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Profile: Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Rajiv Chandrasekaran was a participant or observer in the following events:
Jay Hallen, a 24-year old Yale graduate, is bored with his job at a real-estate firm. He is fascinated with the Middle East, and has taken some Arabic classes and read some history books about the region. He contacts Reuben Jeffrey, an adviser to CPA head L. Paul Bremer whom Hallen had met in 2002 when trying to land a job at the White House, and asks if there is a job for him in Baghdad.
'I Don't Have a Finance Background' - Three weeks later, Hallen is in Baghdad, and meets with Thomas Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing Iraq’s state-owned enterprises. Foley, a former classmate of President Bush and a major Republican donor, says he is putting Hallen in charge of Baghdad’s stock exchange. Hallen is shocked. “Are you sure?” Hallen asks. “I don’t have a finance background.” No problem, Foley responds. He will be the project manager; his subordinates will do the actual work. Before the invasion, Baghdad’s stock exchange was primitive by American standards; author Rajiv Chandrasekaran will describe it as loud, boisterous, and, despite all appearances, quite functional. After the invasion it was looted to the bare walls and ignored by the first wave of US economic reconstruction specialists. But Iraqi brokers and businessmen want it reopened, so the CPA acquiesces.
Revamping the Exchange - Hallen launches an ambitious, if almost entirely ignorant, plan to modernize and upgrade the stock exchange to make it the most technologically sophisticated exchange in the Arab world. He also wants to implement a new securities law that would make the exchange independent of the Finance Ministry. The Iraqi brokers and businessmen who clamored for the exchange to reopen are horrified at Hallen’s plans. “People are broke and bewildered,” broker Talib Tabatabai—a graduate of Florida State’s business department—tells Hallen. “Why do you want to create enemies? Let us open the way we were.” Tabatabai, like other brokers, believes Hallen’s plan is ludicrously grandiose. “It was something so fancy, so great, that it couldn’t be accomplished,” he will later recall. But Hallen is unmoved.
Hallen's View - “Their laws and regulations were completely out of step with the modern world,” Hallen will later say. “There was just no transparency in anything. It was more of a place for Saddam and his friends to buy up private companies that they otherwise didn’t have a stake in.” To just reopen the exchange the way it was, Hallen will insist, “would have been irresponsible and short-sighted.” Hallen recruits a team of American volunteers, most with no more experience or knowledge of finance than he has, to rewrite the securities laws, train the brokers, and purchase the necessary computers. By the spring of 2004, CPA head Bremer approves the new laws and appoints nine Iraqis hand-picked by Hallen to become the exchange’s board of governors.
No CPA Role - The new exchange board names Tabatabai as its chairman. The new laws have no place for a CPA adviser as a decision-maker; immediately a conflict between Hallen and the board arises. Hallen wants to wait several more months for the new computer system to arrive and be installed; unwilling to wait, Tabatabai and the board members buy dozens of dry-erase boards for the exchange floor, and two days after Hallen’s tour ends, the exchange is open for business. Without CPA oversight, the exchange quickly begins functioning more or less as it did before the invasion. When asked what would have happened had Hallen not been assigned to reopen the exchange, Tabatabai will answer: “We would have opened months earlier. He had grand ideas, but those ideas did not materialize.… Those CPA people reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2006]
Author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, holding a copy of his 2006 book, ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City.’ [Source: Daylife (.com)]Americans who want to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in the so-called “Green Zone,” the fenced-off area of Baghdad also called “Little America” and the hub of US governmental and corporate activities, are routed through Jim O’Beirne, a political functionary in the Pentagon whose wife is prominent conservative columnist Kate O’Beirne.
Focus on Ideology, Not Experience or Expertise - O’Beirne is less interested in an applicant’s expertise in Middle Eastern affairs or in post-conflict resolution than he is in an applicant’s loyalty to the Bush administration. Some of the questions asked by his staff to applicants: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? According to author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, two applicants were even grilled about their views on abortion and Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973). While such questions about political beliefs are technically illegal, O’Beirne uses an obscure provision in federal law to hire most staffers as “temporary political appointees,” thus allowing him and his staff to skirt employment regulations that prohibit such questioning. The few Democrats who are hired are Foreign Service employees or active-duty soldiers, and thus protected from being questioned about their politics.
