This one would grow to nearly 1,000 staffers, of whom no more than a half-dozen Americans are bilingually qualified to converse with the citizenry in the Arabic tongue. (Our typical embassy staff in a nation the size of Iraq numbers 30 to 40.)
Chandrasekaran's account of the system for choosing personnel in the new embassy - as sensitive a foreign post as can be imagined - tells about all we need to know about the quality of this administration's hires for these or most other government jobs. Sole responsibility for their selection was entrusted to a civilian liaison in the Pentagon, James O'Beirne. He and his staff obtained personnel resumes from Republican congressional offices, conservative think tanks and GOP activists across the land. No Middle Eastern experience was to be required - indeed, for about half of the current American staffers in Baghdad, this would be their first trip abroad.
In lieu of questions related to the new job in Iraq, at least two applicants told Chandrasekaran they were asked their opinion on abortion and a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Another admits having offered no qualifications beyond his work for the Bush campaign during Florida's presidential vote recount in 2000.
Can one imagine a less defensible method for vetting applicants to undertake serious public responsibilities? The "Emerald City" revelations may help explain earlier disasters besetting the Bush administration. The most egregious staffing misjudgment came to light as the last gusts of Hurricane Katrina subsided along the Gulf Coast. That's when President Bush - having surveyed the damage through a window of Air Force One - felt the Federal Emergency Management Agency's director deserving of high praise. His ill-fated words, "You've done a heckuva job, Brownie," overlooked an agency shortcoming destined to make national scandal. Director Michael Brown, a highly qualified authority on Arabian horses, had been entrusted with another sort of task about which he knew nothing.
Perhaps it's time to heed the 1988 presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis. Our national elections, he said, should turn on competence, not ideology.
Lionel Van Deerlin represented a San Diego County district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years.