issues to worry about: paying salaries, reopening the banks, stabilizing the currency. But the brokers wanted to get back to work and investors wanted their money, so the CPA made the reopening a priority.

Quickly absorbing the CPA's ambition during the optimistic days before the insurgency flared, Hallen decided that he didn't just want to reopen the exchange, he wanted to make it the best, most modern stock market in the Arab world. He wanted to promulgate a new securities law that would make the exchange independent of the Finance Ministry, with its own bylaws and board of directors. He wanted to set up a securities and exchange commission to oversee the market. He wanted brokers to be licensed and listed companies to provide financial disclosures. He wanted to install a computerized trading and settlement system.

Iraqis cringed at Hallen's plan. Their top priority was reopening the exchange, not setting up computers or enacting a new securities law. "People are broke and bewildered," broker Talib Tabatabai told Hallen. "Why do you want to create enemies? Let us open the way we were."

Tabatabai, who held a doctorate in political science from Florida State University, believed Hallen's plan was unrealistic. "It was something so fancy, so great, that it couldn't be accomplished," he said.

But Hallen was convinced that major changes had to be enacted. "Their laws and regulations were completely out of step with the modern world," he said. "There was just no transparency in anything. It was more of a place for Saddam and his friends to buy up private companies that they otherwise didn't have a stake in."

Opening the stock exchange without legal and structural changes, Hallen maintained, "would have been irresponsible and short-sighted."

To help rewrite the securities law, train brokers and purchase the necessary computers, Hallen recruited a team of American volunteers. In the spring of 2004, Bremer approved the new law and simultaneously appointed the nine Iraqis selected by Hallen to become the exchange's board of governors.

The exchange's board selected Tabatabai as its chairman. The new securities law that Hallen had nursed into life gave the board control over the exchange's operations, but it didn't say a thing about the role of the CPA adviser. Hallen assumed that he'd have a part in decision-making until the handover of sovereignty. Tabatabai and the board, however, saw themselves in charge.

Tabatabai and the other governors decided to open the market as soon as possible. They didn't want to wait several more months for the computerized trading system to be up and running. They ordered dozens of dry-erase boards to be installed on the trading floor. They used such boards to keep track of buying and selling prices before the war, and that's how they'd do it again.

The exchange opened two days after Hallen's tour in Iraq ended. Brokers barked orders to floor traders, who used their trusty white boards. Transactions were recorded not with computers but with small chits written in ink. CPA staffers stayed away, afraid that their presence would make the stock market a target for insurgents.

When Tabatabai was asked what would have happened if Hallen hadn't been assigned to reopen the exchange, he smiled. "We would have opened months earlier. He had grand ideas, but those ideas did not materialize," Tabatabai said of Hallen. "Those CPA people reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia."


Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker, was largely unknown among international health experts, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.

Haveman was well-traveled, but most of his overseas trips were in his capacity as a director of International Aid, a faith-based relief organization that provided health care while promoting Christianity in the developing world. Before his stint in government, Haveman ran a large Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions.

Haveman replaced Frederick M. Burkle Jr., a physician with a master's degree in public health and postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and the University of California at Berkeley. Burkle taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where he specialized in disaster-response issues, and he was a deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which sent him to Baghdad immediately after the war.

He had worked in Kosovo and Somalia and in northern Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. A USAID colleague called him the "single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government."

But a week after Baghdad's liberation, Burkle was informed he was being replaced. A senior official at USAID sent Burkle an e-mail saying the White House wanted a "loyalist" in the job. Burkle had a wall of degrees, but he didn't have a picture with the president.

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, and he assigned an American from the CPA team --who turned out to be a closet smoker himself -- to lead the public education effort. Several members of Haveman's staff noted wryly that Iraqis faced far greater dangers in their daily lives than tobacco. The CPA's limited resources, they argued, would be better used raising awareness about how to prevent childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.

Haveman didn't like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free. He figured Iraqis should pay a small fee every time they saw a doctor. He also decided to allocate almost all of the Health Ministry's $793 million share of U.S. reconstruction funds to renovating maternity hospitals and building new community medical clinics. His intention, he said, was "to shift the mind-set of the Iraqis that you don't get health care unless you go to a hospital."

But his decision meant there were no reconstruction funds set aside to rehabilitate the emergency rooms and operating theaters at Iraqi hospitals, even though injuries from insurgent attacks were the country's single largest public health challenge.

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. Unless they received an exemption, physicians could only prescribe drugs that were on an approved list, known as a formulary.

Haveman figured the same strategy could bring down the cost of medicine in Iraq. 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.

