Saturday | April 05, 2003
Our Man in Baghdad
I came across this in the Washington Post earlier this week:
Pentagon, State Spar On Team to Run Iraq
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has rejected a team of officials proposed by the State Department to help run postwar Iraq in what sources described as an effort to ensure the Pentagon controls every aspect of reconstructing the country and forming a new government.
While vetoing the group of eight current and former State Department officials, including several ambassadors to Arab states, the Pentagon's top civilian leadership has planned prominent roles in the postwar administration for former CIA director R. James Woolsey and others who have long supported the idea of replacing Iraq's government, according to sources close to the issue.
But what really caught my eye was this paragraph:
By interagency agreement, portfolios such as education and trade were to be filled by the State Department, with the Pentagon choosing the "civilian advisers" for other departments. Sources said that Walter Slocum, who served as undersecretary of defense during the Clinton administration, has been penciled in for the Iraqi defense ministry. Slocum declined to comment last night.
As it turns out, I know Walt Slocum -- in the sense that I've actually sat down a few times and talked with him face to face. I even bought him lunch once, many years ago.
So why am I dropping his name here? Not to overinflate my own importance, believe me. I knew Walt back when he was a lawyer, representing foundations and other nonprofit organizations that had tax problems with the IRS. It was during one of the many low points in my journalistic career, and I was just an insignificant little reporter covering the IRS for a small, special-interest newspaper -- what they call a "trade" in the trade. And Walt was a source, of sorts.
At the time, Slocum was in GOP-enforced exile from his real profession: national security bureaucrat. He was a mid-level official in the Carter Administration (Defense or State, I can't remember which) who returned to government under Clinton and rose -- as the Post story notes -- to become Undersecretary of Defense. I lost track of him after that.
Now I have no idea why Wolfowitz picked Slocum, a Democrat and a Clinton appointee, to run the Ministry of Defense in our new Protectorate of Iraq. Some byzantine convolution of Beltway politics, I suppose. But just the thought of Walt as the de facto defense czar of the new! and improved! Iraq made me laugh out loud.
Don't get me wrong: I don't have anything against Walt. He's a very nice, very polite gentleman who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Buster Keaton, the silent movie star. As I recall, he liked to spend part of the summer with his family in the north of Italy, where he has (or had) a small villa. Walt's very knowledgeable about the law and history and Italian cuisine, and he wears (or wore) nicely tailored, conservative gray suits. Ivy League all the way.
If I were a nonprofit hospital, and I wanted to convince the IRS that leasing space to a group of doctors for their for-profit oncology clinic was NOT subject to the unrelated business income tax, I'd pick Walt.
If I were the Secretary of Defense, and I wanted to reorganize the Office of Defense Procurement to streamline the process for ordering office supplies for the Pentagon's satellite facilities, I'd pick Walt.
But if I wanted someone to be an American proconsul in a fractured Middle Eastern country teeming with political factions, religious sects and ethnic groups who all hate each other, devastated by years of war and economic sanctions, and brutally repressed by decades of totalitarian dictatorship . . . well, let's just say Walt wouldn't be on my short list.
Which means what?
That the Wolfowitz gang is absolutely clueless about what they are getting into? Possibly.
That the gang plans to keep a particularly tight grip on the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and needs to have a pliable front man (preferably a Democrat) on the ground to take the flack? Perhaps.
That Walt Slocum needs to run, not walk, to the nearest telephone and tell Wolfowitz he's withdrawing his name from consideration? Definitely.
Because it's a long way from Iraq to the north of Italy, and it's hard to get good prosciuto in Baghdad. And the drycleaning? Well, don't even ask.
BillmonPosted April 05, 2003 12:43 PM | Comments (24)