After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.
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.
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'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.
...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.
For the extremely complicated and delicate task of rebuilding an entire country torn apart by war and lacking a functional government, the Bush administration sent people who didn't know what they were doing, who were more interested in imposing a conservative agenda than in getting the country working again, and who had little patience or opportunity to get to know the reality on the ground or get to know the Iraqi people themselves. This was not a mistake. This was a deliberate choice by an administration that was completely disinterested in rebuilding a country that was destroyed by the war they wanted and benefitted from politically. And they were aided and abetted by Republicans in Congress who did their best to help sell the war and stifle debate, and who since have done their best to shield the administration from accountability. Bush got away with one in 2004, when enough Americans could still deny reality and tell themselves everything was okay in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's no arguing it now. The Republicans in Congress deserve to be tossed out on their ears en masse, and if they're not there's something seriously wrong with democracy in our country.
Update: You have to credit where credit is due. The Washington Monthly took note of the GOP all-stars gathering in Baghdad back in 2003. For the purposes of illumination, I provide a cogent definition below, from Merriam Webster:
cronyism: partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications.
That and sheer incompetence are the hallmarks of this administration.