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Should have aimed for mid-to-late 20th century, instead of 21st?

Reader comment on item: Wasted U.S. Spending in Iraq (and Afghanistan): $53 billion and Counting

Submitted by John in Michigan, USA (United States), Dec 13, 2009 at 10:00

Some of the reconstruction was successful. As far as I can tell, Iraq today really does generate more electricity than under Saddam, and the power is distributed more fairly. Also, oil production exceeds Saddam-era levels, and should increase greatly in the future -- recently the Chinese and the Europeans announced deals that they claim will double Iraqi oil production. They probably won't double it, but there will be major increases.

But far too much of the reconstruction failed, and failed spectacularly.

I can't help wondering how much of the reconstruction problem was caused by the fact that the Bush administration tried to catapault Iraq into the 21st century, when it should have aimed for mid-to-late 20th century. Most of the Arab world is seems stuck at about 1950 (c.f. Egypt, which has had basically no net economic growth since then). Advancing Iraq to roughly 1970 would have been a major achievement.

Do we blame Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon, which was caught up in the mania of Transformation? Perhaps they thought Iraq could skip a generation, in terms of infrastructure and technology.

Surely some blame must go to the absurd political culture in Washington...it is impossible to understate how much of the D.C. establishment at the time was perversely invested in failure at all costs. Had the US invaded Iraq and then proceeded to set up a strong man government and implement a modest level of mid-to-late 20th century reconstruction projects, the opponents would have ruthlessly demogoged that issue even more than they did -- US rebuilding on the cheap, US treating Iraqis as primitives, promoting negative stereotypes, neo-colonialism, etc.

In contemporary American politics, it is always safer to spend too much, than to spend too little. Sad, but true. One day, this will have to change. Exhibit A that it still has not changed: the Obama stimulus, which cost about US $250,000 per job. Sigh.

I agree that the Bush administration failed in most aspects of the rebuilding effort, but I would emphasize failure to appreciate profound cultural differences over a simple failure to provide training. In the early stages of the reconstruction, I have little doubt that the normal amount of training was offered. But, the training failed to "take". Later in the reconstruction, it was probably understood that training was hopeless, so it wasn't attempted; but the projects continued. Why did the projects continue? Partly to maintain the fantasy, but meanwhile these projects provided real jobs and the appearance of progress, which was needed at the time.


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