Stunning Incompetence in Iraq

Via Radley Balko, take a look at this review of a new PBS documentary in the New York Times and this article in the Washington Post. Remember those reports from military planners saying that Rumsfeld threatened to fire anyone who talked about the need to plan for a post-war occupation of Iraq? Well here's the result:

"The Lost Year in Iraq" doesn't bother going into a discussion about whether the war was a good idea to begin with. It moves right to Baghdad's fall in April 2003 and the looting that began hours later and soon "verged on chaos," as the narrator says.

"We were totally unprepared to secure the city," says Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Jay Garner, the Army general (now retired) who was named director of the Iraq Reconstruction Group, adds, "There was no plan and no staff."

So what did they do? They scrambled to find people to do the many jobs required in the post-war occupation. And they filled them with people who didn't have a clue what they were doing.

Certainly some of the staff members seemed a bit underqualified. Colonel Hammes recalls that the person given the job of planning for prisons and police was 25 and that this was his first job after college. He didn't worry about having a staff of only four, the young appointee said, because they were all his fraternity brothers. Colonel Hammes describes the overall effort as "heroic amateurism."

And this is hardly the only such example. Jim O'Beirne (yes, Kate's husband) ran the Pentagon office (why not the State Department? Because Rumsfeld convinced Bush early on that the Pentagon should handle the entire thing, then refused to plan for a post war occupation) in charge of hiring people to run the occupation and the reconstruction efforts.

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.

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

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.

"We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job," said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. "It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."

Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government's first and best hope to resuscitate Iraq -- to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government, all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq -- training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation -- could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools...

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.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000...

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."

Here's another classic example of putting someone completely unqualified into a position of great importance:

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."

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Here's yet another example of a qualified man being replaced by an unqualified "loyalist":

That's what happened with James K. Haveman Jr., who was selected to oversee the rehabilitation of Iraq's health care system.

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.

Writes Jerry Taylor, who initially supported the war in Iraq, at the Cato blog, "This is jaw dropping stuff. If I were a Congressman and this information had crossed my desk back in 2003, I would have submitted articles of impeachment of President Bush right then and there. This is criminal negligence and incompetence so amazing that words can't do the matter justice." I couldn't agree more.

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Par for the course with these incompetents.

And it will be dismissed by the country at large. Competence is a partisan issue these days.

"Breathtaking inanity" comes to mind while reading the excerpts from the Washington Post. I can't believe how post-war reconstruction is politicized by the GOP. What does Roe v Wade have to do with anything? ~_~;

When an incompetent occupies the White House, is it any surprise that his hires are incompetent too? I disagree with Bush on many policies, but my overwhelming objection to him is his incompetence.

The incompetence is obvious from the perspective of the war's current course and progress, but remember that the administration was convinced that the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms, hearts and minds. You have to put yourself into the mindset of belief that the insurgency was just a bunch of disgruntled Baathists and a few "foreign" jihadists who would be easily taken care of, probably by a native Iraqi force within half a year or so. From that perspective, it only needs a few of the right people to steer things along. If your political agenda at home to build a solid conservative Republican majority for years to come, then it's a fantastic idea to get as many young Republicans involved, so they can have the concrete experience of successfully rebuilding a society in the conservative image. You take that home with you, and you have an active core for a generation to come. Great idea, it just didn't work.

The incompetence is obvious from the perspective of the war's current course and progress, but remember that the administration was convinced that the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms, hearts and minds.

Even so, any competent statesman would have contingency plans if things go wrong.

Bush is neither competent or a statesman.

Ya know, usually I don't hope that someone is telling a bold-faced lie.

But, when Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment is off the table if she becomes the Speaker of the House, I sincerely hope she was lying her *ss off!

Speaking of incompetence...why isn't anyone in the Democratic party bringing this up? Am I missing something? Don't we have an election coming up?

This adventure got off on the wrong foot from the getgo. It should be recalled that the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Shinsaki opined that 300,000 troops would be required for the exercise. His advice was rejected, as former navy pilot Rumsfeld knew better, and the general was retired early. This is all too typical of the administrations' rejection of expert opinion from people who know what they're talking about. In the scientific arena, we see it repeated on stem cell research, global warming, intelligent design, the big bang, etc. This is the born again mentality in action, my mind is made up, the facts are irrelevent.

Not surprising at all. Ever seen him make a speech? "I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, me, me." And all those melodramatic postures and stuff. The guy's an arrogant fool.

remember that the administration was convinced that the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms, hearts and minds.

This is the first example of their rank incompetence. Any sane leader and planner could have seen that this was patently absurd. Remember that Bush didn't even know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni. Probably still doesn't.

I watched the program and was furious. Then I watched it again and recorded it. I'm making everyone who comes to my house watch it, too.

What a bunch of clueless weasels.

Something not immediately clear upon looking at that Washington Post article is that it's actually an excerpt from a book by that reporter. It's called "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" and it is worth looking into.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in incompetence. Other examples include replacing the originally planned division in Anbar province with a small number of special forces (allowing large numbers of Baath Party members to escape into Syria) and reducing a brigade of twenty companies of MPs (vital for asserting control post-invasion) with one of only three companies, and cutting the 1st Cavalry Division (and almost cutting the 1st Armed Division) from the original order of battle.

These military blunders were further compounded by calling in Jay Garner at the last minute, without any serious pre-existing post-invasion plan, and then refusing to allow him to hire anybody who knew anything (as anybody who did almost invariably worked for the State Department, which Rumsfeld wanted excluded).

By Tim Makinson (not verified) on 24 Oct 2006 #permalink

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don't be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that "somehow" was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat's birthday.

Quick now, who said that?

Oh yeah, that was Kevin Tillman, a Ranger that got his freedom of speech back after leaving the military.

By double-soup tuesday (not verified) on 25 Oct 2006 #permalink

I read this when it first came out, and yes, it is devastating. But two things should be remembered.

One, Bush's primary interest in doing away with Saddam is that Saddam tried to kill his dad. Why do I say that? He repeated the "Saddam tried to kill my dad" mantra at least twice in public speeches, and, according to the NY Daily News immediately prior to the invasion, many times in private. Knowing the simpleton that is the Smirking Chimp, that is the only explanation for his support of the American invasion of Iraq.

Two, the interest of the broader Neocon/Republican party is to disburse funds from the US treasury to them and their hangers-on, including all of the government contractors. Effectiveness of the programs and accountability for the funds be damned. The example of the American neophyte being tasked with re-opening the stock exchange is a prime example. Prior to the American invasion, Iraq had an effective and efficient--albeit somewhat primitive--stock exchange. All the idiot American need to have done was to allow those who were operating the stock exchange to re-open what they had before. But, nooooo, that wasn't good enough. The American idiot wanted the Iraqi stock exchange to re-open with all the bells and whistles of a "modern" (i.e., American style) stock exchange. Of course, all of those bells and whistles were not necessary in a relatively small economy, but the American idiot apparently didn't realize that. And, the American idiot's insistence on what he wanted, instead of what would effectively operate, delayed the re-opening of the stock exchange for a number--a large number--of months, effectively hobbling the Iraqi economy.

25yrs old - first job after college - working with frat brothers?

Sounds like another guy on the Delta House 7 year plan.