Link: How Not to Make Friends And Influence People
I'm not a nativist, but I do think our government should put our people first, and spending half a trillion dollars -- over $2 billion a week at present -- on a war that could have been avoided or better-prosecuted is just a waste. The stories that have surfaced, about the U.S. flying cargo planes full of stacks of money shrink-wrapped on pallets to give without any accounting to operatives and contractors in Iraq, just boggle my mind, especially when the Congress just passed "budget reconciliation" legislation that pretends to save real money by cutting services to America's poorest people.
So you might think that I'd love any cuts to our spending in Iraq -- but I don't. We shouldn't have gone to war in the first place, in my not so humble opinion, but now that we're there, we need to leave the people at least as well off as when we arrived.
Colin Powell was right when he told President Bush that the "Pottery Barn Rule" applied: if he invaded Iraq, then what he broke, he'd have to pay for. And leaving a stable, economically-healthy Iraq behind is the best thing we can do to defend ourselves against all the newly-minted terrorists that our actions in Iraq have created. Right now, Iraq is producing less oil, has less clean water, and has less electricity than it did when Saddam was in power, even under U.N. sanctions. It won't cost much, relatively speaking, to fix those problems before we leave. Does anyone remember the last scene in the great and abysmally short series "Over There", about our troops in Iraq? The American soldiers finish drinking some contraband beer around a campfire, then conscientiously extinguish the fire and put all the empties back in the box before walking away. Neatening up. That's what we should do as a nation.
Atrios, of the Eschaton blog, wrote a nice comment about the Administration's plans to do the exact opposite of what they should be doing, to-wit:
I never thought much of the chances for our Iraq Excellent Adventure, but I did think a narrow window of opportunity existed right after the invasion such that if we really could've gone in and metaphorically paved the streets with gold - got the infrastructure working, made noticeable improvements in peoples' daily lives very quickily - that we would've at least been a bit more popular with the locals. The basic ethnic conflict issues would've remained but perhaps US soldiers and the occupation generally wouldn't have been as much the targets of the insurgency as they are now. Now, it seems, we're just going to give up.
BAGHDAD -- The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.
Just under 20 percent of the reconstruction package remains unallocated. When the last of the $18.4 billion is spent, U.S. officials in Baghdad have made clear, other foreign donors and the fledgling Iraqi government will have to take up what authorities say is tens of billions of dollars of work yet to be done merely to bring reliable electricity, water and other services to Iraq's 26 million people.
"The U.S. never intended to completely rebuild Iraq," Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the work, told reporters at a recent news conference. In an interview this past week, McCoy said: "This was just supposed to be a jump-start."
I'm a believer in Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, so I believe people without clean water, decent food, and a little security are naturally focused more on survival that on building a competent democracy. At a minimum, therefore, I'd want to provide the Iraqi people with the basics of life: clean water, functioning sewers, reliable electricity to run hospitals and refrigerate food to prevent disease. Most Iraqis had those things under Saddam, and don't have them today, even after all the money we've spent. I simply don't think they can have a stable democracy without electricity and clean water, so we shouldn't be cutting off reconstruction funds yet. But I'd like your thoughts.
So, NeoProgBlog readers: what do you think? How would you balance our need to focus our spending on our own people instead of squandering it overseas, and our responsibility to do the right thing by all the Iraqis who aren't blowing us up but whose lives are immeasurably worse now than they were, even under Saddam? When we invade another country that turns out not to have WMDs, that wasn't anywhere close to making a nuclear bomb, that didn't have any way to attack us, that had allowed weapons inspectors back in, that opposed al Quaeda, and that didn't play any role in 9/11 -- when we invade such a country, do untold damage, and realize that all our rationales were mistaken -- what do we owe that country, and how do we determine when enough is enough?