Trump's Running US Like Bush Ran Iraq. What Could Go Wrong?
Credit: Facebook
February 27, 2020

Remember when President George W. Bush sent swarms of Americans to reestablish Iraqi civil society? As The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandasekaran noted at the time, they didn't do a very good job, for obvious reasons.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But they had to get past Jim O’Beirne’s Pentagon office before going to Baghdad.

To pass muster with O’Beirne, a political appointee, applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East or in postconflict reconstruction. They did need, however, to be a member of the Republican Party.

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq’s government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who never had worked in finance was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though the former had no accounting background and the latter lacked experience managing finances of a large organization.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest now is regarded by many people involved in the 3½-year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important efforts and squandered goodwill among Iraqis.

Chandrasekaran went on to write a book based on his reporting of this story. As the publisher of the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, noted, the frequently young and inexperienced ideologues of the Coalition Provisional Authority "spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies."

That's what came to mind when I read this story today:

The White House has hired a college senior to be one of the top officials in its powerful Presidential Personnel Office, according to three administration officials familiar with the matter.

James Bacon, 23, is acting as one of the right-hand men to new PPO director John McEntee, according to the officials. Bacon, a senior at George Washington University pursuing a bachelor’s degree, comes from the Department of Transportation, where he briefly worked in the policy shop. Prior to that role, while still taking classes, he worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was a White House liaison, according to two other officials. At HUD, he distinguished himself as Secretary Ben Carson’s confidential assistant, according to two other administration officials....

Bacon will be PPO’s director of operations overseeing paperwork and will assist on vetting....

McEntee, 29, held a meeting in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last Thursday with White House liaisons of Cabinet departments where he asked officials to find Trump appointees who may be anti-Trump, according to an administration official familiar with the meeting. McEntee also told them that PPO was going to take a look at all appointees at some point and re-vet them to see if they’ve been disloyal in any way.

President Trump doesn't really care about flat taxes or other right-wing litmus tests. (He likes deregulation, of course, because he and his plutocrat pals benefit from it.) What matters most to Trump, needless to say, is loyalty to himself. It's also important that employees have had no prior involvement in the administration of history's greatest monster, Barack Obama.

So these will be the employment litmus tests going forward. We're running the U.S. government the way we ran Iraq's a generation ago. Hey, what could go wrong?

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