Monday, October 31, 2005

Cronyism

I'm about a third of the way into George Packer's Assassin's Gate and, so far, a lot of the book seems an apologia of the war hawks' cause. Packer wants us to know that his vision has cleared and often picks at the ideological pinheads who pushed for the war, but really wants us to understand that he's really a good guy who just wanted the best and, therefore, shouldn't be blamed for supporting this debacle.

Having said that, the book is a good primer for the war. For people who have been paying attention for a while there might be little "news value" in the book, but it's the big picture of Iraq in one place and it's well-written.

I do want to highlight something, though, because it's proven to be an extremely detrimental modus operandi of the Bush administration. Fareed Zakaria, in yesterday's New York Times, reviewed the book and reminds us that we knew long before Hurricane Katrina and the nomination of Harriet Miers that this was an administration that relied on nothing more than the loyalty of cronies.
Packer describes an occupation that was focused more on rewarding confederates than gaining success on the ground. Garner received instructions from Feith and Wolfowitz to be nice to the Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, who was a favorite of the Pentagon. State Department officials were barred from high posts in Baghdad, even when they were uniquely qualified. Senior jobs went to Feith's former law partner and to the brother of Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary. Friendly American firms like Halliburton were favored over local Iraqis.

Packer describes in microcosm something that has infected conservatism in recent years. Conservatives live in fear of being betrayed ideologically. They particularly distrust nonpartisan technocrats - experts - who they suspect will be seduced by the "liberal establishment." The result, in government, journalism and think tanks alike, is a profusion of second-raters whose chief virtue is that they are undeniably "sound."
American Conservative brought this up last week, too.
Some of the corruption grew out of the misguided neoconservative agenda for Iraq, which meant that a serious reconstruction effort came second to doling out the spoils to the war’s most fervent supporters. The CPA brought in scores of bright, young true believers who were nearly universally unqualified. Many were recruited through the Heritage Foundation website, where they had posted their résumés. They were paid six-figure salaries out of Iraqi funds, and most served in 90-day rotations before returning home with their war stories. One such volunteer was Simone Ledeen, daughter of leading neoconservative Michael Ledeen. Unable to communicate in Arabic and with no relevant experience or appropriate educational training, she nevertheless became a senior advisor for northern Iraq at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad. Another was former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer’s older brother Michael who, though utterly unqualified, was named director of private-sector development for all of Iraq.
You may remember Simone's declaration that "war is hell" because it was tough on her wardrobe.

I know that conservatives have a fear of "elites," a description which they apply to anyone who has studied the matter at hand and disagrees with them (Limbaugh famously dismissed "elite" professors, media, doctors, lawyers, scientists and sociologists), but couldn't they just once take what they're doing seriously enough to rely on people who know what they're doing? Whether you supported the war or not, you have to wonder how many Iraqis have been sacrificed to the conservative fear of knowledge.

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