Missing the Point

Since Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s article about Coalition Provisional Authority personnel practices specifically took on Kate O'Beirne's husband and Michael Ledeen's daughter, I've been eager to see the pushback from the Corner. Ramesh Ponnuru and Katherine Jean-Lopez oblige, but both seem off-target to me. They focus their ire on the implication on the insinuation that the CPA was handing out "posh perks" and plum patronage jobs pointing out, plausibly, that these are basically hardship assignments and not really super-desirable.

That seems like a reasonable riposte on the narrow issue, though my understanding is that life inside the Green Zone was actually fairly pleasant during the relevant period. It also completely misses the point, however, which is simply that the CPA was being treated as something more like an extension of the Republican National Committee than a serious institution of government. Not only did this compromise the quality and qualifications of the personnel, but it had an insidious impact on the operations of the CPA. "They don't call it the Republican Palace for nothing" was the joke at the time. The upshot being that the civilian side of the operation was being run with a mindset in which there was perfect overlap between the political interests of the Republican Party and with the national interests of the United States in its policy toward post-war Iraq.

The upshot was that the entire thing was being run as a propaganda operation, an enormous press conference for U.S. domestic consumption. That ends up desperately compromising various things, most crucially the flow of information up and down the chain of command and from outside and inside the government. The political interests of the GOP just ran toward painting as pretty a picture as possible of events on the ground, while the interests of sound policy required an accurate assessment of the situation and a realistic portrait of events. If, for example, people had a more realistic understanding of what was going on in Iraq then various political milestones might have been used to much greater advantage as a way of getting the U.S. out of Iraq in a credible way that left a not-absolutely-horrible situation behind. Instead, deep institutional commitment to the view that we were making progress when we were, in fact, regressing led us to let these milestones slide and then publically commit the country to unrealistic -- and often incoherent -- long-term objectives.