He asked the people who had drawn up the formulary in Michigan whether they wanted to come to Baghdad. They declined. So he beseeched the Pentagon for help. His request made its way to the Defense Department's Pharmacoeconomic Center in San Antonio.

A few weeks later, three formulary experts were on their way to Iraq.

The group was led by Theodore Briski, a balding, middle-aged pharmacist who held the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Haveman's order, as Briski remembered it, was: "Build us a formulary in two weeks and then go home." By his second day in Iraq, Briski came to three conclusions. First, the existing formulary "really wasn't that bad." Second, his mission was really about "redesigning the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement and delivery system, and that was a complete change of scope -- on a grand scale." Third, Haveman and his advisers "really didn't know what they were doing."

Haveman "viewed Iraq as Michigan after a huge attack," said George Guszcza, an Army captain who worked on the CPA's health team. "Somehow if you went into the ghettos and projects of Michigan and just extended it out for the entire state -- that's what he was coming to save." [ed. note: Kinda like the death rates in Philly, eh?]

Haveman's critics, including more than a dozen people who worked for him in Baghdad, contend that rewriting the formulary was a distraction. Instead, they said, the CPA should have focused on restructuring, but not privatizing, the drug-delivery system and on ordering more emergency shipments of medicine to address shortages of essential medicines. The first emergency procurement did not occur until early 2004, after the Americans had been in Iraq for more than eight months.

Haveman insisted that revising the formulary was a crucial first step in improving the distribution of medicines. "It was unwieldy to order 4,500 different drugs, and to test and distribute them," he said.

When Haveman left Iraq, Baghdad's hospitals were as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived. At Yarmouk Hospital, the city's largest, rooms lacked the most basic equipment to monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rate, operating theaters were without modern surgical tools and sterile implements, and the pharmacy's shelves were bare.

Nationwide, the Health Ministry reported that 40 percent of the 900 drugs it deemed essential were out of stock in hospitals. Of the 32 medicines used in public clinics for the management of chronic diseases, 26 were unavailable.

The new health minister, Aladin Alwan, beseeched the United Nations for help, and he asked neighboring nations to share what they could. He sought to increase production at a state-run manufacturing plant in the city of Samarra. And he put the creation of a new formulary on hold. To him, it was a fool's errand.

"We didn't need a new formulary. We needed drugs," he said. "But the Americans did not understand that."

Brings to mind Pyle from Graham Greene's The Quiet American:

Pyle was absorbed already in the Dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined ... to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. Well, he was in his element now with the whole universe to improve.

We set loose a whole gaggle of Pyles to run around cluelessly in Mesopotamia--mostly poorly qualified ones, chosen on the basis of ideological affiliation, in the main. The innocence would almost be poignant (implement comprehensive new securities regs! overhaul the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement & delivery system!) if the ramifications haven't been so deathly. It's a national and international disgrace, and those who helped enable this cocksure, dismally executed adventure (including this writer), without calculating for the profound incompetence of this Administration, will always have much to answer for. We must now focus on lessons learned, including ensuring that a nation-building effort is never again run via such cronyistic folly, but rather by finding and incentivizing the best and the brightest to man the effort, selected mostly by rigorous meritocratic criteria. Rumsfeld initially demanded ownership of this nation-building effort and ran it with his typically cheap bravura, a frivolity that would have led a better man to long ago resign in shame (it should be noted too that the President and the Vice President are totally complicit in the mostly bungled effort).

Regardless, and as often, the heaviest burden has fallen on our military. Today, we have very talented men like Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli trying to turn around the legacy of the first 2-3 years of disasterous policy missteps chronicled judiciously and non-polemically in Tom Rick's Fiasco, in Bernard Trainor's Cobra II, in articles like this one today that I've extensively quoted above. Rather than occupying themselves with imbecilic thoughts of 'shock therapy' to liberalize Iraq's economy, or new securities regs, or reciting numbers of hospitals open (even when they lack the most basic equipment), they instead understand that the primary issues are ones of security, of infrastructure build-out, of mundane but critical matters like reducing the amount of trash on the streets in places like Sadr City. Men like Chiarelli, in short, are trying to supply the strategic oversight leadership, in addition to their military mandates, that Tony Zinni, among so many others, know has been so sorely lacking since the inception of this Iraq adventure. So we are demanding even more of these Generals in the field, because we have only incompetents at the helm in Washington. In short, our civilian leadership's recklessness has been nothing short of scandalous, but at least the war has now in the main been belatedly outsourced to men like Abizaid, Casey and Chiarelli. But this is a lot to ask of them, and with their political overseers mostly discredited, spent forces--I believe at very least a new Defense Secretary is owed them. Which is why, I suspect, people like Batiste and Swannack, among others, are so hopping mad he's still sitting in the E-Ring, the scene of the crime, if you will, one marked by negligence so gross it's hard to fathom even today.