Unskilled Applicants - The applicants chosen by O’Beirne and his staff often lack the most fundamental skills and experience. The applicant chosen to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange is a 24-year old with no experience in finance, but who had submitted an impressively loyalist White House job application (see April 2003 and After). The person brought in to revamp Iraq’s health care system is chosen for his work with a faith-based relief agency (see April 2003 and After). The man chosen to retool Iraq’s police forces is a “hero of 9/11” who completely ignores his main task in favor of taking part in midnight raids on supposed criminal hangouts in and around Baghdad (see May 2003 - July 2003). And the manager of Iraq’s $13 billion budget is the daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator who has no accounting experience, but graduated from a favored evangelical university for home-schooled children.
Selection Process - O’Beirne seeks resumes from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks, and Republican activists. He thoroughly weeds out resumes from anyone he deems ideologically suspect, even if those applicants speak Arabic or Farsi, or possess useful postwar rebuilding experience. Frederick Smith, currently the deputy director of the CPA, will later recall O’Beirne pointing to one young man’s resume and pronouncing him “an ideal candidate.” The applicant’s only real qualification is his job working for the Republican Party in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount.
Comment by Employee - A CPA employee writes a friend about the recruitment process: “I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to ‘the president’s vision for Iraq’ (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was ‘uncertain.’ I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy… and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC (Republican National Committee) contributors.”
Result: Little Reconstruction, Billions Wasted or Disappeared - In 2006, Chandrasekaran will write: “The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2-year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.” Smith will later say: “We didn’t tap—and it should have started from the White House on down—just didn’t tap the right people to do this job. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings.” The conservative ideologues in the CPA will squander much of the $18 billion in US taxpayer dollars allocated for reconstruction, some on pet projects that suit their conservative agenda but do nothing for Iraqi society, and some never to be traced at all. “Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq—training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation—could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA,” Chandrasekaran will write.
Projects - Instead of helping rebuild Iraq—and perhaps heading off the incipient insurgency—CPA ideologues will spend billions on, among other things, rewriting Iraqi tax law to incorporate the so-called “flat tax,” selling off billions of dollars’ worth of government assets, terminating food ration distribution, and other programs.
Life in Green Zone - Most spend almost all of their time “cloistered” in the Green Zone, never interacting with real Iraqi society, where they create what Chandrasekaran later calls “a campaign war room” environment. “Bush-Cheney 2004” stickers, T-shirts, and office desk furnishings are prominently displayed. “I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one staffer tells a reporter. “I’m here for George Bush.” Gordon Robison, then an employee in the Strategic Communications office, will later recall opening a package from his mother containing a book by liberal economist Paul Krugman. The reaction among his colleagues is striking. “It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick,” he will recall. [Washington Post, 9/17/2006]
The Justice Department decides that Iraq needs around 6,600 foreign advisers to rehabilitate and rebuild its police forces. The White House sends one person: former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. [Washington Post, 9/17/2006] In film shot for a 2007 documentary, No End in Sight, Kerik will recall: “First week May I was contacted by the White House… would I meet with Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld… to discuss policing policies in Iraq.… [W]e discussed basically the Ministry of the Interior and reconstitution of the Interior, what the Interior consisted of, what the prior offices were, estimated number of police, and border controls. Some information they had, some they didn’t.” Reporter Michael Moss will continue in the footage (which is cut from the final version of the documentary): “They saw in Bernie a quick fix.… [H]e had 10 days to prepare… hadn’t been to Iraq; knew little about it; and in part, prepared for the job by watching A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein.” [New York Post, 12/14/2007]
9/11 Star - Kerik is considered a star. Made famous by his efforts in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001), he is asked for his autograph by soldiers and constantly pressed for interviews by reporters. President Bush considers Kerik the perfect man to take over Iraq’s Interior Ministry and rebuild the shattered Iraqi police forces. His previous experience in the Middle East is dubious—as security director for a government hospital in Saudi Arabia, he had been expelled as part of an investigation into his surveillance of the medical staff.
Others Too Liberal - He also lacks any experience in postwar policing, but White House officials view this as an asset. The veterans the White House is familiar with lack the committment to establishing a democracy in Iraq, they feel. Those with experience—post-conflict experts with the State Department, the United Nations, or non-governmental organizations—are viewed as too liberal. Kerik is a solidly conservative Republican with an unwavering loyalty to the Bush administration and a loud advocate of democracy in Iraq. Author Rajiv Chandrasekaran will later write: “With Kerik, there were bonuses: The media loved him, and the American public trusted him.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2006]
White House 'Eyes and Ears' - Kerik will quickly make clear one of his top priorities as Iraq’s new police chief: according to one subordinate, he will frequently remind his underlings that he is the Bush administration’s “eyes and ears” in Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 11/9/2007]
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