Saturday, November 19, 2005

Carrying pictures of Chairman Mao

I am about halfway through George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq and I recommend it. An early review(in the NYT I think) said it cribbed too much from other books like Plan of Attack, Rise of the Vulcans and Squandered Victory. While these books are referenced and similar ground is covered, the bulk of the book is based on Packer's interviews he undertook as a writer for the New Yorker. Packer is a Clintonian national defense democrat, and he believes in using force to further humanitarian goals. This viewpoint gives him both sympathy and a distance from the war effort. It makes for a measured even tone, which is helpful because so much of what he relates is infuriating. The sheer incompetence of the Pentagon's "effort" at reconstructing Iraq is made evident time and time again. In truth, the Pentagon or more specifically, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, prevented the State Department from properly planning for the post-war, while not making any effort on its own.

Back in the cultural revolution, the Chinese communists had a saying "Better Red than Expert." In other words, for any given job, ideological purity trumped knowledge or skill. This is clearly the Bush administration's mantra as well. Actual experts in reconstruction, democracy and the Middle East were shoved aside in favor of properly conservative non-entities. We saw this again in Katrina where cronies in power screwed up. In Iraq, actual knowledge of state building carried a whiff of Clinton and another saying in Bush's DC is ABC or Anything But Clinton. It's all so junior high that it would be laughable if thousands of Americans and Iraqis weren't dead thanks to the failure at the top.

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