After reading this Washington Post article about the Iraq War reconstruction effort, I’ve stumbled across the epitaph of the Bush Administration:
Bush Administration appoints political cronies and ideological wackjobs to important positions. Said appointees pandimensionally clusterfuck everything sideways. People suffer and die due to avoidable ineptitude.
Let’s document the idiocies.
Jim O’Beirne was the gatekeeper for hiring in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Because most of these jobs were classified as temporary, provisional jobs, they were exempt from the federal regulations that prohibit ideological litmus tests. Here’s some of the gems O’Beirne dredged up (italics mine):
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.
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.
The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors…
..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…
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.
…Smith said O’Beirne once pointed to a young man’s résumé and pronounced him “an ideal candidate.” His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.
Now, you might be thinking, “O’Beirne…where have I heard that name before?” Yep, this O’Beirne is married to conservative pundit Kate O’Beirne. And this jackass made things a lot more difficult–and dangerous–for our troops:
Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government’s first and best hope to resuscitate Iraq — to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government, all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq — training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation — could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.
But 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.
By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashionedby the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq’s interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.
But it gets worse. According to one reporter:
“I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one worker noted to a reporter over lunch. “I’m here for George Bush.”
You didn’t exactly do a great job for America either, asshole. And of course, how could it be a Bush Administration program without the requisite fucking of public health and healthcare? Here’s the health official O’Beirne appointed:
Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker, was largely unknown among international health experts, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.
Haveman was well-traveled, but most of his overseas trips were in his capacity as a director of International Aid, a faith-based relief organization that provided health care while promoting Christianity in the developing world. Before his stint in government, Haveman ran a large Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions…
Haveman arrived in Iraq with his own priorities. He liked to talk about the number of hospitals that had reopened since the war and the pay raises that had been given to doctors instead of the still-decrepit conditions inside the hospitals or the fact that many physicians were leaving for safer, better paying jobs outside Iraq. He approached problems the way a health care administrator in America would: He focused on preventive measures to reduce the need for hospital treatment.
He urged the Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign, and he assigned an American from the CPA team — who turned out to be a closet smoker himself — to lead the public education effort. Several members of Haveman’s staff noted wryly that Iraqis faced far greater dangers in their daily lives than tobacco. The CPA’s limited resources, they argued, would be better used raising awareness about how to prevent childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.
Haveman didn’t like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free. He figured Iraqis should pay a small fee every time they saw a doctor. He also decided to allocate almost all of the Health Ministry’s $793 million share of U.S. reconstruction funds to renovating maternity hospitals and building new community medical clinics. His intention, he said, was “to shift the mind-set of the Iraqis that you don’t get health care unless you go to a hospital.”
But his decision meant there were no reconstruction funds set aside to rehabilitate the emergency rooms and operating theaters at Iraqi hospitals, even though injuries from insurgent attacks were the country’s single largest public health challenge.
Haveman also wanted to apply American medicine to other parts of the Health Ministry. Instead of trying to restructure the dysfunctional state-owned firm that imported and distributed drugs and medical supplies to hospitals, he decided to try to sell it to a private company.
To prepare it for a sale, he wanted to attempt something he had done in Michigan. When he was the state’s director of community health, he sought to slash the huge amount of money Michigan spent on prescription drugs for the poor by limiting the medications doctors could prescribe for Medicaid patients. Unless they received an exemption, physicians could only prescribe drugs that were on an approved list, known as a formulary.
Haveman figured the same strategy could bring down the cost of medicine in Iraq. The country had 4,500 items on its drug formulary. Haveman deemed it too large. If private firms were going to bid for the job of supplying drugs to government hospitals, they needed a smaller, more manageable list. A new formulary would also outline new requirements about where approved drugs could be manufactured, forcing Iraq to stop buying medicines from Syria, Iran, and Russia, and start buying from the United States.
Shouldn’t the first priority be getting medicine to people, not enriching U.S. drug companies?
He asked the people who had drawn up the formulary in Michigan whether they wanted to come to Baghdad. They declined. So he beseeched the Pentagon for help. His request made its way to the Defense Department’s Pharmacoeconomic Center in San Antonio.
A few weeks later, three formulary experts were on their way to Iraq.
