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June 07, 2005

Comments

Note: I should have said: if it's true that the police are not getting paid, then my reaction follows. I'm not altering the text because I'm never sure about substantial (non-typo) alterations, but please mentally add this bit.

Must proofread.

While your theme is sensible, you seem to rather underplay the notion that it's likely that there are nigh-endless numbers of "ghost" employees, whom, not working at all, but merely being names on the list of a well-placed tribal leader/graftee, are incapable of being commanded to do any useful work at all until the graft is, somehow, cleared out.

"Neither we nor the Iraqi government has been paying the elite commandos of Iraqi police force?"

I'm very open to believing that since, in theory, the Iraqi government is now sovereign, the paycheck line now runs through the Iraqi government. See above again for room for explaining this. Not that, overall, such explanation provides comfort or great hope, but merely, possibly, maybe (and it might be all wrong!) explanation.

Certainly one lesson of the V-word is that having large amounts of money to pour into a government that is hugely corrupt, or motivated by different motives than ours, isn't helped by simply pouring more money in. Hell, that's how the (V-Word)-Cong got a huge percentage of their equipment. I suspect a number of Iraqi "insurgents" may do more good to their cause as subversive book-keepers than as riflefolks.

Gary: I was assuming that the Iraqi government wouldn't be voluntarily not paying its own police, and that we could make up the difference if we wanted to. I wouldn't mind the story if it said: the Iraqi government will crack down on corruption and enforce standards on its employees. But large-scale layoffs are different.

Still, point taken.

That's a good point that Gary makes, but I also wonder about the free-marketers who were apparently so prevalent in the service of Paul Bremer (and what spider hole did he move into, eh?) I could see the notion that somehow, the free market was supposed to take care of all this, so it just didn't get any attention paid to it, or, even worse, it was thought that it would take care of itself, which makes Gary's point even more damning for the administration.

"I was assuming that the Iraqi government wouldn't be voluntarily not paying its own police, and that we could make up the difference if we wanted to."

One of my standard tropes, which some here may have picked up on, is picking apart the often-fallacious idea that simply because we can refer to an entity by a singular noun, that it in fact acts or thinks in any sort of singular way, rather than being the product of a diversity of clusters of sometimes-like-minded-individuals, often fighting at bitter odds with each other within the bureaucracy. See, for instance "the U.S. government" for a blindingly large example.

One thing that seems clear about "the Iraqi government" is that, if anything, the divisions and subdivisions are, if not greater than those in the U.S. low level political appointees, and in the Congress, they're certainly one heck of a lot more violent. Which is a bit of a digression from the point on my mind in responding to this, which is that "the Iraqi government" can barely decide if a carrot is orange or pointy, it seems, let alone assure accurate budgetkeeping and payment arrangements. Even if everyone decided that was somehow in their interest, rather than making sure their flow from Ministry X continued with as little interruption or interference as possible.

I may be lacking idealism here, but while I'm perfectly willing to believe that, in fact, there are some idealist democrats working both in the Iraqi government, and in their temp rump parliament, I'm not at all inclined to believe that idealists are the overwhelming majority. (I may be wrong! -- they did, to be sure, risk their lives, and deserve immense credit for that!)

This strangeness is only compounded when one recalls the massive amount of funds that have gone missing in the Iraqi occupation and reconstruction...

Cough, Adnan Chalabi's record with banks in Jordan, cough. And Saddam Hussein was neither singularly responsible for the, ahem, irregularities of "Oil For Food," nor the only student from it or Iraq's history in recent decades with foreign capital. (And, heck, I'm sure there are some Iraqi students of KBR and the H-word's accounting insights.)

Sounds like Afghanistan, all over again.

Hilzoy, your question: "What exactly have we been spending money on?" is a good one, but I suspect that (quite apart from the billions that have gone missing, no investigation expected) the vast majority of it has been spent on killing Iraqis (bombing raids to hit neighborhoods where insurgents are thought to be living - excuse me, "using civilians as a human shield" - are expensive); on providing comforts for corporate employees; on providing well-defined necessities for US soldiers; and of course, on providing the astronomical profits that the corporations who "invested" in Iraq feel they have every right to expect.

In short, don't worry, Hilzoy: most of the money spent "on Iraq" has most likely stayed safely in the US or has been spent for the benefit of Americans in Iraq. Much more useful than spending it on Iraqis, who will only fritter it away on things like food.

