Rajiv Chandrasekaran deserves credit for writing the definitive narrative of what happens when a bunch of kids chosen by the Heritage Foundation converge on a country and pretend to reconstruct it.
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.
That story sounds an awful lot like what Daniel Metcalfe has to say about the changes in DOJ since Alberto Gonzales took over.
I used to think that [Ed Meese and John Mitchell] had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.
To be sure, he continued a trend of career/noncareer separation that began under John Ashcroft, yet even Ashcroft brought in political aides who in large measure were experienced in government functioning. Ashcroft's Justice Department appointees, with few exceptions, were not the type of people who caused you to wonder what they were doing there. They might not have been firm believers in the importance of government, but generally speaking, there was a very respectable level of competence (in some instances even exceptionally so) and a relatively strong dedication to quality government, as far as I could see.
Under Gonzales, though, almost immediately from the time of his arrival in February 2005, this changed quite noticeably. First, there was extraordinary turnover in the political ranks, including the majority of even Justice's highest-level appointees. It was reminiscent of the turnover from the second Reagan administration to the first Bush administration in 1989, only more so. Second, the atmosphere was palpably different, in ways both large and small. One need not have had to be terribly sophisticated to notice that when Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey left the department in August 2005 his departure was quite abrupt, and that his large farewell party was attended by neither Gonzales nor (as best as could be seen) anyone else on the AG's personal staff.
Third, and most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.
That's great. Because we know how successful Ledeen's daughter was at ensuring a stable and prosperous Iraq.
One insight I found particularly valuable is the description of the conensus style of decision-making.
But the process of agency functioning, however, became dramatically different almost immediately after Gonzales arrived. No longer was emphasis placed on accomplishing something with the highest-quality product in a timely fashion; rather, it became a matter of making sure that a "consensus" was achieved, regardless of how long that might take and with little or no concern that quality would suffer in such a "lowest common denominator" environment. And heaven help anyone, career or noncareer employee, if that "consensus" did not include whatever someone in the White House might think about something, be it large, small or medium-sized.
In short, the culture markedly shifted to one in which avoiding any possibility of disagreement anywhere was the overriding concern, as if "consensus" were an end unto itself. Undergirding this, what's more, was the sad fact that so many political appointees in 2005 and 2006 were so obviously thinking not much further than their next (i.e., higher-level) position, in some place where they could "max out" by the end of Bush's second term.
That might explain why Paul McNulty chose to get rid of Paul [corrected per bmaz] Charlton rather than let him implement an interrogation-taping pilot. Or get rid of John McKay for preferring progress on vital information sharing programs over continued dawdling over decision-making.
From this description, that sure sounds like the problem.
On one side, you had hard-nosed prosecutors who, for the most part, already had several years' experience under their belts (with little micromanagement from Ashcroft's people) and knew what they were doing already. On the other side, you had political aides who, among other things, had precious little management experience for their positions and were not necessarily adept at playing well with others, even when those others were political appointees like themselves. One need look no further than the extensively disclosed e-mails from Kyle Sampson, Mike Elston [chief of staff to McNulty], Monica Goodling and [Deputy Associate Attorney General] Will Moschella to get a clear picture of this.
Does this mean that at least some of the eight replaced U.S. Attorneys made the list because they failed to get along in a sufficiently deferential fashion with such Main Justice appointees? I'd certainly bet the oldest of my two cars on it, perhaps even the newer one, based upon what I've seen over the years and what I've read in e-mail form more recently. And it surely follows from everything else I've observed that in such a situation, even with the presumed cover of "consensus" decision-making, such appointed aides would scramble mightily, in the most derisive of terms (captured only partially on the disclosed e-mails), to castigate the U.S. Attorney victims of their management inexperience, lest they themselves be held to blame.
And that then, with little sense (of irony or otherwise), they would proceed to publicly tarnish the reputations of several U.S. Attorneys while in the next breath redacting records based on an asserted need to "protect their (i.e., the U.S. Attorneys') privacy." Even putting such callousness and privacy violations aside, and moving swiftly past the image that they "eat their young," it is painfully clear that these political aides got carried away again and again.
That's a generous excerpt--but I'd got read the whole thing.