Sunday, December 14, 2008

Writing History

Today's NY Times notes one of the hottest reads in the city these days is a 513-page history of Iraq's US-led reconstruction titled “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience.” The unpublished manuscript takes a look at the Bush administration's rebuilding efforts (I know what you're thinking, there actually WERE planned rebuilding efforts? It wasn't just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks?) and comes up holding its nose. From the preface -- the prewar planning for Iraqi reconstruction was “blinkered and disjointed.” In essence, Bush & Co., didn't have a clue as to what they were doing, or how to do it. Which, of course, didn't slow them down in their frenzied rush to oust Saddam and . . . well, do something instead of Saddam once they got there.

The findings are scheduled for presentation at a Commission on Wartime Contracting hearing. Take a look through the online version, also courtesy of the Times, here. Since they've been out of the public eye for a while, the utter idiocy of Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz & Ambassador Bremer may make you nostalgic (or is that nauseous?) for the good ol' days two of Bush's favorites. Here are a few pieces from the manuscript.
Andrew S. Natsios (2001-2005 Administrator for USAID) told the group: “If this thing gets approved, you’ll have no money for elections, no money for rebuilding local governance, no money for building the university system, no money for the health system.” Calling the plan “a recipe for disaster,” he recommended reserving some of the money for non-construction projects and contingencies.” Natsios strenuously objected to the CPA’s [Coalition Provisional Authority] big infrastructure approach to reconstruction, arguing that it flouted the lessons learned from decades of international development experience. . . . Two weeks later, Natsios received an angry call from Ambassador Bremer. . . . Bremer retorted that under his original plan, the CPA could begin construction by March. . . . Natsios, who had managed Boston’s “Big Dig,” one of the largest and most problem-ridden construction projects in American history, replied that the CPA timetable “was utterly ridiculous.”
Helping the Iraqi People is job one. . . or not.
All funds not obligated to a specific project or re-obligated to specific sectors by September 30, 2006, could only be used to pay adjustments toward existing contracts. In a move reminiscent of the rush to spend DFI funds in 2004, the Project Contracting Office (PCO) launched a drive to meet the deadline, raising concerns in Congress that the “race to obligate” would lead to waste and extranvagance. “Oblicator” posters, in which PCO sector heads superimposed their photographs on a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator” movie character, adorned the office’s halls, and a massive banner, reading “Obligating ‘R’ Us: Getting ‘Er Done (by 30 Sep 2006),” hung in PCO’s main workroom.

The irony was not lost on those working on reconstruction. “The goal of PCO isn’t to complete projects – it’s to obligate the money.” Lt. Col. Otto Busher said. “Do you see on the walls, “Quality Projects for the Iraqi People by September 30?” No – you see the ‘obligator; posters.
Tennis anyone?
The CPA’s haphazard recruitment practices yielded too few people qualified for the jobs to which they were assigned. . . . Rodney Bent, who worked for OMB in Washington, . . . finding that none of the staff had ever worked on a budget before being deployed to Iraq. “I had relatively young staff that was completely inexperienced and had no particular training either in the Middle East or on budget matters.” . . . The CPA’s Office of National Security Affairs [was charged] with creating a new Iraqi Ministry of Defense. . . . Two of the three people assigned to establish the new Ministry of Defense were missile-defense experts with no relevant experience. And the person tasked to negotiate agreements to demobilize militias was a U.S. homeland-security expert, while the Director for National Security was a former professional tennis player with very little national security experience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why isn't the press all over this? It's Bush fatigue. Everyone just wants him to go away so we can move on with our lives. And he's going to get away with it because of that.

1:54 PM  

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