While Gary Farber’s comment is an important consideration, does any of the following sound familiar?

-“Their newly elected leaders may slash budgets and government jobs.”

-“Kubba did not say how many jobs could be eliminated, but he warned that budget cuts "will be a bit painful."”

-“"We cannot tolerate this level of overburdening the government," he said in an interview. "Currently, Iraq is a huge welfare state. We'd like to make sure that those who are in need are protected…. Currently, it's a free-for-all."”

“Kubba, who last week had discussed slashing popular subsidies for electricity and oil products, said that shrinking the government and allowing the private sector to expand would solve many of Iraq's financial troubles.”

-“Saddam Hussein, who increased the public payroll to mask unemployment and shore up a faltering economy."”

This all sounds like anti-New Deal, anti-welfare state arguments here in keeping with American conservative ideas regarding economic issues. Where did I read the hypothesis that Iraq was supposed to be some laissez faire, free market experiment, “The Atlantic”?

Hilzoy: “Personally, I have always thought, along with lots of other people, that we should obviously be employing as many Iraqis as possible, not just to keep people out of the insurgency but to provide both jobs and the money that ordinary people can use to get the economy going.”

I suspect that this is not of great importance to many who are running this war. The basis for my assumption comes from the way Iraqi commercial law was rewritten under Paul Bremer. These new laws are not a recipe for the success of ordinary Iraqis or Iraqi-owned businesses.

Hilzoy: “What could possibly be more important than training Iraqis to provide security in their own country?”

Making money? Hilzoy, while I sympathize with you on this issue, I am not at all convinced that the motivation for the presence of the US in Iraq is spreading freedom and democracy, or that the US is attempting to rebuild Iraq as it did Japan and Germany (e.g. it is difficult to explain the presence of Western powers in the Middle East in the last 80-90 years without the consideration of oil). I wonder why the altruistic reasons for why the US is in Iraq seem to be more readily excepted than reasons based on realpolitik?

(did this comment include too many quotes to stay within the posting rules?)

"This all sounds like anti-New Deal, anti-welfare state arguments here in keeping with American conservative ideas regarding economic issues."

I'm pretty much as pro-New Deal, pro-welfare state as they come short of people simply being flat-out socialism-uber-alles, but I wouldn't simply reject all arguments about what are the optimal levels of private capital versus public, or private control of the economy over public, or when it is that government becomes overbloated and inefficient, and the like, as despicably Republican and counter-the-Revolution (kidding in that phrase, y'know?) Just saying. Not all ideas labeled "conservative" are inherently evil and erroneous (see how fair-minded I am, Slart, Sebastian, and Charles?; I'm sure you're applauding my broad-mindedness even now ;-)).

Digressing, though, it might have been thrilling to see Charles on another thread put forth Brad deLong as a reliable critic and source, if I didn't tend to think of Charles as someone who is interesting to read, rather than as thrilling as he no doubt thinks of me in turn. ;-) I'm a tad doubtful Charles will accept Brad as such a reliable source in many cases, but even one small step is something to be applauded. Keep reading Brad, Charles.

Gary Farber,

Indeed. I did not mean to offer my support for New Deal policies or imply that "all ideas labeled 'conservative' are inherently evil" (despite what the scores I received on the tests on another post might indicate about my political persuasion*) but to suggest that it looks as if there may be some validity to the hypothesis about a conservative, free market experiment in Iraq or the extension/influence of such policies to the possible detriment of Iraqis, and the Coalition soldiers who find themselves at odds with them. Have you come across the article/argument to which I am referring, and if so, what do you think?


* Emoticon required here. For some reason I just can't bring myself to use them (I should get over that).

Look, i'm all in favor of accountability in government expenditures, but we're spending literaleraly tons of money every day we stay in Iraq.

If we were to load up the bomb bays of a squadron of B-52s with dollar bills and drop them on Iraq, again and again, and each such bombing raid were to reduce the duration of the US occupation by a couple of days, it might actually save money.

If we continue to tread water in Iraq while pursuing otherwise worthy goals that do not move us out of the deep water, we run the risk of failure. Heed the words of the US Army field manuals and "concentrate combat power at the decisive point." Right now, I do not believe the decisive point in Iraq is transparency in government accounting.

etc.: Right now, I do not believe the decisive point in Iraq is transparency in government accounting.

