In a relatively unnoticed State Department press briefing yesterday, Acting Department Spokesman Robert Wood announced a delegation of new media executives that left for Iraq on an official, government-paid trip on Sunday. According to Wood, the purpose would be to “explore new opportunities to support Iraqi Government and nongovernment stakeholders in Iraq’s emerging new media industry.”
All in all, this is a well thought out trip, and yet another implicit admission by the President that another thing he inherited from his predecessor is a budding democracy in the Arab world, one with a civil society to support. Exactly two years to the day after Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the war “lost”, President Obama is sending high-tech executives to Baghdad to talk business amidst vastly improved conditions. The delegation is made up of executives from Google, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, MeetUp, Howcast and AT&T. All logical since most of those technologies will be used to share this story and are industry titans. However, one member of this delegation is Blue State Digital Vice President David Nassar. Who is David Nassar, and what is Blue State Digital?
In his Washington Post column describing the trip, Ed O’Keefe stated: “President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and just about every other presidential contender used many of the technologies provided by the companies represented on the trip for outreach, organizing and fundraising during the 2008 campaign.” All except one. Only one presidential campaign used one of the delegation members.
Blue State Digital is the major web design contractor for the Democratic National Committee, Obama for America, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Planned Parenthood, Rainbow Coalition, and a number of other liberal Senatorial, Congressional and issue advocacy campaigns. Unlike his counterparts in the delegation, Mr. Nassar’s professional activities are purely political in nature, and are wholly supportive of only the most liberal causes.
Aside from the appearance value of sending one of their campaign buddies on a trip to Baghdad, one might ask what else is wrong? Maybe his web developing insight was invaluable? Maybe. But that insight is available from a number of non-partisan web developers as well, like perhaps GoDaddy.com. Before working tirelessly against Wal Mart, Mr. Nassar did in fact have some experience with Middle East affairs. Maybe that was the reason? Well, if they were looking for mideast insight on this trip, this probably wasn’t the type of delegation to send.
Unfortunately, this may boil down to lucrative government contracts. The U.S. gives billions of dollars to Iraq annually to develop their government infrastructure. The Iraqi government is often forced to do business with the options they are given so they can to get their operations up and running. When it comes to new media companies, they will have the benefit of personally getting to know eight companies this week, only one of which is not an internationally recognized leader in their field.
Without competition, or American rules of low-bid contracts, President Obama has set up his political pals at Blue State Digital to reap large rewards in Iraq, possibly in return for their hard campaign work in 2008. This might not be the case, and Blue State Digital may never accept any contracts within Iraq. But if they do, would it not have been appropriate to send either non-partisan developers or at the very least, a balance of conservative and liberal developers to Iraq? This situation is exactly the type that gives the appearance of government corruption and erodes the public’s confidence in the executive branch. Sending a partisan, political consultant to Iraq to “explore new opportunities” should not have a first priority of the State Department.