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I’m currently stuck in a series of books about the conduct of the Iraq War and its aftermath. Two of the most illuminating thus far are Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq. Following are two anecdotes that reflect ideological and practical constraints on policy options.

The first is from Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life:

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 Johns 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.”

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 off himself with the president.

Burkle’s job was handed to James K. Haveman, Jr., a sixty-year-old social worker who was largely uknown 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.

So, it’s obviously ridiculous that someone whose resume sounds perfect for post-conflict medical administration in Iraq is replaced by an ideologue with connections.

Now, onto a Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate where, after a description of Rice’s inability to apparently understand the purpose of her job as the National Security Advisor, he relates this story from late 2002, with less than six months until the war commenced.

In October 2002, Leslie Gelb, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, had approached Rice and Hadley with an offer of help. The council and two other think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, would form a consortium that would gather a panel of experts to provide facts and options for the postwar. Their work would be politically palatable, coming from across the ideological spectrum, not insisting on a single plan that would corner the administration. “This is just what we need,” Rice said. “We’ll be too busy to do it ourselves.” But she didn’t want the involvement of Heritage, which had been critical of the idea of an Iraq War. “Do AEI.”

Chris DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, where the administration’s neoconservatives drew their support and many of their personnel, neither consented nor refused when Gelb broached the possibility. On November 15, the representatives of the think tanks met with Rice and Hadley in Rice’s office at the White House. John Hamre of CSIS went in expecting to pitch the idea to Rice, but the meeting was odd from the start: Rice seem attentive only to DeMuth, and it was as if the White House was trying to sell something to the American Enterprise Institute rather than the other way around. When Gelb, on speakerphone from New York, began to describe his concept, DeMuth cut him off. “Wait a minute. What’s all this planning and thinking about postwar Iraq?” He turned to Rice. “This is nation building, and you said you were against that. In the campaign you said it, the president has said it. Does he know you’re doing this? Does Karl Rove know?”

Without AEI, Rice couldn’t sign on. Two weeks later, Hadley [Rice’s deputy] called Gelb to tell him what Gelb already knew: “We’re not going to go ahead with it.” Gelb later explained, “They thought all those things would get in the way of going to war.”

There’s so much going on here. Firstly, Rice, the top person in the US government responsible for national security policy planning, just months before the war began had no idea what would happen once the hostilities ended. Second, there’s the ideological imperative of dealing with AEI instead of Heritage even though Heritage is a decidedly conservative institution. Thirdly, you have Rice acting as if she’s working for AEI. Fourthly, and this is an issue that comes to the fore in every book I’ve read about the Iraq War, the Republican anti-nation building rhetoric from pre-2001 was never completely disregarded despite its obvious disconnect with the need to administer a country you’ve just invaded. As many have noted, 9/11 changed Bush and Cheney’s views on containment, deterrence, and the need to meet threats before they materialize. But unchanged was the reflexive aversion to nation building a la Clinton. This is bad if you’re planning on invading other countries with no exit strategy.

This is brought into relief most clearly, perhaps, in a Donald Rumsfeld speech “Beyond Nation Building” given on February 14, 2003 on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, chronicled in Gordon and Trainor’s Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Rumsfeld depicts the Clinton strategies in the Balkans as failures while depicting Afghanistan as a model of post-conflict management. Iraq, Rumsfeld asserts, might be even more easy than Afghanistan because “[w]ith Iraq…there has been time to prepare.” While there was indeed time, all of 2002, in fact, no time had been spent on post-war planning at CENTCOM, DoD or the NSC.

Lastly, as I’ve conjectured before, Gelb believed that planning for the post-war was seen as an impediment to getting the political approval for the war in the first place. Within parts of the administration, it was more important to get to go to war, even if it meant not planning for the most crucial part of the war. George W. Bush was certainly poorly served by his national security policy formation apparatus, but he exerted virtually no control and displayed no curiosity about the course of war planning. As Packer relates of a meeting in early January 2003 in a meeting of Iraqi exiles, Rice and Bush, Bush asks, “”A humanitarian army is going to follow our army into Iraq, right?’ ‘Right,’ Rice affirmed, but she glanced down in a way that suggested she knew how inadequate the answer was.”


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