I think there are far larger mess-ups available, yes: torture, aerial bombing raids, etc.

Nevertheless, it seems a fair point to make: the US is spending a lot of money on Iraq, and most Iraqis are not benefiting from it in any discernable way. If the US occupation is to continue, one way of making it less unpopular than it certainly is at the moment would be to make it beneficial to large numbers of ordinary Iraqis: as for example, the revolutionary idea of paying Iraqi companies to employ Iraqis to carry out the necessary reconstruction work in Iraq. I say "revolutionary" because it appears that to the Bush administration the obvious method of reconstruction was to assign the big contracts to big US companies and pay them big dollars to employ American workers.

If we were to load up the bomb bays of a squadron of B-52s with dollar bills and drop them on Iraq, again and again, and each such bombing raid were to reduce the duration of the US occupation by a couple of days, it might actually save money.

It would certainly redirect the cashflow from the US to the Iraqis, as opposed to from the US to the US.

IIRC, the article about the neoliberalization of Iraq was in Harper's. The title was something like 'Iraq: Year Zero'

IIRC, the article about the neoliberalization of Iraq was in Harper's. The title was something like 'Iraq: Year Zero'

If we continue to tread water in Iraq while pursuing otherwise worthy goals that do not move us out of the deep water, we run the risk of failure.

So the elite Iraqi security force is a Potemkin village that is not being paid.

The Iraq mission is already a strategic failure, and not because of dog-paddling in deep water. We are now in the phase of pretending that some good may come of it, even though it is glaringly obvious that little will, and that small measure of good is certainly not worth the continued expense. It is purely ass-covering time for the warmongers that brought about this policy.

The next phase will be the "who lost China" phase, with all of the neo-nuts telling us its the liberals' fault due to their "defeatism" (once again, mistaking realism as the same thing). You know, clap louder and say you believe, and we would have been successful.

see how fair-minded I am, Slart, Sebastian, and Charles?; I'm sure you're applauding my broad-mindedness even now ;-)

My hands are sore and bruised from the constant clapping, Gary. Would that there were more like you.

My hands are sore and bruised from the constant clapping

what a joy to see this come right after dmbeaster's 'clap louder' remark.

Not to want to make excuses, or anything - I will leave it to the usual rightie suspects here to chime with the chorus of "media bias" "bad news obsession" "but schools are getting painted", "Saddam was worse", etc., - but one fact which I am surprised that Brad DeLong did not mention (him being an economist and all); is that the "normal" (quotes deliberate), i.e. pre-war, economy of a country like Iraq never quite fit the standard models of what we in a developed nation would consider an "economy". While, AFAICT, Iraq was not as bad as say, Saudi Arabia, or the Gulf Emirates, the fundamental economic structure consisted mainly of (the State) earning cash from oil exports, and (the State) then redistributing said cash downwards (of course, raking off the maximum for armaments, internal control, bribery, etc.). Of course, there was some sort of domestic economic infrastructure outside the petroleum sector, but it was, IIRC, relatively low-key and small-scale - small shopowners and manufacturers - the State (in true Fascist fashion) having, I believe, nationalized or coopted most major industries. IOW, exactly the type of businesses which would be most severely affected by social unrest, lack of public security, lack of circulating cash, high unemployement, etc.
This is not to excuse the Bush Adminstration for its cockups in Iraq - that they would bolster their record of political mismanagment of the Iraqi occupation with economic mismanagement should come as a surprise to exactly no one: but an objective analysis of what they had to to work with from the beginning seems to be lacking.

members of Iraq's elite police commando units ... staged a protest outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone

Wearing ski masks or not, I wonder?

So, snark aside, my theory on the commando units not getting paid is based on Gary's first point in comments above: Some of these commando units, like the one advised by Col. Steele profiled in the NYTMag a month or two ago, are Sunni. The Interior Ministry, which I believe would have the responsibility for paying the police, is now headed by Shias, who are intent on rooting out ex-Baathists and building up their own forces in the police and other security outfits. One way to do this would be to overlook paying the disfavored units.

I'd expect the Col. Steeles of the world to be putting pressure on the ministries through official and unofficial channels. We may see an "oops! oversight. so sorry" moment from Interior. Or not.

good point, Jay C.

i wonder if BushCo thought of this, before they pulled the trigger on the invasion.

