Top Pentagon Official: Obama Team Still “The Opposition”

December 31, 2008 4:57 pm

The Hill reports today:

Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama’s transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day.

It’s worth pointing out that another roughly 160 political appointees were kept on. But here at TPMmuckraker, we were more interested in what came next.

The paper reported that, in response to the Obama team’s move, Jim O’Beirne, the special assistant to the secretary of defense for White House liaisons, sent an email to the dismissed DOD staffers, in which he suggested that they were being removed by political opponents as a result of their effectiveness in carrying out Bush administration policies.

Reports The Hill:

In the email, O’Beirne tried to assure the soon-to-be displaced employees that the decisions were based on “policy change in the Obama administration” and not based on performance.

However, he said, if employees “harbor residual doubts” then they can “content yourself with the likelihood that it was your outstanding performance as a Bush appointee that drew the opposition’s attention to you.”

“In that regard, you may take justifiable satisfaction that you were among the first to be chosen,” O’Beirne wrote.

Now, this way of thinking — that being removed by “the opposition” (that is, the man who’ll be our president) is a badge of honor, because it shows that you were committed to implementing the policies of the previous president — is misguided coming from anyone.

But The Hill doesn’t note that in the case of O’Beirne, a longtime GOP operative who’s married to the conservative commentator Kate O’Beirne, it’s perhaps not surprising. Consider this excerpt from a Washington Post story from 2006:

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans — restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O’Beirne’s office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O’Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

In other words, O’Beirne led the disastrous process in which key posts in the Coalition Provisional Authority were given to Heritage Foundation research assistants who knew nothing about Iraq but were loyal to the GOP. And we all know how that turned out.

So perhaps it’s to be expected that O’Beirne would continue to see government only through the prism of politics. Still, it’s an outlook that’s rarely expressed so crassly.

Thanks to reader W.M. for the tip.

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