Back to The Future
State Department officials fight de-Baathification in Iraq.


Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, is now facing underhanded attempts at undermining his agenda from State Department officials in Baghdad, with one referring to his sweeping de-Baathification policies as “fascistic,” according to an informed source in Iraq. The senior administrator who made the comment, Robin Rafael, is not alone in her sentiments, as several other Foggy Bottom officials stationed in the country are trying to covertly remake Iraq as they want it, not as Bremer — or the president who sent him there — wants it.

Brought in just over a month ago to referee an increasingly unruly situation, with State and Pentagon officials squaring off on issue after issue, Bremer was the focus of intense scrutiny. A longtime diplomat, many suspected he might side with the State Department’s “nuanced” view of de-Baathification, whereby only the worst of the worst from the Iraq’s former ruling party would be prohibited from spots in the new government. He did not.

In his first major move, Bremer signed a broad order, designating that anyone from the top-four echelons of Saddam’s Baath party — some 15,000 to 30,000 people — would be banned from holding any public office, including schools and hospitals. The move was cheered by many in the Pentagon and the White House, but despised by most Foggy Bottom officials, who favored the “pragmatic” approach of using top Baath-party officials whom they claimed had the exclusive knowledge and experience to help make the transition to a new government as smooth as possible. But State’s “pragmatism” led to some very embarrassing incidents early on.

In a move that provoked tremendous outrage from ordinary Iraqis, State Department officials named as the minister of health a senior Baath-party official. The appointment that may have triggered Bremer’s sweeping policy in the first place, though, was one made by none other than Robin Rafael. Leaving many in the administration stunned, Rafael last month reinstated as president of Baghdad University Saddam Hussein’s personal physician. So when Rafael complains of “fascistic” policies, she knows of what she speaks. Her track record shows, in fact, that she has a high level of tolerance for fascists.

After meeting with the Taliban for the first time in 1996, Rafael was thoroughly charmed, according to informed sources. As the head of State’s South Asia bureau at the time, her job was to help fashion U.S. policy towards governments in the region, including Afghanistan. Rafael was openly dismissive of the people the U.S. eventually teamed with after 9/11, believing instead that the Taliban was the best bet for bringing “stability” to the war-ravaged nation. In fairness, no one could have known that the Taliban would be behind a massive terror attack on U.S. soil, but there were plenty of warning signs about the despotic nature of the regime, all of which she apparently ignored.

Two other key State Department officials in Iraq enthusiastically embrace Rafael’s “nuanced” view of evil and terrorism, and both are supporting opponents of democracy to join the new Iraqi transitional authority. Meghan O’Sullivan — the co-creator of so-called “smart sanctions” that loosened restrictions in 2001 on what Saddam could purchase — has long argued that not all terrorism can be “lumped together,” as she put it at a press conference in July 2000. At that event, she complained that the “rogue regimes” designation was “pejorative” and bemoaned the fact that the rogue label suggested that countries that sponsor terrorism “were beyond rehabilitation and that the policy options (were limited) to only punitive ones.” On another occasion, she argued, “[L]esser penalties (should) apply to lesser levels of state sponsorship (of terrorism).”

O’Sullivan was just as adamant in her support for a “nuanced” view of terrorism after 19 terrorists killed 3,000 Americans. At a press conference ten days after 9/11, O’Sullivan went to great pains to differentiate the different levels of support for terrorism, emphasizing that the “state sponsors of terrorism” designation is counterproductive for fighting terrorism. She stressed that some of the countries the U.S. considers state sponsors weren’t that bad, since their support “involves simply letting groups come in and out of their territory to operate.” O’Sullivan’s “nuanced” views, in fact, were actually strengthened by 9/11; she opined: “I would say that this new environment provides an opportunity to unlump this category of countries.” In her current post — where she’s supposed to be working on a humanitarian crisis that has yet to materialize — she has been entirely supportive of Rafael and other State officials chafing under Bremer’s insistence on moral clarity.

At least Rafael and O’Sullivan only have bad judgments working against them. One member of the State Department’s Iraq delegation handled herself in a clearly unethical manner — and skirted dangerously close to illegal behavior. Part of Yael Lempert’s responsibilities in the Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) bureau included “working” with the auditors that NEA had sicced on the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress (INC) not just once, but twice. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Lempert essentially suggested that the auditors should falsify their findings. According to the minutes of a May 17, 2002 meeting, “During the meeting, Ms. Lempert stated that NEA would appreciate any assistance the OIG could provide with NEA’s desire to ‘shut down the INC.’”

Rather than being summarily fired when the Journal story ran, Lempert was given a promotion. In her new plum position in Iraq, she is working on the very issues where she demonstrated a willingness to bend the rules to “shut down the INC.” Not surprisingly, she is still trying to minimize the role of INC members in the new transitional authority, according to several administration officials, advancing the cause of a figure openly backed by the House of Saud. But she is most likely not acting as some sort of renegade. Remember, this is someone who openly flouted the law, got caught in an article in the largest newspaper in the United States — and then got a promotion. Lempert is unquestioningly carrying out the direct orders of her supervisor, Ryan Crocker, whom Bremer hired on as a senior adviser and made a member of his inner circle.

While Lempert continues efforts to hamper members of the INC — a group enthusiastically supported by the Pentagon and the White House — she is courting Iraq’s octogenarian former foreign minister, Adnan Pachachi, a man who has close ties to the Saudis and has said publicly that he will not serve on any governmental or transitional body that includes Ahmad Chalabi, the INC leader. For most Iraqis, the U.S. embrace of Pachachi undermines the president’s promise of democracy. Not only is Pachachi a Sunni Muslim — antagonizing the 60 percent of the country which is Shia — but he is also a fierce Arab nationalist — raising alarm bells among the 25 percent of Iraq’s population which is not Arab.

Bremer is responsible for bringing a number of State Department officials onto his team, though to be fair, there was no politically feasible way he could not have done so. When Bremer’s selection of several State officials was announced last month, one administration official suggested that the civilian administrator was trying to “keep his enemies closer.” Whether or not that was the intent, it certainly seems that that is what Bremer has gotten.

— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a columnist. Mowbray is the author of the upcoming Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America’s Security.


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