In Sunday’s Washington Post, excerpts from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City reveal the fundamentally corrupt approach this administration took to Iraq Reconstruction.
Chandrasekaran writes,”[Job] 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.”
President Bush’s appointee who screened applicants made certain his staff asked such relevant questions as whether an individual had voted for his boss? Even views on Roe v. Wade were explored.
This is how a 24 year-old with no background in finance was tapped to reopen the Baghdad stock exchange. A 60-year old social worker with limited international health experience working for an evangelical Christian NGO was selected to rebuild Iraq’s health care system. And then media-darling (and since disgraced) Bernie Kerik – the former New York City police commissioner of 9/11 fame and Homeland Security infamy – was chosen to oversee the training of Iraq’s police forces, partly because he had no previous postwar policing experience and “the White House viewed that as an asset.”
Frederick Smith, former deputy director of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Washington office, explains: “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. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings.”
“The decision to send the loyal and the willing,” Chandrasekaran writes, “instead of the best and the brightest” has had staggering consequences.
The health care administrator, James Haveman Jr., who replaced, according to one USAID official, “the single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government” – funded an anti-smoking campaign rather than focusing on “childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.” He stressed privatizing and selling the drug-delivery system rather than addressing immediate drug shortages. He focused on maternity wards and new fee-based medical clinics (“Haveman didn’t like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free”) at the expense of hospitals treating the victims of insurgent attacks that “were the country’s single largest health challenge.”
“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.”
Kerik’s results were equally abysmal. He ventured out on nighttime raids that garnered good press, and slept during the day when the real business of administration needed to be done. According to Chandrasekaran, while officers “needed to be screened for Baath Party connections,” due process and interrogations without torture needed to be taught (who taught whom?), new weapons needed to be procured, and new chiefs and officers needed to be hired…. Kerik held exactly two staff meetings. One on the day he arrived, the other when the New York Times was shadowing him.
Kerik left after three months, saying, “I was in my own world. I did my own thing.”
The same can be said of this entire administration.
The raw and wanton costs of GOP cronyism have played out in a tragic and obscene way in Iraq, where implementing a flat tax was more important than rehabilitating hospitals… where selling government assets was more important than generating electricity… where allegiance to George Bush was more critical than language fluency or postwar rebuilding experience.
These days it is often said that the Bush administration lacked a plan for reconstruction. In fact, its plan and that of the GOP party-liners is all too clear: Iraq was simply a lab rat for its crony capitalism and savage treatment of the Iraqi people — not to mention the exploitation of our men and women sent to fight and die for a plan this administration dare not utter.
This administration doesn’t have a problem with attention to detail. The injustice lies in the details it selects and pays attention to — leaving a world of destruction in its wake.