Posted by Gregory at September 17, 2006 04:27 PM

Rather than occupying themselves with imbecilic thoughts of 'shock therapy' to liberalize Iraq's economy . . .

'Shock therapy' is the left's pejorative for even the most timid economic liberalization.

Liberalizing Iraq's economy is one of the few things that was gotten right. It produced some spectacular growth in the first two years. It needed to be done, and leaving it undone wouldn't have magically solved all the other problems. Complaining that some people were 'occupying themselves' with it is silly. Would you suggest retraining economists as MPs, or deploying them as garbage collectors?

Posted by: David Tomlin at September 17, 2006 09:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

those of us who were reading people like Juan Cole the entire time knew very early on what the Times is finally telling us ---that far-right ideology and economic theory was being implemented in Iraq in a way that was doomed to failure because it ignored the nature of Iraqi culture. This was obvious from jump street -- yet conservatives (including our host) remained blind to the sheer ridiculously of US "reconstruction" policies.

This is the real tragedy of Iraq.... SMART people like Greg were ignoring the obvious folly of Bush admin policies, and its taken them over three years to finally get a clue. The "low information voter" still doesn't get it, of course, which is why the odds of a Democratic takeover of the House only looks "good" rather than "inevitable"....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 17, 2006 09:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that the main reason for the problems was that the State Department was shut out of the post-invasion process. I'd like to know who authorized that.

Posted by: Quiddity at September 17, 2006 09:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I can't think of a more profitable liberalization of Iraq's economy than divvying up Iraq's $10+ trillion worth of energy reserves among Iraqi citizens...

The Iraqi stock market is online, btw:

A good source of economic news from Iraq.

Posted by: monkyboy at September 17, 2006 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Tomlin, you sound like you would have been perfectly qualified to work in Iraq by Jim O'Beirne's judgment. Personally, I wouldn't be so proud of that distinction.

Posted by: Ned R. at September 17, 2006 11:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Mr. Tomlinson--

Thank you for your eloquent reminder of how Bush-loyalists think.

No matter how vivid and incontrovertible the evidence is that the right wing made a criminal botch of this whole affair, your first and only response is to blame 'liberals'.

What a bunch of losers.

Posted by: kid bitzer at September 17, 2006 11:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tomlin --
Thanks for the laugh! Hey, are you one of those clowns who bought up wheelbarrows full of "new" Iraqi dinars? How's that working out for you?

Posted by: sglover at September 18, 2006 12:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

'Shock therapy' is the left's pejorative for even the most timid economic liberalization."

Says who?
What timid reform do you refer to?
What left?
Greg a leftist?

Americas success was always based on practicality. Now so called conservatives have abandoned all thoughts of practicality in order to worship an ideology. An ideology which often amounts to the ever shifting rhetorical needs of the Republican Party.

The most modern stock exchange in the world and the new formulary were absurd ideas devoid of practical merit. As long term goals one might argue they were fine ideas. Practical men would have been driven to get things going as soon as possible. To meet the needs of people here and now and damn the utopian fantasies and make no mistake, at root these stories of the CPA represent people in the thrall of hair brained utopianism. Not our men in Bagdad however. They went the way of the Soviets, the Marxists. Remake the world totally in order to make it perfect according to an ideology.

It is stunning that Americans, self identified conservatives and Christians actully believe in some sort of systematic perfection. The world truely has been turned upside down.

Posted by: rapier at September 18, 2006 12:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Or Texas, after a major catastrophy - and why not? Same relative size, population and distributive settlement patterns.

This idea that it's rocket-science, and the "new management" has no idea what they're doing "If only they'd listened to little old genius me" reads like any other newsweekly journal's "big-insider-story" sourced with 3-4 people on the outs.

And why shouldn't it - the j-school templates' the same:

"I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues at The Post to create all sorts of new and compelling content for the Internet," he said. Among his priorities, he said, will be to increase interactivity with readers, use more video packaging and boost the number of blogs, or Web logs, on The Post's site.

Chandrasekaran is a native of the San Francisco Bay area and graduated from Stanford University."

Posted by: Tommy G at September 18, 2006 01:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If, on the off chance that Bushie & Co. were planning to stage a coup...

...the past five years of seeming incompetence would suddenly look like a brilliant filtering process to weed out military and intelligence people who had qualms about killing civilians, running secret prisons, funneling money to neocon front companies without oversight and any other violations of the Constitution that might be needed to seize control of America.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: monkyboy at September 18, 2006 01:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

George Packer's The Assassin's Gate talks about ramp up of the political appointees into the CPA.

