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  • Tuesday, June 29, 2004


    She's such a lovely girl from such a lovely family...and it's such a lovely war.

    Roger Simon reads what he wants to read and disregards the rest:

    Now if you will permit me one last personal note. Krugman engages in egregious character assassination in the article of Simone Ledeen, Michael’s daughter. This is the kind of personal attack I believe to be endemic to Krugman’s form of partisanship and should not have been allowed by The New York Times. Krugman implied that Ms. Ledeen benefited from nepotism and was not qualified to serve in Iraq. This could not be further from the truth. Simone Ledeen, who did accounting for the CPA, was a fully qualified MBA and exactly the kind of young person you would want to see serving in Iraq (not a simple thing to find, obviously, for a dangerous war zone). I met her for the first time last week, having dinner with her twice. I listened to her detailed analyses of what was going on over there that were in many ways as critical as Krugman’s, but far more subtle and educated because she had spent over half a year in Iraq, visiting many parts of the country, working with and training Iraqis with whom she became friends. I know nothing of the quotes that Krugman cherry-picked for his article or of their context, but can assure you and him that this young woman is no warmonger. The kind of reactionary (word chosen very specifically) character assassination he has engaged in is despicable.

    Let's see what Krugman wrote:

    If the occupiers often seemed oblivious to reality, one reason was that many jobs at the C.P.A. went to people whose qualifications seemed to lie mainly in their personal and political connections — people like Simone Ledeen, whose father, Michael Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative, told a forum that "the level of casualties is secondary" because "we are a warlike people" and "we love war."

    Still, given Mr. Bremer's economic focus, you might at least have expected his top aide for private-sector development to be an expert on privatization and liberalization in such countries as Russia or Argentina. But the job initially went to Thomas Foley, a Connecticut businessman and Republican fund-raiser with no obviously relevant expertise. In March, Michael Fleischer, a New Jersey businessman, took over. Yes, he's Ari Fleischer's brother. Mr. Fleischer told The Chicago Tribune that part of his job was educating Iraqi businessmen: "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review."
    (my emphasis)

    First we should point out to Roger that the Ledeen quotes come from the father and not the daughter so it would be stretching the point to say that Krugman called Simone a "warmonger".

    Secondly, one would have to be incredibly obtuse not to believe that her name didn't have something to do with her gaining a job with the CPA. Her politics certainly did:

    Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.

    For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.


    For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.


    Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Yoswa said the CPA was satisfied with the quality of applicants. Some staffers may have been young and inexperienced, he said, but "we have people right out of college leading troops on the ground."

    Yoswa said the recruiting office had to hire quickly for the Madrid donors conference that fall and "turned to the Heritage Foundation, an educational facility, albeit a conservative one, but primarily a place where you can get good, solid people." He said this was a one-time event and that there was no organized effort to hire Republicans.

    In late October, he said, the Pentagon set up a job site on the Web. Eleven thousand people filled out an application and several hundred of them were hired. "Nowhere did we ask party affiliation," he said.

    'The Brat Pack'

    When Ledeen's group showed up at the palace -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. For some, they represented everything that was right with the CPA: They were young, energetic and idealistic. For others, they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues.

    Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.

    Other staffers quickly nicknamed the newcomers "The Brat Pack."

    "They had come over because of one reason or another, and they were put in positions of authority that they had no clue about," remembered Army Reserve Sgt. Thomas D. Wirges, 38, who had been working on rehabilitating the Baghdad Stock Exchange.

    Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good.


    The pay turned out to be good. Ledeen and her co-workers had agreed to come to Iraq without knowing their salaries. They ended up with standard government base salaries in the range of $30,000 to $75,000 a year, plus a 25 percent foreign differential, another 25 percent for a workplace "in imminent danger," and overtime pay. In the end, almost everyone was making the equivalent of six-figure salaries.

    As Joe Conason noted:

    According to a remarkable article in the Washington Post, the CPA selected a number of utterly inexperienced young conservatives to oversee critical aspects of Iraq's reconstruction. Apparently these youthful idealists were chosen solely because their résumés had been posted on the Web site of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. (Such clumsy political vetting is ironically reminiscent of the ultra-left origins of the neoconservative movement.)

    The results of their excellent adventure were predictably poor, as important aspects of the struggling nation's finances were turned over to the likes of Todd Baldwin, a former legislative aide to Sen. Rick Santorum; John Hanley, an editor of the Heritage Foundation Web site; and Simone Ledeen, the daughter of Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen, whose résumé featured her role in founding a cooking school. Despite their obvious lack of qualifications, all were hired without so much as an interview or a background check. (The level of Ledeen's political maturity is amusingly displayed on a Christian-right Web site, which posted her gushing account of the president's Thanksgiving visit to the troops in Baghdad. Coming down from the euphoria of meeting Bush, Ledeen wrote, "Hillary Clinton is coming here tomorrow. For her sake I hope I don't see her. I might do something crazy like spit in her direction.")

    Much like their more senior sponsors, the young conservatives sent to staff the CPA possessed more enthusiasm than wisdom, and more self-confidence than self-knowledge. And young and old, no matter how bad things look -- they will all tell anybody who listens that they are doing a great job.

    Too bad, in his two dinners with Simone, that Roger never got around to asking her where all the money went, her being an MBA and all...


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