Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

A selective account of de-Baathification in Iraq

Posted by David Kassel on April 28, 2008

I’ve just read My Year in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer’s account of his management of the first year of the American occupation.  And what stood out about the book for me, other than the deadliness of the accounts of the endless inconclusive meetings, were the omissions and often erroneous details provided about what may have been Bremer’s most momentous and controversial decision: his de-Baathification orders.

Much has already been written about Bremer’s first two orders as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.  CPA Order No. 1 led to a wholesale purge of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party members from Iraq’s government ministries and industries.  Order No. 2 dissolved the Iraqi military.  Many comentators have rightly pointed to these orders as critical mistakes in the U.S. occupation because they helped start the insurgency, which has caused so much havoc and death and destruction to American troops and Iraqis alike.

Little appears to have been said, though, about the contradictions and apparent mistatements in Bremer’s attempt to defend his de-Baathification policies in his book.

First of all, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran points out in Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, his book about how we screwed up the post-war reconstruction effort in Iraq:

While the [Baath] party did have plenty of thugs, many of Iraq’s most capable scientists, engineers, and other professionals also belonged. To gain admission to the best colleges and graduate schools, to get a coveted government job, to get a promotion, you had to be a member. If you excelled at your job, you might be promoted into the party’s upper ranks, even if that was not something you sought. Turning down a promotion could get you fired or sent to jail.

In his book, Bremer seems to aknowledge this reality, saying that the CPA “had no gripe with” people who had joined the Baath Party to get a job or because they had been coerced into doing so.  He notes:

Our concern was only the top four levels of the party membership, which the [de-Baathification] order officially excluded from public life. These were the Baathist loyalists who, by virtue of their positions of power in the regime, had been active instruments of Saddam’s repression.

What Bremer never explains is why CPA Order No. 1 actually went beyond those four levels of party membership to prohibit rank and file Baath Party members from holding positions in the top three layers of management in every national government ministry, affiliated corporations and other government institutions.

Bremer, by the way, doesn’t even discuss in his book the history of the dispute between the State and Defense departments over how deep the purge should go or the more lenient NSC-brokered compromise that President Bush reportedly agreed to.

Bremer says he explained to his staff that the White House, DOD, and State had all signed off on CPA Order No. 1.  But Chandrasekaran’s book says that neither Rice nor Powell were ever shown a copy of the order. Moreover, Bremer doesn’t mention that both Jay Garner, whom Bremer succeeded in managing the occupation, and Stephen Browning, an engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who was tapped to head four ministries, had come to him to personally object to the order as too harsh.

Chandrasekaran describes Garner as as saying to Bremer: “You’re going to drive 50,000 Baathists underground before nightfall.  Don’t do this.”  Browining objected that Baathists were “the brains of the government…,” without whom the CPA would have “a major problem” running most ministries.  According to Chandrasekaran’s book, Bremer responded tersely that the subject was not open for discussion.  Apparently, none of this was open for discussion in Bremer’s book either.

Bremer further doesn’t note that the CPA began to receive reports that 10,000 to 15,000 teachers had been fired as a result of Order No. 1. They were level-four party members who had joined because they were told to do so by the Ministry of Education, according to Chandrasekaran.  Entire schools were left with just one or two teachers in some Sunni-dominated areas.

Bremer later lays the blame in his book for the teacher firings on the Iraq Governing Council’s implementation of his policy. “This went well beyond the intent of our initial policy. Iraqi children were paying the price…,” he writes.  Maybe, but the order certainly set a tone for the Council.

Finally, Bremer appears to completely misjudge the impact of his de-Baathification decrees, saying of Order No. 1:

On the plus side, the reaction of the Iraqi people to the de-Baathification decree was overwhelmingly favorable. Literally hundreds of times over the next fourteen months I would hear that Order No. 1 was the single most important step I had taken as administrator…”

Somehow Bremer doesn’t appear to realize that “with the scrawl of his signature,” as Chandrasekarn put it specifically in describing Order No. 2, “he (Bremer) created legions of new enemies.”


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Have we ruined Iraq’s economy yet?

Posted by David Kassel on April 1, 2008

The Bush administration has transformed failed nation building into an artform.  

Here are some of the nation-building principles that the administration has used: 

First, you rush in to the situation with a pre-set ideology—e.g., free-trade policies and privatization are the answers to the country’s problems—that blinds you to all alternative options and objectives.  You do not listen to pleas for caution or reason, especially when it comes from people with knowledge and experience.  For that very reason, you are careful not to employ anyone with knowledge or experience.  Better to have people around you who share your ideology and your political party affiliation.