My gripe with the appointees:
1. They were young and idealistic. The ones with an understanding of the issue could not make rational decisions because they would try to hit the proverbial homerun solution. There are times when incremental steps have to be taken to get to an end-state; not true with this group who wanted their visions to be implemented without regard to what the 'facts' were.
2. There were some outstanding senior advisors in the CPA, as well as some of his/her personal advisors. For the most part though, the young'uns were a real pain in the ***. They did not understand how the bureaucracy worked to get things done. As said above, a few of them were hell bent on doing it their way and they controlled some of the purse strings. There are issues that transcend certain ministries and these young'uns blue falconed plans because they did not live up to their new and improved grand plan.
3. The young'uns were given GS-15 and SES positions. The State Department gave them the exception to get these positions. They were given positions sort of like O-6 and O-7 positions if the military equivalents were used. They also collected their hazard and post differential pay, overtime, and most probably a bonus. I am not sure what the limits would be for them to collect monies – but if they worked for four months they probably pulled somewhere around $140,000.
4. General Order #1 did not apply to them. Why is it good for the military but not for these yahoos?

Posted by: ES at September 18, 2006 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'll be very curious to see what Commisar O'Beirne's wife over at nat review's corner has to say about this article. My bet is this article won't be mentioned once by Commisar O'beirne's wife or her corner buddies.

Posted by: jack at September 18, 2006 04:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A few observations.

I am shocked, absolutely shocked that National Review, as of 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, has remained silent on this piece in The Washington Post. Kate O'Bierne, wife of Jim O'Bierne, the Bush Administration's hiring czar for the Coalition Provisional Authority, may well be National Review's most visible property aside from William F. Buckley. (Yes, I know. I know. John P. Normanson believes that he holds the title of Bill Buckley's favorite. Normanson clung to that foolish "me-second" myth at the Washington Times and Weekly Standard, and he still hangs on to it at Father Rupert's newspaper. Some things cannot be helped.)

Back to Mrs. O'Beirne: National Review has posted not a single word on National Review Online to counter the WaPo excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City."

Clifford May and Byron York, the two National Review scribes most often sent out on such an assignment, have remained silent on this story. Stephen Spruiell, the head of NRO's Media Blog, has typed not one word on the issue.

National Review and/or NRO has not even rebuked the Washington Post piece and/or Chandrasekaran's book under one of its anonymous editorials, which, I'm told, are often the products of Kathryn Jean Lopez, Richard Lowry, and Jack Fowler. However, Mr. Fowler took time on NRO Sunday to praise the efforts of New York Post sports columnist Phil Mushnick, but typed nary a word to denounce the Post and/or Chandrasekaran.

Even Mark Steyn, David Frum, and Michael Ledeen have declined, it appears, to write an item in support of Mrs. O'Beirne and her husband. Ledeen's silence, in particular, brings me to my second point.

The Washington Post has reported a story along these lines before. On Sunday, May 23, 2004, the Post ran a front-page story entitled, "In Iraq, the Job Opportunity of a Lifetime." The story, which was written by Ariana Eunjung Cha, carried the subheadline, "Managing a $13 Billion Budget With No Experience."

Here are a few excerpts from this piece, which appeared more than 27 months ago:

(start)BAGHDAD -- It was after nightfall when they finally found their offices at Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace -- 11 jet-lagged, sweaty, idealistic volunteers who had come to help Iraq along the road to democracy.

When the U.S. government went looking for people to help rebuild Iraq, they had responded to the call. They supported the war effort and President Bush. Many had strong Republican credentials. They were in their twenties or early thirties and had no foreign service experience.

On that first day, Oct. 1, they knew so little about how things worked that they waited hours at the airport for a ride that was never coming. They finally discovered the shuttle bus out of the airport but got off at the wrong stop.

Occupied Iraq was just as Simone Ledeen had imagined -- ornate mosques, soldiers in formation, sand blowing everywhere, "just like on TV." The 28-year-old daughter of neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen and a recently minted MBA, she had arrived on a military transport plane with the others and was eager to get to work.

They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month. But as suicide bombs and rocket attacks became almost daily occurrences, more and more senior staffers defected. In short order, six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country's $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis.

And how did Ledeen, a 28-year-old just out of business school, get the job?

Back to the story:

(start)Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.

For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.

