The Washington Monthly's Who's Who
December 2003

Special Baghdad edition

By Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Colin Soloway

Simone Ledeen is serving her country. She is the daughter of Michael Ledeen, the Iran-Contra luminary, AEI scholar, and all-around capo in the neocon mafia. She's 29, a freshly-minted M.B.A., with little to no experience in war-torn countries. But as an advisor for northern Iraq at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad, she is, in essence, helping shape one quarter of that nation's economy.

When the history of the occupation of Iraq is written, there will be many factors to point to when explaining the post-conquest descent into chaos and disorder, from the melting away of Saddam's army to the Pentagon's failure to make adequate plans for the occupation. But historians will also consider the lack of experience and abundant political connections of the hundreds of American bureaucrats sent to Baghdad to run Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority.

It's not that Americans lack such experience. In the last decade particularly, many American officials acquired a great deal of expertise in post-conflict reconstruction in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and in post-Communist countries in Eastern Europe and around the globe--expertise that could have been put to good use at the CPA. Names frequently mentioned are those of General Bill Nash, who commanded troops in the Gulf War and NATO operations in Bosnia; Robert Perito, former senior foreign service officer and deputy director of the Justice Department's international police training program, who helped advise peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, and helped organize post-conflict police training in Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia; Bob Gelbard, former U.S. presidential envoy to the Balkans; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jacques Klein, who served in various capacities in the Balkans under the United States and the United Nations. Yet according to experts in the field, few of those with experience in these various deployments got the call to serve or even had their opinions solicited.

In their place, the architects of the war chose card-carrying Republicans--operatives, flacks, policy-wonks and lobbyists--for almost every key assignment in the country. Some marquee examples include U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer's senior advisor and liaison to Capitol Hill, Tom Korologos, one of the most powerful GOP lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Then there's the man in charge of privatizing Iraq's 200-odd state owned companies, Tom Foley, a venture capitalist and high-flying GOP fundraiser. Foley was one of the Bob Dole's top-ten career donors, Connecticut finance chair for Bush 2000 and a classmate of the president's from Harvard Business School.

The chief advisor to the Agriculture Ministry is Dan Amstutz, a Reagan administration veteran who until recently served as the president of the North American Export Grain Association. Oxfam's Director of Policy Kevin Watkins recently quipped that with his record of opening up developing economies to cheap American agricultural exports, "putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission." The presence of so many GOP lobbyists and fat-cats on the CPA roster has led many to suspect that the staffing was driven by the desire to award prized contracts to friendly companies and campaign donors. There is more than a little truth in those impressions. But a closer look paints a more complex picture.

In the lead-up to war, the architects of the coming invasion fought endless rearguard battles against their enemies at the State Department and the C.I.A. to keep the major policy decisions firmly in their hands. And the process continued as they began to staff CPA itself, where they wrote off not only State Department employees (considered disloyal because State had resisted the hawks over Iraq strategy) but also anyone who worked at NGO's (ideologically suspect) and those who had worked in Clinton's government (ditto).

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By making partisan loyalty their primary criteria, the administration ruled out most of the people with experience in the field and restricted themselves to politically trustworthy Republicans, many of whom, though often well-meaning and admirably willing to serve their country in a very dangerous place, had little to no experience to prepare them for the challenges they'd encounter in Iraq.

A typical example is Dan Senor. Before attending Harvard Business School from 1999 to 2001, Senor was a staffer for then-Sen. Spencer Abraham of Michigan. After receiving his MBA, he went to the Carlyle Group, where he was a venture capitalist from 2001 to 2003. Senor left Carlyle in 2003 for a brief stint as White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan's deputy before shipping off to Iraq. Though he showed up in Iraq as a junior press handler, Senor is now Bremer's senior advisor and for most of last summer he was in charge of organizing Iraq's post-Saddam media, an effort which most have rated as little short of a disaster. More examples can be found at the Ministry of Education, often cited by the White House as one of the CPA's signal successes. Who runs the Ministry of Education? The chief American advisor to the Minister of Education is Williamson Evers, a school voucher advocate and Libertarian activist from the Hoover Institution who was an education policy advisor on the Bush 2000 campaign. The first of Evers's two deputies is Leslye Arsht, a Republican education policy wonk who served as deputy press secretary under Ronald Reagan and then in the Department of Education under George H.W. Bush. Evers's second deputy was Jim Nelson, President George W. Bush's education commissioner from when he was governor of Texas. (Nelson recently returned stateside.)

Each of the three has education policy credentials. But one searches their résumés in vain for any evidence of the sort of expertise that would suit them to rebuild an educational system in an Arab country in the aftermath of war, a decade of sanctions, and two generations of totalitarian rule.

To date, Evers and his team have resisted the urgings of their colleagues back in Washington to foist on Iraq vouchers and other schemes conservatives have thus far failed to get enacted in the United States. But critics say that even the much-hyped successes getting schools refurbished and reopened may not stand up to scrutiny. The White House routinely trumpets the fact that 1,595 of Iraq's 10,000 schools have already been rehabilitated. But when Newsweek reporters visited five of those schools in October, they found each one trash-strewn, poorly supplied, and mostly a wreck.

More such "help" may be on the way in the person of Rich Galen, veteran GOP-spin meister, former spokesman for Vice President Dan Quayle and onetime head of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC. In late October, Galen received the call to serve his country in Iraq as yet another of Bremer's Senior Advisors. His gig? Adding more artillery to the Iraq War spin operation. "My job," Galen told The New York Post before shipping off, "will be to help reporters on the ground find interesting stories that they can use. If there's a civil-affairs unit out of Manhattan that rebuilt a school, it might be of interest to Channel 5 but not to a network."

CPA officials say that the older GOP functionaries do a reasonable job keeping their partisanship publicly under wraps. But the younger Republicans in Iraq spend much of their time plotting against the Democrats. "Everything is seen in the context of the election, and how they will screw the Democrats," said one CPA official. "It was really pretty shocking to hear them talk."

"They are all on the campaign trail," said another official. "They see this as a stepping stone to a better job in the next Bush administration." "I don't always know if they are Republicans," said yet another senior CPAer. "But what is clear is that they know nothing about development, and nothing about transitional economies." They're trying to do the right thing, this official adds, "but they do what they do without any knowledge of how the post-war world works in reality. They come up with hare-brained schemes that cause so many problems they take more time to fix than to create."

It's also driven journalists on the ground, watching these operatives move in and out of Saddam's marble Republican Palace, which CPA commandeered as its headquarters, to joke: "They don't call it the Republican Palace for nothing."

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Joshua Micah Marshall is a Washington Monthly contributing writer and author of Talkingpointsmemo.com. Laura Rozen is a national security writer in Washington, D.C. Colin Soloway is a contributing editor of Newsweek.



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