You do not make any effort to understand the history of the country you are rebuilding or the political, societal, or economic aspirations of its people.  Remember, not knowing anything about them allows you to know what’s best for them.  Moreover, you do not do advance planning for your nation-building project, and if there are any plans kicking around, you must do your best to keep everyone in the dark about them.

Other important principles include:  Do not give contracts to companies indigenous to the country you are rebuilding or to any firms with knowledge or experience in the areas in which you are seeking their help.  Give out contracts to politically connected friends and political contributors to the president.  Make sure those contracts are cost-plus, and do not attempt to monitor the companies’ performance or audit their use of the funding they get.

The results have been predictable.  As Naomi Klein has pointed out in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism:

(L. Paul) Bremer was sent to Iraq to build a corporate utopia; instead, Iraq became a goulish dystopia where going to a simple business meeting could get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded.

A clear step-by-step account of how the U.S. has implemented these principles of failed nation building can be found in the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

The key ideological assumption that Bremmer and his staff had regarding Iraq was that there was an imperative to impose free-market reforms and privatization in the country and to do it quickly. 

There were those who understood that there were problems with that approach.  One was Timothy Carney, who had been recruited to advise the Ministry of Industry.  Carney agreed it made no sense for the Iraqi government over the long run to own all the factories.  But “Carney figured the decision of what to sell, when to well, and for how much rested with the Iraqis.”

Glenn Corliss, a member of Carney’s team, was another who advocated caution.  He had worked for Fidelity and JPMorgan and had specialized in restructuring businesses.  As Chandrasekaran notes, Corliss worried that the sale of factories to private investors would result in layoffs.

That view wasn’t shared by the neocons in the Bush administration, including Bremer, who wanted fundamental economic restructuring of Iraqi society.   Had Bremmer, the neocons, their consultants etc. been aware of Iraqi history and its current society, they would have realized that unemployment was indeed a key concern throughout Iraq, even among those who were glad that Saddam had been toppled. 

Before Saddam fell, government jobs in Iraq had been plentiful and guaranteed people a salary for life.  While salaries were low, the cost of most goods and services was subsidized by the government.  Every family received monthly food rations from the state.  Education, even college, was free, and so was health care. 

Most Iraqis were particularly concerned about unemployment in the days after Saddam’s government was toppled.  They were also wary of foreign ownership of domestic businesess and privatization of the oil industry, in particular.  But Bremmer et al. didn’t heed those viewpoints either.  One of Bremmer’s key aides, Peter McPherson,  told Chandrasekaran: “We need to shrink government employment, not increase it.”

McPherson, on leave of absence as president of Michigan State University, also advocated a “clean-slate” approach to debts and assets held by Iraqi companies.  Partly because those companies had largely all been looted and their financial records were either missing or un-auditable,  McPherson reasoned that all debts and assets of those companies should be nullified.  Corliss, however, knew this approach would simply penalize the stronger, more valuable companies, and benefit “the dogs that you got to take out back and shoot.” 

McPherson also had another interesting theory that as inefficient state companies shrank or went out of business, imports and new private firms would flourish.  He termed the theory “shrinkage,” and he went so far as to suggest that looting was a much-needed form of shrinkage because the theft of government property promoted private enterprise.  McPherson persuaded Bremer to eliminate import duties and slashed Iraq’s top tax rate for individuals and businesses from 45 percent to a flat 15 percent rate.

But as Chandrasekaran noted, the predicted foreign investment in Iraq has never materialized. 

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Private militias and their accountability

Posted by David Kassel on March 4, 2008

Michael Walzer, a contributing editor to The New Republic, writes in the current issue of the magazine about the use of private militias and mercenaries in Iraq and elsewhere, and concludes it’s “mostly a bad idea.”

Walzer points to Max Weber’s definition of a state as holding a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a society or territory.  And he adds that:

It is a very dangerous business to loosen the state’s grip on the use of violence, to allow war to become anything other than a public responsibility.

But that is exactly what has happened in Iraq.  To be fair, the current Bush administration didn’t pioneer the use of privately run militias for security and other jobs that the administration wasn’t willing or able to order its own troops to do.  Walzer notes that during the wars over the former Yugoslavia, then President Clinton permitted a private U.S. firm to train Croat soldiers in fighting the Serbs.  But might it have been better, he asked, if Clinton had gone to Congress and laid out the argument to use American troops to help the Croats?  Using private soldiers “makes policy invisible,” he notes.