Others from across the District responded affirmatively to the same e-mail, for different reasons. Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.(end)

And here's the nut graph of, perhaps, all nut graphs:

(start)For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank. (end)

Simone Ledeen and five others, all between the ages of 23 and 28 and all without the ability to speak Arabic or career experience in infrastructure development, finance, or diplomacy found themselves in charge of a $13 BILLION Iraqi federal budget. What? Was Jack Abramoff busy?

No, Simone Ledeen and her pals had the right friends (and/or parents) at the Heritage Foundation. One week, the Conservative trainees are sipping lattes at Starbucks; the next week, they're applying the preppy political philosophy to the Baghdad war zone.

Back to the story:

(start) When Ledeen's group showed up at the palace -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. For some, they represented everything that was right with the CPA: They were young, energetic and idealistic. For others, they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues.

Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.

Other staffers quickly nicknamed the newcomers "The Brat Pack."

"They had come over because of one reason or another, and they were put in positions of authority that they had no clue about," remembered Army Reserve Sgt. Thomas D. Wirges, 38, who had been working on rehabilitating the Baghdad Stock Exchange.

Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S.
Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good. (end)

Simone Ledeen helped set up a cooking school; next, she's trying to balance the books in Baghdad. Ms. Ledeen and her pals couldn't even discern between a balance sheet and an accounts receivable statement. Uh, Mission Control. This is Baghdad. We've got a serious problem here.

Didn't someone tell the Heritage Foundation that war and/or rebuilding in its aftermath is not, I repeat, not a political event? Evidently, according to the excerpt from Chandrasekaran's book in the Washington Post, the answer to that question is no.

Maybe no one wanted to cross Michael Ledeen?

Posted by: Mark Raven at September 18, 2006 04:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Mr. Tomlinson [sic]

Thank you for your eloquent reminder of how Bush-loyalists think.

I've signed a petition calling for his impeachment.

Perhaps you should reconsider your own way of thinking, since it leads to conclusions that far off the mark.

. . . your first and only response is to blame 'liberals'.

How did I blame liberals? I didn't say a way word about liberals.

That's not a rhetorical question. I'm sincerely curious. But I doubt you'll answer. Whenever I ask for an explanation of such a peculiar comment, I never get an answer.

Posted by: David Tomlin at September 18, 2006 04:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What timid reform do you refer to?

The term 'shock therapy' became ubiquitous during the debates on market reform in the former Soviet bloc countries. Leftists who opposed such reforms, but knew they had lost that argument for the moment, resorted to denouncing even the smallest proposed reforms as 'shock therapy'.

Greg a leftist?

I don't know.

If I had to guess, I would think someone who calls thoughts of economic liberalization 'imbecilic' is probably to the left of center.

Posted by: David Tomlin at September 18, 2006 05:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am shocked, absolutely shocked that National Review, as of 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, has remained silent on this piece in The Washington Post.

That's irony, right? How's it possible to be shocked any more, by anything the NR does or doesn't say?

On the other hand, NR and the Weekly Standard should offer some truly extraordinary entertainment in the not too distant future, as they frantically distance themselves from Beltway Republicans.

Posted by: sglover at September 18, 2006 05:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jay-zus H Key-rist, Tomlin....

The term 'shock therapy' became ubiquitous during the debates on market reform in the former Soviet bloc countries. Leftists who opposed such reforms, but knew they had lost that argument for the moment, resorted to denouncing even the smallest proposed reforms as 'shock therapy'.

The term 'shock therapy' became infamous because a flock of American economists descended on the former Warsaw Pact nations, and greased the skids for the dismantlement of whatever badly frayed social safety nets existed in those countries. Meanwhile, it only belatedly occurred to these geniuses that the underpinnings of commerce that Western countries enjoyed -- contract law and the like -- didn't exist in the countries they thought they could "reform", and certainly couldn't be summoned up overnight.

To my knowledge, the only countries that did well with "shock therapy" were Poland and the former Czechoslovakia, and that was largely because they gave the Harvard technocrats a hearing, and then wisely ignored them. Latin American countries seem to be following the same course, after seeing the example of Argentina.

Posted by: sglover at September 18, 2006 05:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know why I'm not shocked by this report... oh, wait, yeah I do: the Bush admin's long, long litany of failures brought about as a direct result of valuing "loyalty" over competence and their "world view" which places "belief" above facts. Basically, what the Iraqis had under Hussein, only now we're responsible for it instead of him. Why didn't we just give the Kurds a couple billion dollars to take out Saddam themselves and form their own country? We'd still have civil war in Iraq, only we wouldn't be paying for it. It's not any crazier than Bushco's plan, whatever the hell that is this week.

Posted by: LL at September 18, 2006 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Again, the clarity of The Belgravia Dispatch prompts others to act.