The group was led by Theodore Briski, a balding, middle-aged pharmacist who held the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Haveman’s order, as Briski remembered it, was: “Build us a formulary in two weeks and then go home.” By his second day in Iraq, Briski came to three conclusions. First, the existing formulary “really wasn’t that bad.” Second, his mission was really about “redesigning the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement and delivery system, and that was a complete change of scope — on a grand scale.” Third, Haveman and his advisers “really didn’t know what they were doing.”
Haveman “viewed Iraq as Michigan after a huge attack,” said George Guszcza, an Army captain who worked on the CPA’s health team. “Somehow if you went into the ghettos and projects of Michigan and just extended it out for the entire state — that’s what he was coming to save.”
Haveman’s critics, including more than a dozen people who worked for him in Baghdad, contend that rewriting the formulary was a distraction. Instead, they said, the CPA should have focused on restructuring, but not privatizing, the drug-delivery system and on ordering more emergency shipments of medicine to address shortages of essential medicines. The first emergency procurement did not occur until early 2004, after the Americans had been in Iraq for more than eight months.
The consequences of this asshattery?
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.
The new health minister, Aladin Alwan, beseeched the United Nations for help, and he asked neighboring nations to share what they could. He sought to increase production at a state-run manufacturing plant in the city of Samarra. And he put the creation of a new formulary on hold. To him, it was a fool’s errand.
“We didn’t need a new formulary. We needed drugs,” he said. “But the Americans did not understand that.”
Oh, if you’re keeping score at home this is the guy Haveman replaced–replaced, because a “senior official at USAID sent Burkle an e-mail saying the White House wanted a “loyalist” in the job. Burkle had a wall of degrees, but he didn’t have a picture with the president.”
Haveman replaced Frederick M. Burkle Jr., a physician with a master’s degree in public health and postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and the University of California at Berkeley. Burkle taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where he specialized in disaster-response issues, and he was a deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which sent him to Baghdad immediately after the war.
He had worked in Kosovo and Somalia and in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. A USAID colleague called him the “single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government.”
But a week after Baghdad’s liberation, Burkle was informed he was being replaced.
It’s this kind of ineptitude that gets people killed. Wasn’t this supposed to be the administration with all of the grownups?
While reading Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science, he describes what a White House staffer said to a candidate being vetted for a position on the National Drug Abuse Council. When the candidate said he supported needle exchange, the staffer responded:
Now you’re two for three. The President opposes needle exchange on moral grounds regardless of the consequences.
Ideology over reality. Ideology over humanity. Welcome to Bush’s America.
Update: Digby has words about this too.
Thank God democrats don’t give political appointments to their buddies!
Thank God democrats don’t give political appointments to their buddies!
Your point? Did Mike ever say that the Democrats were infallible political angels who never did anything wrong. Do you have an substantive comments to make, or any similarly substantive criticisms of Mike’s comments? No? Thank you, go away.
I’ll say that people that think that government’s purpose is only to steal from the people, and who then go into government anyway are prone to exactly this sort of criminal behavior.
Hey, how many of the republican-promised Clinton administration investigations resulted in anything? Anyone? Anyone?
Democrats don’t usually demand that their appointees be born-agains, and do not specifically target the home-schooled children of cronies, now do they?
This administration has been using a religious litmus test, which is against the law. It has been choosing massively ignorant and unsuitable people to pursue its “mission” in Iraq, and has rejected people with experience. Stories about this have briefly surfaced for years.
Don’t act like it’s a surprise or a wild accusation.
To think I had actually believed our alledged incompetence was caused by trying to make progress against determined violent opposition! Of course now that that opposition has grown, even with the best possible personnel (and who wants to risk it) its almost impossible.
Incredible the damage that fact-free people can cause!
Yeah, Democrats are really bad about appointing political cronies to important positions… like Clinton appointing James Lee Witt to lead FEMA (remember him?). If he’d been in charge of FEMA last year instead of, oh, I don’t know, a political hack named Brownie, perhaps people wouldn’t have been trapped on their roofs for a week in New Orleans.
The WP article simply infuriated me… Every Republican and swing voter should be forced to read it before the election.
Exactly. 650,000 and counting.
thank you admin