Well, maybe not so invisible when those private soldiers start killing civilians, as Blackwater USA guards did when they fired into a crowd last September in Baghdad.

As Walzer points out, soldiers get out of hand at times as well, sometimes for similar reasons, including a lack of adequate training, equipment, and support.  But that, he says, “is the result of political decisions, not market processes.  And, for such decisions, we know whom to hold accountable.”

And it’s not just politicians who are held accountable when soldiers get out of hand, it’s the soldiers themselves.  As Walzer notes, solders are trained to fight in accordance with a code of conduct enforced by military courts, which in turn are overseen by civilian courts.  By contrast, security companies in Iraq operate under a voluntary, and unenforceable code of conduct.  Moreover, in an administrative law imposed by Paul Bremmer in 2004, guards are immune from prosectuion in Iraqi courts.

It remains, unclear, Walzer says, whether contractors can be tried by military courts.  They can theoretically be brought back to the U.S. for trial in federal courts.  But while there are some 100,000 American contractors in Iraq, not one has been prosecuted for an act of violence.

Violence by private militias is only one of the accountability issues raised by the government’s increasing use of private contractors in Iraq.  The government is simply unable or unwilling to adequately monitor a wide range of activities of private contractors, from reconstruction efforts to interrogations of suspected insurgents.   The result is not only unplanned violence, but general mismanagement, shoddy construction, and poor delivery of services. 

But there’s no doubt as why the use of private contractors holds such appeal to so many administrators in government.  As Gilmour and Jensen have pointed out:

…if private actors are not subject to the rules set for government action, delegating authority to private parties may allow the government to do through them what it cannot do itself.

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The candidates’ silence on contractor oversight

Posted by David Kassel on January 7, 2008

None of the presidential candidates seems to want to address one of the most critical accountability issues we face—our inability to monitor our contractors in Iraq. 

This past Saturday night’s marathon debate in New Hampshire is an example.  Iraq was a major focus, but the candidates stayed clear of issues of economic accountability there, particularly the area of corporate oversight.  They (the Democrats at least) talked about the failure of the troop surge to bring about political reconciliation in Iraq, but they never mentioned our increasingly privatized miltiary operations and our inability to oversee or control it.  Neither Blackwater nor Halliburton were ever mentioned. 

Among the Republicans, only Ron Paul was critical of our occupation of Iraq (although McCain has been critical of management of the war); but Paul, an avid free-marketeer, was only talking about the military invasion, not the economic one that has accompanied it.

In her book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes the ineffectiveness of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the transitional government that the U.S. set up to govern Iraq under Paul Bremmer.  The CPA was far too understaffed, Klein noted, to monitor the contractors.   Halliburton, by contrast, had 50,000 workers in the region.  Bremer’s staff was a mere 1,500 government employees.  As a result, firms such as CH2M Hill in a joint venture with Parsons Brinckerhoff were paid tens of millions of dollars to monitor other contractors. 

Klein describes a morass of mismanagement in which contractors endlessly subcontracted cost-plus contracts to other contractors.  She visited the Baghdad Central Children’s Hospital, which had supposedly been rebuilt by a U.S. contractor.  There was raw sewage in the hallways and none of the toilets worked.  The engineering firm, Parsons, was “handed” $186 million to build 142 health clinics, and only completed six.   Iraq’s power grid was producing significantly less electricity in 2007 than it did in 2006.

Then there’s the issue of the interrogators the U.S. has used in Iraq to root out the insurgency.  Klein contends the U.S. military’s own investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal found that government officials in charge of overseeing the interrogators’ performance were not even in Iraq, “making it ‘very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively administer a contract.'”

 Klein concludes that:

Iraq under Bremer was the logical conclusion of Chicago School (of economics) theory: a public sector reduced to a minimal number of employees, mostly contract workers, living in a Halliburton city state, tasked with signing corporate friendly laws drafted by KPMG and handing out duffle bags of cash to Western contractors protected by mercenary soldiers, themselves shielded by full legal immunity.  All around them were furious people, increasingly turning to religious fundamentalism because it’s the only source of power in a hollowed-out state. 

