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Monday, January 02, 2006

Link: How Not to Make Friends And Influence People

One reason I was, and am, opposed to the Iraq war is its almost unbelievable expense. When Paul Wolfowitz, on behalf of the Administration, promised the Senate that the war wouldn't cost the American people anything because it would be paid for out of Iraq oil revenue, I was dubious, and events have proved me righter than I wish to be.

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?


Blogger OsakaJack said...

Thersites, quick note here: I agree with your opinion that we, as decent boy scouts, should clean up the mess we make. You are careful to assert that it is not going to be easy. I disagree that it will be as idyllic and affordable as I intuit from your post. In fact, I think it will be very expensive to "clean up."

We went to war predicated on a lie and perpetuated with half-truths. Should we have invaded for the oil? Yes. Should we have gone in with global support? Yes. No, I haven't forgotten Poland. Has this administration completely fubar'd this war? Absolutely. The cost in my tax dollars, in human lives (Iraqi and American) and in quality of life is staggering. But we can, and should, stop the hemorraging of money and morals that is so evident today. Next election, it should focus very squarely on the economy and that, friends, is what will have the strongest (and most positive) impact on this War on Terror. IMHO.

1/02/2006 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OJ: I basically agree with you, but I ask again: where would you draw the line? At what point -- at what "metric" -- would it be moral and wise for us to really hand things back to the Iraqis to take over (instead of the mock handovers we've done, what, four times already)?

1/02/2006 7:24 PM  
Blogger OsakaJack said...

Hmmm. Perhaps when the Iraqi government feels it can safely manage their own citizens. There will probably always be a US presence there, a la South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Iran (oops, forget I said anything).

Perhaps its a tension thing: cut some slack when you can and then take in the line when you need to. The Iraqi people are showing that they really do want to administer their country themselves but it takes strength in numbers and artillery to keep the fundamentalists from wresting control from the people. And the Iraqis as they are now just don't have enough of either.

How about this, to answer your question. Perhaps we shouldn't look for a metric so much a barometer, right? Whoever comes to power in the next US election should tell the international community that Bush was a bad, bad man, please come join us as a family and help us with this mess we made in the Middle East. And what'll Bush care? He can't be president again and he is going to be so fucking rich that any bad press will just amuse him. Think on that: go down in history vilified possibly by his own conservative successors and ignore it? What's the price? Now multiply that price by possibly ten times. Monkey McShrub will be so busy counting his hundred dollar bills (one, two, three...dang it. one, two...) that his legacy won't mean anything to him anymore. But we can show the world that we don't have inherit that legacy provided we can get the rest of the world to join in and feel like the US can put away its pride and do what needs to be done.

Wow. Sorry for the ultra long rant there, bro.

1/02/2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger Pragmatic Pirate said...

Our Glorious Leader refuses to let any country who doesn't participate militarily, participate economically. The rationale for this seems to be that if you don't share in the danger you don't share in the profits (or credits). Since there are no profits (or credit), this syllogism is false.

Another argument for not letting other nations help economically is that their policy demands will somehow screw up our own policy goals. Since our policies are not working, this argument too falls flat.

Not allowing other nations to help us "win" this front on the "war on terra" must thus serve only one purpose, ego.


1/03/2006 7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One twist one the "when can we withdraw?" question is this: can we, and do we really want to, equip the Iraqi government to be self-sufficient militarily? Two problems there:

1. The minority Sunnis are the ones with solid military training, especially in the officer ranks. In Saddam's Iraq, the Shia were mainly cannon fodder grunts; Saddam filled the upper echelons with his own kind. And currently, it's the Sunni, not the Shia, who are fighting the U.S., learning how to make IEDs, securing munitions, etc.

So if we give military equipment to the Shia, the Sunni are very likely to infiltrate their ranks and take it away from them. (Not my idea, came from someone who actually knows, but I can't remember who!)

2. If the Shia do keep control of their arms and create a solid military force, they likely will ally themselves with Iran -- whom we may decide to invade at some point if they continue developing nuclear weapons. Our own weapons will, at best, be in the hands of an Islamic theocracy, and at worst be used against us by a coalition of Iraqi Shia and Iranian troops.

Bad and bad. Given that, I wonder whether we intend to hand real power to the Iraqis, or whether we will always serve as their mercenaries/masters.

1/03/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger OsakaJack said...

That is a very valid point. Its a conundrum. Sort of like the fact that we allowed the Ultra Nationalists to form a party after the Allied Occupation in Japan. Thats sort of like allowing the Nazis to form a party during the first elections after WWII. So here we have the same situation, approximately, but extremely dangerous. More money and support from the global community to support the Iraqis...or what's the alternative. Thersites is right. Any way you turn the bag around, its still bag of worms.

1/04/2006 6:29 PM  

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