Jay C.: yes; it's for that reason that I always thought: employ them, spread money around in small, wage-sized parcels, but very, very widely, among the Iraqis; provide security, and hope that an actual economy will begin to appear. Denationalizing the industries seems to me less important, as long as one clearly thinks of them as employment agencies that might be useful in the effort just described, and not as, well, industries (so that one does not, for instance, try to protect their market share or anything; one should treat them as places where people go to work, not places where people go to produce things that somehow need to be sold.)

Needless to say, this is a way of thinking that I adopt only in the presence of serious insurgencies in countries with no history of normal economies and a great need to develop one. It's not my norma economic prescription; just a way of saying: people should be occupied with something, and paid wages, and then, if money is available and widely dispersed, capitalism will stater to happen.

Gary: point taken about the Iraqi government not being a unified thing. To rephrase: I assume that neither the Prime Minister of Iraq nor the relevant members of the Bush administration actually want the police not to be paid, and that if they were to put their heads together, they could figure out some way for us to foot the bill. If it mattered to them.

Jay C: but an objective analysis of what they had to to work with from the beginning seems to be lacking.

Yes, most of the industries were nationalized. And it would have been both simple and legally required for the occupation to declare that it would run the nationalized businesses exactly as before, providing employment to Iraqis and materiel to Iraqi reconstruction.

Unfortunately, Bush & Co came in with the massively illegal and massively stupid decision to sell off all Iraqi nationalized businesses to the highest bidder, no restriction on who could bid. (Net result, had it gone ahead, would have been an Iraq were virtually every business was owned by foreign corporations.) The intent to do this - to destroy Iraq's economy in the name of building up a bigger, brighter, newer, neocon one - had the net effect of scaring Iraqis who feared unemployment, bolstering the resistence to the occupation, creating a dead time of months during which Iraqis working for nationalized industries had no idea what was going to happen next... and in the end, never happened; even if Bush & Co didn't care that the sale would be illegal, the corporations who might have bought, did. (Five or ten years down the line, the American occupation or the occupation-appointed council's right to sell would have been challenged, and the buyers would have lost.)

Bush & Co knew they had a nationalized economy to deal with. Their intention was to destroy it. This was, true, an example of their catastrophic incompetence due to never thinking about consequences: but also they genuinely seem to have believed that turning a nationalized economy into a foreign-owned privatized economy by means of invasion was actually the right thing to do.


In terms of the government not paying it's elite troops - it's possible for that to be due to cross-functional problems within the Iraqi government, but those sort of problems can easily lead to the troops 'reforming' the government, and putting a general in charge. I can't see anybody smart enough to have survived Saddam, and to have secured a place of any power within the new government, still being stupid enough to accidentally not pay critical units for months.

If it is a case of Shiite/Kurd politicians putting the squeeze on some Sunni/ex-Baathist units, I hope that they have a plan to keep those units from joining the guerrillas.

"Excuse me? Neither we nor the Iraqi government has been paying the elite commandos of Iraqi police force? What exactly have we been spending money on?"

The elite commandos of the Iraqi military forces, naturally. The emphasis on military over law enforcement runs through the Global War on Terror. This may prove to be a fatal mistake, since police forces are by far the foremost anti-terrorist weapons available. The police is closely embedded in the civil society that terrorists exploit to perform its attacks and evade the military. By its daily presence and investigation of the criminal infrastructure, the police builds a huge intelligence advantage over the military. It also has a great moral advantage, as its methods are far less violent and more open to criticism than those of the military.

"Right now, I do not believe the decisive point in Iraq is transparency in government accounting."

this may be exactly wrong.

to pick up on GF's earlier post, William Shawcross wrote a book entitled "Sideshow" about the war in Cambodia. Shawcross argues that the endemic govt corruption was a major factor in the success of the rebel forces.

what the Iraqis need more than anything is, IMHO, good government. And, again IMHO, transparency is the sine qua non of good govt.

absent some evidence that the iraqi govt is actually working for the iraqi people, some general is going to get (a) greedy and (b) truly pissed off, and seize power.

Want to cut back on car bombs? Iraq has lots of people trained in secret policing. Take the cuffs of these bad boys and watch the insurgency dissolve. People (at least, his people) will get paid and the trains will run on time. He may even be moderately pro-american.

The only price of doing so is that we have just put in power a new Saddam. oops.

absent some evidence that the iraqi govt is actually working for the iraqi people, some general is going to get (a) greedy and (b) truly pissed off, and seize power.

