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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Wizard Has Been Exposed

Just finished reading "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an assistant editor for The Washington Post who was stationed in Baghdad from Sep. 2002 through Sep. 2004. The book is a behind the scenes look at the inner workings and political maneuverings in the Green Zone after the fall of Baghdad in March 2003. The story can be summed up as follows: A bunch of neo-con ideologues given free reign to create their version of a free-market utopia.

Qualifications be damned, as long as you voted for Bush in 2000 and watched Fox News, you too could get a well-paying job in Iraq.

"Once the Americans arrived, the job of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system fell to 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 was a naval reserve officer with two Bronze Stars and a deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He taught at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, where he specialized in disaster-response issues. During the first Gulf War, he provided medical aid to Kurds in northern Iraq. He had worked in Kosovo and Somalia. And in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, he had been put in charge of organizing the American response to the expected public health crisis in Iraq. A USAID colleague called him the "single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government"". (pp. 211 - 212).

Pretty impressive resume, huh? I bet you if they were going to replace a guy like that to head the reconstruction of Iraq's health care system, it would be with someone who has postgraduate degrees from five prestigious universities (instead of Burkle's measly four).

"A week after Baghdad's liberation, Burkle was informed that he was being replaced. A senior official at USAID told him that the White House wanted a "loyalist" in the job. Burkle had a wall of degrees, but he didn't have a picture of himself with the president". (p 212)

OK, so Bush wants someone who sees eye-to-eye with him on Iraq. I'm sure the replacement is a well-qualified individual.

"Burkle's job was handed to James K. Haveman, Jr., a sixty-year-old social worker who was largely unknown among international health experts. He had no medical degree, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Wolfowitz. 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. Prior to his stint in government, Haveman ran a large Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions." (p. 121)

I guess it's not so bad. Even though Haveman doesn't have the experience of Burkle, at least women in Iraq won't be getting abortions.

OK, let's be fair here. Just because Bush decided to replace experienced, well-qualified people with neo-con newbies doesn't mean that they didn't get some things done. I'm sure if we take a look at the big picture there are many shining examples of American goodwill and altruism in Iraq. And who would know better than the Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for post-war Iraq and the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer.

"In an interview before his departure, Bremer insisted to me that Iraq was "fundamentally changed for the better" by the occupation. The CPA, he said, had put Iraq on a path toward a democratic government and an open economy after more than three decades of a brutal socialist dictatorship. Among his biggest accomplishments, he said, were the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws, and the reduction of import duties. As our conversation was drawing to a close, I asked a broad question about unfinished business. "When I step back," he answered, "there's a lot left to be done."" (p 289)

So the three biggest accomplishments of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq are:

1. Lowering of Iraq's tax rate
2. Liberalization of foreign-investment laws
3. Reduction of import duties

Come on Paul, don't be so modest. It sounds like you just about accomplished everything you set out to do.


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