Finally, more than 12 hours after my comment (as if I had anything to do with it!) and more than a full day after the story first appeared in The Washington Post, National Review and National Review Online have dispatched Ramesh Ponnuru to defend valuable Conservative property, Kate O'Beirne, and, by extension, her husband, Jim O'Beirne, whose partisan activities were reported in depth Sunday in the Post.

Mr. Ponnuru immediately tells us all we really need to know about this NRO piece. Ponnuru wrote:

"Jim O'Beirne is a friend, as is his wife, my colleague Kate O'Beirne."

So, of course, Mr. Ponnuru, who made his "Conservatives bones" during two appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, brings a clear, unbiased, let's-get-the-story-straight eye to his analysis of the article in the Post. Sure, right. Never in doubt, especially when Mr. Ponnuru termed the story a "hit piece, pure and simple: thinly sourced, fantastic in parts, and propagandistic."

Propagandistic? Did anyone care to tell Mr. Ponnuru that he wrote a book, published earlier this year, about the benefits of the pro-life movement entitled, "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life"? Exactly, Mr. Ponnuru, just who (or is that whom?) is in the Business of Propaganda?

Memo to Pot: Mr. Ponnuru, Kettle wishes to speak with you ASAP. Thank you.

Mr. Ponnuru wrote (or was directed to write) the NRO defense or counter-attack piece in support of Kate and Jim O'Beirne. However, Mr. Ponnuru's chief argument appears to be not with the text of the story, but with its accompanying photograph. In other words, Mr. Ponnuru believes that it's not the "thinly sourced, fantastic in parts, propagandistic hit piece" that's the problem; it's the photos, stupid!

Yes, borrowing a page from the Michelle Malkin playbook, Mr. Ponnuru claims a Post photograph of two U.S. troops relaxing in a swimming pool in the Baghdad Green Zone is the real devil here. The photograph, wrote Mr. Ponnuru, had "nothing to do with (writer Rajiv) Chandrasekaran’s thesis ... (b)ut the implication is clear: O'Beirne was sending these political appointees to cushy jobs in Iraq."

No, Mr. Ponnuru, that's hardly the implication of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s piece. Instead, the story focuses on that allegation that Mr. O'Beirne carried out the Bush Administration dictum that Conservative and party loyalty, rather than qualifications or experience, dictate the hiring policy of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

As Chandrasekaran wrote:

"To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience. ...

"(O'Beirne) 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.

"There were a few Democrats who wound up getting jobs with the CPA, but almost all of them were active-duty soldiers or State Department Foreign Service officers. Because they were career government employees, not temporary hires, O'Beirne's office could not query them directly about their political leanings.

"One former CPA employee who had an office near O'Beirne's 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 (Republican National Committee) contributors.'

"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."

Of course, back in those days, maybe 24-year-old Yale alumnus Jay Hallen, described as a "restless" sort who "didn't like his job at a commercial real estate firm" deserved to reestablish the Iraqi stock exchange? Perhaps Jim O'Beirne saw something in young Mr. Hallen? Perhaps it was Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official heading up the privatization of state-owned enterprises, who spotted some hidden gifts in young Mr. Hallen. After all, Mr. Foley had been a major GOP donor and, before that, attended Harvard Business School with Mr. Bush. And a Harvard MBA is often pure gold.

But, to Mr. Ponnuru, that's all bosh!

Instead, Mr. Ponnuru, perhaps responding to my post of last night (imagine, to be read by Mr. Ponnuru!) or, far more likely, to the demands of one Michael Ledeen, charged Chandrasekaran with repeating a tired, old, worn out Iraqi cronyism charge. Mr. Ponnuru wrote that Chandrasekaran had again reported the claim that " 'the daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator' was 'tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget,' even though she had no 'background in accounting.' That’s a double lie: The woman in question, also a friend of mine, does have a background in accounting, and she wasn’t managing the budget."

What Mr. Ponnuru neglected to mention is the name of his "friend." That, of course, would Simone Ledeen, daughter of Neoconservative power boss and noted Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen.

As to Ms. Ledeen's qualifications, I noted last night that she had reportedly helped found (or open) a cooking school. From cooking school to Baghdad. Out the frying pan and into the inferno, perhaps?

But, there's more. From Ms. Ledeen herself. On a Sunday more than two years ago, May 23, 2004 to be precise, the Post ran a front-page story entitled, "In Iraq, the Job Opportunity of a Lifetime." The story, which was written by Ariana Eunjung Cha, carried the subheadline, "Managing a $13 Billion Budget With No Experience." The story provided readers with an interesting look at Ms. Ledeen's employment with the Coalition Provisional Authority (courtesy of the Heritage Foundation) in Iraq.

