MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Three weeks ago, a tough critic of U.S. policy in Iraq landed in Baghdad, again. Timothy Carney is a long-time diplomat. He went to Iraq soon after the invasion in 2003 to run the Ministry of Industry and Minerals. He left after just two months and issued scathing critiques of mistaken policies he said the Bush administration was pursuing.
Now, Carney is back in Iraq. He's the administration's choice to coordinate reconstruction efforts - both U.S. and Iraqi projects. I asked him why he thought the administration reached out to such an outspoken critique.
Mr. TIMOTHY CARNEY (Coordinator for economic transition in Iraq): Well, I think it's very simple. The realities of the situation forced to change in policy and that change in policy was basically the grounds under which I was willing to come. The change in policy meant that the administration was looking for people who maybe have the right slant on it, back in the earlier days.
BLOCK: And when you say had the right slant on it back in those early days, how would you describe about that, that slant?
Mr. CARNEY: Like the key aspect of the slant is something, which I said to reporters here in Baghdad yesterday. The major failing of policy and operations in 2003 was the failure to invite Iraqis into our councils. That we actually thought we could govern this country. It was a signal ever. It was enormously costly in terms of time and consequently in terms of our and Iraqi blood and the blood of many of our allies.
And certainly, in terms of treasure, that failed policy permeated the U.S. effort where we actually tried to do it for Iraqis. What an enormous foolishness that was. And that changed. And what I saw in Baghdad, when I got here in February was that it was no longer a question of our inviting Iraqis into our councils. Things have changed to the point where Iraqis are now inviting us into their councils using a sense of resource.
BLOCK: You left Baghdad, coming up on four years ago, how would you describe your impressions of the country that you left then and the country that you've returned to this month?
Mr. CARNEY: When I left Iraq in mid-June of 2003, it was a country where, at least here in Baghdad, you could still wander out in your own vehicle, go to a restaurant, go over talk to your colleagues and essentially, there was still an aura of determination and belief that things were going to move forward.
When I got back here in February, I found the security situation appalling. I found a new phenomena, the phenomena of sectarian violence. At the same time, the Iraqis I've met with remain the very same smart, imaginative, creative and impatient people whom I met in 2003.
It's for those reasons that I continue to believe that this effort can come out to the benefit of Iraq. Perhaps not realizing all of the policy goals the United States seeks here, but certainly, far more than we deserve given the way we approach this in 2003 and 2004.
BLOCK: Far more than we deserve?
Mr. CARNEY: Absolutely. That was a period of the most - ah, we don't need to go into that in detail but I think words such as incompetent, foolish, dubious, and all of its aspects are the most charitable way to look at that period.
BLOCK: When you say not all of U.S. goals might be achievable, what would you say false in the category of things that may have to be left by the wayside?
Mr. CARNEY: Well, I don't think I'm going to parse it for you at this point. Perhaps in a subsequent interview.
BLOCK: I'm sure you wouldn't have taken this job if you didn't think that you could make a difference. But I wonder, now that you're there, if you have moments when you worry that it may be too late to make a difference?
Mr. CARNEY: As I've said many, many times, and indeed in accepting the job, it is a very light hour, but the possibility is still there.
BLOCK: Timothy Carney, thanks for talking with us today.
Mr. CARNEY: You're welcome. I enjoyed it.
BLOCK: Timothy Carney, speaking with us from Baghdad. He's the coordinator for economic transition in Iraq.