Rajiv Chandrasekaran Replies To Dan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran Replies to Dan Senor

Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post writes:

‘ Several people have asked me to respond to Dan Senor’s op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post about an excerpt from my book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, that was published in The Post on September 17.

While I don’t want to be drawn into a back-and-forth debate on the pages of The Post or in cyberspace, there are some significant misrepresentations and inaccuracies in his piece that need to be corrected for the record.

Yes, there were nonpolitical experts who worked for the CPA, and some of them even held senior-level titles, but it most cases, they were kept at an arm’s length from Ambassador Bremer and, as such, were not involved in making the most important decisions of the occupation. In addition, many of them did not serve for the full duration of the occupation. Ambassador Jones, for instance, arrived in Baghdad after the November 15, 2003, agreement. By the time he arrived, the roadmap for the political transition had already been set. And, according to several senior CPA people I talked to, his influence was eclipsed by Bremer’s younger, more political advisers.

Ryan Crocker was there only for the first few months. Yes, he played an important role in helping to select the Governing Council in the early weeks of the occupation, but then he left Iraq. His role was filled by Scott Carpenter, a former International Republican Institute staffer. He was sent to work for Jay Garner by Liz Cheney, the vice president’s daughter. (In my book, I write that Carpenter “had not been involved in the Future of Iraq Project or the department’s other initiatives with Iraqi exiles but, unlike some of his State colleagues, was a firm believer in Bush’s effort to promote democracy in Iraq and the broader Arab world. Carpenter ‘really wasn’t what I wanted,’ Garner said later.”)

It’s worth noting that Ryan Crocker doesn’t even rate a mention after Page 85 of Bremer’s memoir, “My Year in Iraq.”

Redd and Kellogg were operations guys. They didn’t deal with the governance of Iraq.

Larry Diamond and Noah Feldman weren’t in Baghdad for extended periods of time. Feldman had no major role in shaping overall CPA policy. I’ve got quotes in my notebook from Senor dismissing Diamond’s role in the CPA as insignificant. It’s interesting that Senor seeks to tout Diamond’s role now.

Senor claims that “the senior tiers of the CPA were populated with a bipartisan and generally nonpolitical corps of experts.” In his op-ed, Senor cited a handful of individuals. Let’s consider a few others:

One of the senior advisers for the Ministry of Education was Williamson Evers, an advocate for school vouchers and an education policy adviser to President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

The senior adviser to the Ministry of Higher Education was John Agresto, the former president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M.; he had worked with Lynne Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The senior adviser to the Transportation Ministry was Darrell Trent, the deputy manager of Ronald Reagan’s 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns.

The senior adviser to the Ministry of Health, as I detailed in the excerpt, was James Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker who was largely unknown among international health experts; he had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.

The CPA’s director of private sector development was Thomas C. Foley, who served as Connecticut finance chairman for Bush’s 2000 campaign. Among Bremer’s senior counselors was Tom Korologos, who served as an assistant to President Nixon and President Ford and was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2001.

It all depends on how you define “populated.” Yes, there were some bipartisan and nonpolitical experts. And yes, there were even some Democrats. I said that in the book and in the excerpt. But there weren’t that many of them.

Senor contends a “fairer book would critique our policy decisions.” My book certainly does that. See Chapters 4 and 9. See also Chapter 16. In fact, see the whole book. It’s one big critique of policy decisions.

In his op-ed, Senor doesn’t even seek to defend the three principal subjects of the excerpt: Bernard Kerik, Jay Hallen and Haveman.

What about Senor’s role with the CPA? Let me quote from my book:

Stratcomm, as it was called in the palace, was the CPA’s public relations office. It was run by Daniel Senor, a lanky thirty-two-year-old with a receding hairline and a you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us attitude toward journalists. He arrived in Iraq with Garner but stayed on after Bremer arrived. His press relations experience was limited to a stint as a spokesman for a senator, but Senor was an ardent Republican and soon became a trusted member of the viceroy’s inner circle. He helped Bremer, a fellow Harvard Business School graduate, decide when to hold press conferences, which journalists to grant interviews, and what photo opportunities were worth a dangerous trip outside the Green Zone. As the occupation wore on, Senor became the most visible CPA official after Bremer. Clad in a suit, he held televised press briefings several times a week in the Convention Center. The briefing room was decorated by a White House image consultant, who was flown to Baghdad to specify the dimensions and location of the backdrop — a gold seal emblazoned with the words Coalition Provisional Authority. The consultant also had two big-screen plasma televisions affixed to the wall so Senor could play video clips. While other CPA officials waited months for equipment and staff to arrive from the United States, the press room’s needs were quickly met. Behind the podium, Senor never conceded a mistake, and his efforts to spin failures into successes sometimes reached the point of absurdity. “The majority of Iraqis . . . do they want the coalition forces to leave? They say no,” he once said. The CPA’s own polls suggested just the opposite. Asked why Iraq had such interminable lines at gas stations, he insisted it was “good news” — more Iraqis were driving because the CPA had allowed the import of a quarter-million new cars. He made no mention of the CPA’s delays in getting Halliburton and other contractors to solve the problem by repairing refineries. When Senor was frank, it was never for publication. In April 2004, a few reporters asked him about a paroxysm of violence that had Americans hunkering in the Green Zone. “Off the record: Paris is burning,” he told them. “On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq.” Senor couldn’t speak Arabic. When an Iraqi journalist asked a question, the cameras captured Senor lifting a pair of earphones so he could listen to a translation. His language handicap made some briefings almost comical. Basic queries posed by Iraqi reporters — When will you pay pensions? When will electricity production increase? — were often unsatisfactorily answered because the question or the response was mangled by a translator. Other requests for information about government services were punted to the Governing Council, to perpetuate the myth that it had real authority. The Governing Council’s press office was inept, so the Iraqi reporters rarely received an adequate answer. Senor’s briefings were intended for an American audience. He talked about visits by congressional delegations and cabinet secretaries. There was another session for Arabic speakers, but it was conducted by a Brit who regurgitated day-old items from Senor’s talking points, a slight that rankled many Iraqi journalists. “The Iraqis want to know what is happening in Iraq,” a correspondent for one of Baghdad’s largest newspapers groused after a Senor briefing. “But all he talks about is American politics.”

In his final paragraphs, Senor suggests that I prefer the rapid political transition plan favored by neocons at the Pentagon. Far from it. Yes, I quote an Iraqi political official as saying the occupation was a mistake, but I do not espouse the rapid transfer of power to exiles led by Ahmad Chalabi. Instead, I write in Chapter 16 that a better political transition could have taken several forms:

“The compromise between their desire for self-rule and the absence of a leader with broad appeal could have taken many forms, as the State Department’s Arabists pointed out over the months after the invasion: a temporary governor appointed by the United Nations, an interim ruling council, or even a big-tent meeting–similar to the loya jirga convened after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan–to select a crop of national leaders. There certainly was a role for a tireless, charismatic American diplomat to shepherd the process. It could easily have been Bremer, with a different title and a shorter mandate, with a viable political plan and meaningful resources for reconstruction.”

Sure, there were people at the State Department who wanted the same sort of open-ended occupation that Bremer favored, but there were plenty of others who wanted a shorter, more modest, Iraqi-led process that didn’t involve handing the keys over to Chalabi and his ilk. That’s where I come down.

My book, contrary to what Senor contends, does acknowledge “the depths and ambiguities of the problem.” That’s what it’s all about. ‘

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City Assistant Managing Editor,
The Washington Post

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