Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rebuilding Iraq

A lack of planning, insecurity, mismanagement, incompetence and corruption have significantly hindered the coalition's attempts to rebuild Iraq. Those are the charges "anti-war" types like myself often direct towards the US and UK government's. Like so many other charges and warnings from the "anti-war brigade", the evidence to support these charges is becoming more and more compelling.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has delivered a report to Congress on the coalition's efforts. This report was made public on Sunday 30th October. Er, on a Sunday? Does that happen often? I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the media were already in a frenzy over Scooter Libby being indicted, and that as a result they'd probably not have much time to devote to the report. Pure coincidence.

Anyway, the Christian Science Monitor has a good roundup of what the media have been saying about this report. The short version is that a lack of planning, insecurity, mismanagement, incompetence and corruption have significantly hindered the coalition's attempts to rebuild Iraq. The inspector general noted that "the ambitious US reconstruction effort in Iraq is likely to fall far short of its goals because soaring security costs and poor management have slashed the amount of American money available for rebuilding projects" [my emphasis]. He noted that there was a general lack of coordination between the State Department and the Pentagon during the limited planning which was carried out before the invasion. He noted that there was widespread corruption and that Washington has not been doing enough to curb it. He noted that US citizens were currently under investigation for alleged involvement in "bribery, fraud, and kickbacks". He noted that Paul Bremner, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), had made significant errors of judgement, most significantly when he chose to disband the Iraqi army.

The NYT provides some individual examples of problems.
Five electrical substations examined by the inspector general's office... were built in southern Iraq at a cost of $28.8 million. "The completed substations were found to be well planned, well designed and well constructed," the report says. Unfortunately, the system for distributing power from the completed substations was largely nonexistent. "No date for installing the distribution system was given," the report says.
The inspector general found that $7.3 million was mismanaged and $1.3 million entirely wasted through duplicate work and the buying of overpriced equipment in the construction of a police academy in the city of Babylon, south of Baghdad.
The BBC highlights a continuing inability to supply electricity to the country as a whole.
On electricity, the report says supplies have not risen significantly in a year.
The picture could hardly be clearer. And let's not forget the $9 billion misplaced by the CPA during it's short existence. As far as I'm aware, that missing $9 bn has never been accounted for.

It's not all bad news, some projects have been successfully completed and work is continuing on others, but the report states that there is expected to be a serious "reconstruction gap" between what was initially intended and what will actually be achieved.

So, according to the US government's own top official, reconstruction efforts in Iraq are falling "far short" of what is required. He attributes many of the problems to the continuing violence and instability in Iraq. Let's leave aside the fact that this appears to indicate that the insurgent strategy to disrupt reconstruction efforts seems to be working whereas the coalition strategy does not. Well, let's not actually, because it leads to the next point.

The insurgents deliberately attack infrastructure and rebuilding projects because they understand that if the US makes significant progress on these projects and actually improves the conditions of daily life for Iraqis, their own ability to command support is likely to diminish. This would be a problem for them and they work to prevent it from occuring. That is, I think, well accepted. In its simplest terms, the insurgents are successfully preventing the US administration from "completing the mission". You'd think that fact alone would cause Bush to increase his determination to finish the rebuilding effort. Sadly, there are no signs that this is going to happen. Instead, there are rumblings about which projects can be cut from the original goals.

It is, in some ways understandable. Recent history has shown than as time passes the response to insurgencies tends towards increased militarisation and a reduction in the significance of the hearts and minds campaign. For the soldiers on the ground, those who have seen insurgents kill and injure their friends and colleagues and who will increasingly see every civilian as a potential enemy, it is very easy to understand. Unfortunately, recent history has also shown that these tactics are likely to fail unless the military response can be increased to a level which would be unacceptable to any civilised nation. An acceptable military response cannot defeat an insurgency; the best it can ever do is contain it. An insurgency is fuelled by a state of mind. The only way to combat it, the only one which stands a reasonable chance of success anyway, is by addressing the causes of that state of mind.

That's why a nation fighting to defeat an insurgency needs a bold and courageous leader. It needs such a person to advocate the absolute importance of the hearts and minds campaign. Such a person must inspire their military to rise above their (totally understandable) hostility towards the civilian population and focus their efforts on the campaign to win over civilian public opinion. They must demonstrate their absolute determination to improve the conditions for civilians and they must follow through and produce the results to prove their words are not hollow. They must deliver tangible improvements in the conditions of the lives of ordinary people. And the stronger the insurgency the greater the need to deliver such visible improvements.

An insurgency is fuelled by a vicious circle of violence and mistrust. The soldiers come to mistrust all civilians and the civilians come to mistrust all soldiers. These are the conditions which allow the leaders of the insurgency to maintain and increase its strength. It is this vicious circle which a strong leader must break if he is ever to be successful.

Bush and Blair either do not understand, or do not have the power to sucessfully pursue this strategy. Sometimes they use the rhetoric but the actions of their soldiers and other personel on the ground in Iraq do not reflect that rhetoric. This is one of the main reasons why I'm not confident of a sucessful outcome to our adventurism in Iraq. When I read recently that 82% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, I actually felt sick. 18% (at most, there were probably at least some "don't knows") of Iraqis support coalition troops in Iraq. Support for the coalition had previously been much higher and these new figures are a very clear sign that the campaign to win hearts and minds is being lost. It is just the sort of thing recent history would tell us to expect about two and half years into an eventually successful insurgency.

In this case, along with highlighting the problem, it is actually relatively easy to see how a better strategy can be devised. A new, well funded, well organised attempt not only to deliver the reconstruction goals originally planned, but to go further and make even greater tangible improvements in schools, hospitals, power supplies and so on, should be launched. All new soldiers being posted to Iraq should first be comprehensively trained on the importance of this strategy. They should also be monitored and given regular refresher courses while stationed in the country. The idea that Iraqis are the enemy must not be allowed to take hold on the ground. Unfortunately, there are strong indications that it already has, and if it has every effort must be made to overcome it.

So, restating a need and desire to complete the reconstruction of Iraq, a new initiative and new funds to drive that goal, along with the delivery of tangible, highly visible improvements in living conditions are what is urgently needed. This will be hard given the security situation but everything in Iraq is hard given the security situation. Attempts must be made in spite of that.

Do I think there is even the slightest chance that the Whitehouse is going to implement such a strategy? Well, consider how the information about the current efforts was made public. It was the standard low profile, "bad news, let's pretend it doesn't exist" type approach that this Whitehouse is so fond of. And, if they're not even prepared to properly announce how things are progressing in Iraq (and they clearly believe that because they've made so many errors of judgment that option is just not available to them), then I'm afraid I very much doubt they'll implement a new strategy aimed at solving the very real problems the country is experiencing. It would mean having to admit that their current efforts have not come up to scratch and they're just not prepared to face that fact. Instead, I suspect many reconstruction projects will be quietly dropped as the money runs out. This will most likely occur in parallel with an increase in the military response to the insurgency. If that happens, it'll only further increase the power of the vicious circle which fuels the insurgency.

Btw, "no plan survives first contact with the enemy" is one of those well know and often repeated quotations. Was it Clausewitz? I can't remember, and can't presently be bothered looking it up either. Anyway, no matter, it is undoubtedly true. It has also undoubtedly been used by very many generals, kings, and politicians to defend what was basically, let's be blunt, a shit plan to start with. Add the Pentagon to the list of guilty parties.

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