On June 1, 2004, Ms. Ledeen responded to the Post story several times on another blog, Arms and influence. In one of a series of posts at that site, Ms. Ledeen outlined her qualifications for CPA duty:

1. Founded a cooking school in Italy. (Ms. Ledeen declined to offer the name of the cooking school, its location, and its financial backers);

2. Worked at a formerly state-owned publishing house in which new management was making the transition to capitalism somewhere in post-communist Eastern Europe. (Ms. Ledeen declined to provide the name of the publishing house, its location, its financial backers, and her specific duties {copying? filing? editing the country's new constitution?} );

3. Worked at a venture capital firm (Ms. Ledeen declined to identify the name of the firm, its location, and her specific duties.);

4. Worked at an economic consulting firm (Ms. Ledeen declined to provide the name of the firm, its location, and her specific duties.)

However, Mr. Ponnuru steadfastly maintained that his "friend," Ms. Ledeen, had a background in accounting prior to working for the CPA in Iraq and that she was not managing the country's $13 billion budget. However, Mr. Ponnuru neglected to provide facts to indicate Ms. Ledeen's experience in municipal accounting (a resume would have been divine) or to indicate which members of the CPA did, in fact, handle the national budget.

Another interesting side note about Michael Ledeen’s pride and joy: The Arms and influence blog had reported that Ms. Ledeen had previously posted a personal account of her stint in Iraq. Ms. Ledeen’s writings/bloggings, according to Arms and influence, included "her weak-in-the-knees moment shaking Bush's hand and her desire to spit on Hilary Clinton" during the senator’s visit to Baghdad. Ms. Ledeen, perhaps to her credit, never denied that she wrote about her thoughts of spitting on Senator Clinton and admitted that she’s not a big fan of the junior senator from New York. (The saliva, alone, probably landed Ms. Ledeen a few interesting dates.) Also, Ms. Ledeen confessed that as a then-government employee, her comments were not appropriate.

However, Ms. Ledeen didn’t stop there. She claimed that her spit-on-Senator-Clinton comment was somehow printed out of context, but declined to further elaborate. Further, Ms. Ledeen maintained that she "never published an online diary," but, instead, "occasionally sent emails home to friends and family to let them know the latest news and that (she) was doing alright." However, Ms. Ledeen, in the same post, later called her writings a "web diary," causing one to ask for a the Ledeenian definition of the difference between an "online" diary and a "web" diary.

Also, Ms. Ledeen attempted to downplay her comments – and multiple diary definitions – by claiming that while she had written those words, she had not given anyone permission to forward them to others. In essence, Ms. Ledeen attributed her comments to a breach in security. "Unfortunately my private email was forwarded and reforwarded (sic) all over the place and ended up being posted on a website without my knowledge or permission (which I would not have given)," Ms. Ledeen wrote. In other words, Ms. Ledeen wrote that she wanted to spit on Senator Clinton; she simply did not want the rest of us to know that she wrote that she wanted to spit on Senator Clinton.

Regarding the most recent Washington Post story, Mr. Ponnuru maintained, the greatest problem with this latest Post story came when the writer claimed - falsely, wrote Mr. Ponnuru - indicated that Mr. O'Beirne was in charge of hiring for the CPA. Not so, wrote Mr. Ponnuru, though he neglected to mention who, in fact, supervised hiring, established the criteria for employees, or authorized the contacts at the Heritage Foundation.

In fact, Mr. Ponnuru made no mention of the Heritage Foundation, either to refute the latest story about his "friend," Mr. O'Beirne or the 2004 Post piece about his other "friend," Ms. Ledeen. Wonder why?

Instead, Mr. Ponnuru argued, the story is old news, about the long-since-dead turf wars between the State Department and the Pentagon, the latter of which employs Mr. O'Beirne. Mr. Rumsfeld won. Mr. Powell lost. Look! See Iraq! The Conservative mantra. We know who won. Those who disagree with us don't have the first clue.

Funny, also, that Mr. Ponnuru never outlined in his rebuttal just what exactly Mr. O'Beirne does at that building in D.C. with four walls and a spare, a monument to Murphy's Law and the current House of Rummy. Probably Mr. O'Beirne's duties are classified, top secret, and vital to U.S. security interests. No doubt Mr. Ponnuru does not want to reveal a state secret and wind up with his own personal Scooter incident and accompanying Federalist Society legal team.

Lastly, of course, Mr. Ponnuru blamed the whole story on yet another embittered government employee. This time, the devil with the details was Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. Mr. Ponnuru calls Mr. Smith an ex-CPA official who was forced out of his job. Now, Mr. Smith joins a long line of former Bush Administration officials and/or government employees like Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, and Paul O’Neill who are either (a) upset, (b) confused (see Tony Snow), or (c) disloyal.