Conceivably, having become pissed off, the general might seize control, run the country for a while... and then give the country back once things have settled down. To my vast, unending astonishment, this is exactly what Ne Win did in Burma from 1958-1960.

...of course, having developed a taste for power during those two years, Ne Win then permanently overthrew Burmese democracy in 1962 but hey, you can't have everything.

Harper's, yes! Thanks, Barry.

"... William Shawcross wrote a book entitled "Sideshow...."

Which, incidentally, everyone should read. (It might or might not be inconvenient that he then went on to write various endorsments of the invasion of Iraq; it's still an essential piece of reading.)

IIRC, the article about the neoliberalization of Iraq was in Harper's. The title was something like 'Iraq: Year Zero'

Actually, the correct title of the article is Baghdad Year Zero, written by Canadian anti-globalist icon Naomi Klein.


I am puzzled. In many of my previous comments, when I make mention of the issues of American exceptionalism and the realpolitik reasons for US international behavior, there is a marked lack of response. I realize that my comments are usually in the form of statements, but I am genuinely interested in understanding these topics through dialogue, and I hope that others will poke holes in my arguments, or demolish them entirely if such is warranted.* I further realize that some who point out aspects of these issues frequently do so for ideological reasons or to make moral judgments. But this is not my intention. Is there something in my delivery that needs to be changed? Should I abandon such observations here? Or . . . ? Any suggestions?

*“Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken.” David Hume

and I hope that others will poke holes in my arguments, or demolish them entirely if such is warranted.

Is there a particular comment or argument you'd like critiqued? Or is this just a general cry?

General cry.

otto: i think most people largely agree with what you have to say. so, no comments.

i think you're interesting; i encourage you to continue posting.

otto
There is a problematic tendency to either 1)not answer unless the point is made in such a personal way that it is impossible to avoid it 2)to move the point up the scale till it reaches such a point. It is partly unavoidable for a number of reasons, such as a way to draw attention to the point that one is making, or the fact that the discussion appears to be synchronous, but depending on the participants, may be asynchronous, but I don't think that this accounts for its prevalence. However, I think it takes some time to develop a rhetoric that gets the kind of responses that you want. Stick with it, because I believe you have a lot to offer.

What Brother Rail Gun said. I generally don't like posting "Me too!" responses unless I have something substantive to add. You might, however, want to canvass the conservatives and see if there's something you can do to draw more attention to your posts since I suspect they'll find more to disagree with.

Anarch, Francis, Liberal Japonicus,

Thank you all for your advice!

Part of the motivation for my initial comment is that I will be teaching a Summer Intersession class on the history of the Gulf War from 1991 to present. A problem with doing recent history is that such topics often do not have the volume of literature built up or the established schools of thought that have already wrestled with the major arguments as older subjects usually do. Also, especially with military and political subjects, many relevant documents are unavailable. In light of this, one has less to fall back on and has to rely on other resources to help work out the narrative/s. I want my thinking to be as broad, objective, and well-reasoned as possible to provide an accurate context so that students can make sense of the subject for themselves.

Thanks again.

Otto, I might have lost track, but the idea of American exceptionalism is pretty deeply embedded in the US psyche, IMHO. It's due to our historical isolation, our size and power, and to the fact that we haven't had the repeated crushings of WWI and WWII in rapid succession (the Civil War was horrific, but it was a one-off). It's amplified by American Protestant (right-wing) Fundamentalism, which is a very whacky, nationalistic religion, quite comfortable with slaveowning and empire.

Barry,

Indeed. It is a religious tenet, an article of faith for many Americans. I suspect this is the reason why it is so difficult for some to step outside of this perspective and view things from another angle and/or be self-critical. As an analogy, one would not expect a Christian to continuously question the authenticity of Christ, lest their faith be undermined. (I hope you forgive the blanket statement here – this is not a jab at Christians, just a comment on the nature of religious belief and its tendency to be opposed to criticism or doubt.)

The geographic isolation of the US is a big part of American exceptionalism. I often find that those who crow loudest about America being the most free and greatest nation on the planet are typically those who have not gone abroad (patriotism is one thing, ignorance is another). I suspect that my own views would not be what they are had I not had the opportunity to see how other nations and cultures operate. There is a good argument to be made that communication technologies might alter the dominance of American exceptionalism.

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