 During the debate, Edwards, Clinton, Obama, and Richardson talked eloquently about the unacceptable toll in blood and treasure that the war has cost us.  But one of the key causes of this toll has gone undiscussed—the failure of our government to exercise planning and control over the economic aspect of our presence there. 

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The cost of hollow government

Posted by David Kassel on January 2, 2008

The cost of the increasingly hollow, ideological governance within our public sector is starkly revealed in one of the more riveting political books of 2007, The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.

In fact, this book has explained to me why the Bush administration didn’t equip our troops with adequate armor in Iraq and why they weren’t, and still aren’t, interested in winning the war.  It appears the administration is not even really interested in reconstructing Iraq.  That’s because scores of current and former members of the administration and their friends in the corporate sphere are more interested in making a huge profit off the billions of taxpayer dollars intended to reconstruct the place.

What are the presidential candidates saying about this?  They’ve taken positions on withdrawing the troops from Iraq, but what about the matter of America’s role in plundering the country?

The book details how Halliburton has used $20 billion in public reconstruction funds to build “city-states” for the thousands of contractors that have overrun Iraq, yet little or no money has gone to the country’s factories.  The money has been turned over almost exclusively to American and other foreign contractors and accountants, most of them handed no-bid contracts, while Iraqis themselves have largely been excluded from all the fun.

Meanwhile, the administration never set up a workable system of public oversight of these contractors, who seem to be immune as well from both Iraqi and American laws in their dealings.  The result has been widespread fraud and mismangement.  As Klein puts it:

…the occupation of Iraq was, from the start, a radical experiment in hollow governance.

Klein contends that this situation, coupled with American decisions early on to stifle democratic elections in Iraq led to the horrific violence there, which was then met with American-imposed repression, ultimately symbolized by the spectacle of Abu Ghraib.

Klein makes a convincing case that all too many key current and former members of the U.S. government, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle, James Baker, George Shultz and others have personally profited either from the war in Iraq or from the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” in the wake of 9/11.  She notes:

In the Bush administration, the war profiteers aren’t just clamoring to get access to government, they are the government: there is no distinction between the two.

The book, subtitled “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” also describes a pattern of  corporate corruption in country after country in which the U.S. has intervened economically and sometimes militarily in the past four decades.  This pattern began in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, and continued in Poland and Russia, just after the fall of Communism, in South Africa after Apartheid, in Thailand and other countries in Asia, and finally in Iraq.  It’s a pattern that appears to involve the imposition of Milton Friedman’s “Chicago School” economic doctrines in every case.

In none of these cases have these doctrines of mass privatization, deregulation of markets, and massive cuts in social services worked.  In every case, a small cadre of corporate elites has gotten rich, while the middle class has been pushed into poverty and despair.  Iraq has been the ultimate example of this.  Moreover, because these economic principles are so unpalatable to the local populations, Klein contends, the principles have had to be imposed in conjunction with violent shocks involving repression, violence, natural disasters, and, in many cases, torture.   

Klein opens with the example of Hurricane Katrina, a major shock, which was seen by many local politicians and corporate lobbyists as an opportunity to level public housing projects in New Orleans, lower taxes, deregulate the economy, and downsize the government.  She  details the situations in Chile, Argentina and other South American countries, beginning in the 1970s, in which Augusto Pinochet and other dictators imposed the shocks on their own, instituting enormous repression, killings, torture, and disappearances on their populations, with the sole aim, it turns out, of installing free-market economies in their countries.  Lurking behind the scenes in case after case has been the University of Chicago Economics Department and Friedman, its free-market guru, who advised and encouraged these dictators to transform their countries according to their free-market theories.  

Klein also drags Israel into this morass, but I think she goes off the track here.   She contends that Israel’s security wall has turned that country into a “fortified gated community” equivalent to the Green Zone in Iraq.  She makes no mention of the fact that the wall appears to have stopped the suicide bombings inside Israel.  She also contends that a lot of Israeli companies have profited from selling security-related technology around the world, but she makes no case that those companies are running the Israeli government the way Halliburton etc. appear to be running the U.S. government.  She makes no case, moreover, that Israel’s leaders are seeking to impose free-market principles on the Palestinians or anyone else for that matter, so this chapter really doesn’t seem to fit within this book.

On the whole, however, this is a book that should be read and discussed in both programs and courses on corporate social responsibility and public sector governance.  It should also be part of the curriculum in economics departments and should be a key focus of discussion in the presidential campaign as well.

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