According to this latest Post story, loyalty is the be all and end all of the Bush White House.

Oh, and according to Mr. Ponnuru, any readers who actually believe this latest story in the Post "don't know a thing about (Mr.) O’Beirne" and, instead, happily "accept veracity of an account that gibes so well with all of their prejudices."

See, everyone else is wrong. Again. So there!

Posted by: Mark Raven at September 18, 2006 06:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Anyone here remember the book The Ugly American? Forget Graham Greene and Pyle. This problem has been identified since the '50s. The fact the lesson's never been learned makes you wonder if any kind of international intervention can ever work.

Posted by: Paul at September 18, 2006 06:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Boy, Michael Ledeen must be infuriated.

Now, Kathryn Jean Lopez, silent on the issue for more than a full day (which must be some kind of record), has thrown her more than ample support behind the Simone Ledeen.

From Ms. Lopez:

"One additional comment on that front-pager in the Washington Post yesterday. That 'daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator' went over to Iraq and 'often put herself at great personal risk to visit her counterparts at the Iraqi Ministry of Finance,' as her post-service citation from the DOD notes. The insinuation that civilians who sacrifice to serve are getting posh perks is infuriating. And though I can't vouch for everyone who's been over there, just from the stories I do know, I'm grateful we have such brave people who are willing. That 'daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator' and those like her deserve better than the treatment they got in the Washington Post yesterday."

Again, like Mr. Ponnuru, Ms. Lopez declined to name the "daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator."

I wonder why?

C'mon, Mr. Ponnuru and Ms. Lopez. You can tell us. We're all one big happy family. Some of us just have relatives at the Heritage Foundation. Otherwise, it's all for one and one for all.


Posted by: Mark Raven at September 18, 2006 06:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, it is infuriating to the neosycophants, any time anyone brings up issues as to who is being paid off and how much.

The neosycophants have an apparently overwhelming desire to shut everyone up. It is not enough to classify every document and burn every memo, but also all media must be bullied and silenced.

The humorous side will be watching the US collapse from its own incompetence, as Stalinism (and Bush&Co derivative) proves so splendidly to punish progress and reward failure.

Posted by: rhernandez at September 18, 2006 07:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Glad to know Mr Tomlin how great your President's Iraq policies have been. They have a civil war. perhaps, if we work on it, we can get one going here in the US of A.

Posted by: maracucho at September 20, 2006 05:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Immanentizing the eschaton in Iraq

"Idealism is fine; but as it approaches reality, the cost becomes prohibitive."
~ William F. Buckley Jr.

The modern conservative movement appears to have come full circle with the post-war fiasco in Iraq. Conservative dreamers sought, in the face of the overwhelming need for practical solutions to life and death problems and against the reality on the ground, to create in Iraq a country in their own image. In so doing they made every "liberal" mistake against which their forebearers have railed since the 30's.

As a result they have done nothing so much as proven that a conservative utopia is as bound to failure as any other when what is at stake is making immanent the eschaton.

Posted by: hoipolloi at September 20, 2006 01:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Glad to know Mr Tomlin how great your President's Iraq policies have been. They have a civil war.

This bit of snark completely misses the point I actually made about economic liberalization in Iraq.

It needed to be done, and leaving it undone wouldn't have magically solved all the other problems.

Bush is 'my President' only in the sense that I am an American. If you mean to imply that I am a Bush supporter, that is not correct, as I have already pointed out once.

Posted by: David Tomlin at September 23, 2006 12:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would add in support of Mr Tomlin that wanting to liberalize the Iraqi economy, or really any other MENA economy, is a perfectly reasonable goal. These are not some precious European social democracies, people. These are Statist patronage systems derived from Ottoman feudalism, colonialism and the various post-colonial nationalisms. Some market liberalization could do a lot of good.

The problem is when a bunch of Pyle-like yahoos who think sociological or anthropological knowlege is a load of liberal hooey and that the natural state of mankind is a functioning laissez-faire capitalist democracy come in from the outside and start trying to liberalize their way. They don't take into consideration existing social norms or cultural differences. In the end you get something like Russia, where 'market capitalism' now has a vile name among people who associate it with 'rich mobsters stealing millions while I can no longer afford bread.' However this kind of blunt instrument 'shock therapy' liberalization is certainly not the only kind, as can be seen in the stepwise, perhaps overly slow but at least functioning liberalizations in the former-Warsaw Pact EU states.

Posted by: Antiquated Tory at September 25, 2006 11:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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