Crony Imperialism

Crony Imperialism… Iraqi insurgents murdered another 47 of their fellow citizens yesterday. As usual, the victims were men standing in line waiting for jobs in the new Iraqi government security forces. Despite 700 such killings of Iraqi policemen and prospective recruits since April, 2003, Iraqi men continue to line up by the thousands for such jobs. It would perhaps be heartening if this were a sign of a burgeoning willingness on the part of average Iraqis to fight the insurgents and free their country. Alas, it appears instead to be the desperation of unemployed men looking for some way, any way, to feed their families. “There are no other jobs,” one of them told the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Said another: “I hated this job before I even started it.”

Think about that last comment. Is this typical of the level of morale among the new Iraqi security forces that we’re now training? And aren’t those forces, by the Bush administration’s own admission, the best hope we have of turning the situation in Iraq around?

Yeah, it’s depressing. Equally depressing, to me anyway, is the staggering incompetence that got us here. In the latest New York Review of Books, Peter Galbraith puts his finger on one underappreciated source of that incompetence: the degree to which the administration staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with inexperienced political hacks instead of seasoned experts. Remember the new interim Iraqi constitution, called the TAL, that Paul Bremer and his staff slaved over, the one unveiled in March with great fanfare, that was supposed to be a model for the entire Middle East? The one the administration quietly dumped a couple of months later when they handed over power to Iyad Allawi? Asks Galbraith:

How did the Bush administration invest so much in the TAL and then find itself forced to abandon it? It appears that Bremer never realized that his decrees would not legally outlast the occupation. It was a rookie’s mistake caused, as with so many other CPA failures, by the lack of expertise on the part of his staff. The TAL was largely the responsibility of two of Bremer’s assistants (dubbed “the west wingers”), one an extremely capable but relatively junior Foreign Service officer and the other a young political appointee from the Pentagon’s stable of neoconservative nation-builders. Imbued with grand ideas such as remaking the Iraqi judiciary with a US-style Supreme Court, they apparently neglected to consult an international lawyer.

It turns out that for the interim constitution to have legal force in the new Iraqi government, it needed approval from the U.N., approval the U.S. did not get.

Galbraith continues:

The Bush administration’s recruitment of staff for the CPA is one of the great scandals of the American occupation, although it has so far received little attention from the press. Republican political connections counted for far more than professional competence, relevant international experience, or knowledge of Iraq….In some cases, the quest for political loyalists meant dismissing qualified professionals who had already been recruited. In the June 20 Chicago Tribune, the reporter Andy Zajac described how, in April of 2003, the Bush administration replaced the chief CPA health official, Dr. Frederick Burkle, a medical doctor with close working relationships with humanitarian organizations and long experience in conflict zones, with James Haveman, a political crony of Michigan’s Republican former governor. Unlike Dr. Burkle, who for months had been planning the restoration of Iraq’s health care system and who was ready to put a program in action as soon as Baghdad fell, Haveman did not arrive in Iraq until June 7, 2003. Although he had never worked in a post-conflict environment, Haveman strongly denied that he lacked international experience, apparently considering his travel to twenty-six foreign countries (as he told the Chicago Tribune) a relevant qualification.

The privatizing of Iraq’s economy was handled at first by Thomas Foley, a top Bush fund-raiser, and then by Michael Fleisher, brother of President Bush’s first press secretary. After explaining that he had got the job in Iraq through his brother Ari, he told the Chicago Tribune?without any apparent sense of irony?that the Americans were going to teach the Iraqis a new way of doing business. “The only paradigm they know is cronyism.”

Haveman, according to the Tribune, ignored Iraq’s private health care system (which meets half the country’s needs) and wasted huge amounts of money by refusing to collect data on the existing clinics. It is probably just as well that Iraq’s privatization program has not worked out, since the CPA could not, as the agent of an occupying power, lawfully sell any Iraqi assets, although it is unlikely that Fleisher or Foley knew this.

It’s hard to know how much these and other similar screwups, rooted in the Bush administration’s insane policy of putting well-meaning, brave, but inexperienced political loyalists into key positions in Iraq, contributed to the catastrophe we’re now faced with in Iraq. But clearly they did.

And being as this is “pledge week” at Political Animal, I should point out who broke the story about this crony imperialism at the CPA: it was Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Colin Soloway last December in The Washington Monthly. The story took months of effort and thousands of dollars in expenses to crack because of the Bush administration’s tight control over information. But it’s pretty typical of what this magazine does, month after month. So if you appreciate this kind of journalism and want to support it, please click one of the buttons below.



Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.