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July 28, 2007

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From yet another gloomy NYT story about ice factories:

"Hussam Muhammad, whose family owns the equipment in the business where Mr. Kareem works, never imagined that the dilapidated factory, built in 1952 when Iraq was still a monarchy, would survive into the post-Saddam Hussein era.

“In 2003, I thought the ice business would be finished because everyone would have electricity and refrigerators once the Americans arrived,” Mr. Muhammad said as he scuttled from fan belt to ice-blistered piping trying to keep the plant limping along. “The fish sellers and meat stores who used to buy from us are gone, closed because of the security situation. Now it is the poor people who come because they don’t have money to pay for generators to keep their food and drinks cold.”"

Sometimes, I just want to cry.

Hilzoy,

It is no secret that the Ba'ath party is very, very good at terrorizing people, and it makes sense that they would be as good at terrorizing engineers as they were democrats, Shi'ites, communists, etc. for several decades. Likewise, the Shi'ite militias are also pretty good at this terrorizing business. They're especially good at terrorizing Sunnis, who tend to have a disproportionate number of the country's electrical engineers. Al Qaeda is also good at terrorizing people of pretty much every stripe and thus, it is statistically likely that their victims will include engineers.

I really don't see how--aside from the creation of the power vacuum in Iraq to begin with--this one can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration.

how is it possible that we screwed things up this badly? Wouldn't you think that sheer dumb luck would have made something turn out right, despite our worst efforts?

It's an expression entropy. There are many more ways to go wrong than there are to go right. Our rulers actively despise competance, hate the very idea of government, and reward cronyism and corruption. This is a recipe for consistent, universal failure.

I actually more thoroughly read the article and noticed that #$%[email protected] Jabir (who basically turned the Interior Ministry into an arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran) was behind a lot of the problems mentioned with Iraqi taking over of these projects. Which still isn't much of a Bush Administration issue, though.

I read another very sad thing in Paul Brinkley's recent Economic Report (PDF) on Iraq. He says that one of the goals was to get old state-owned factories up and running again. They needed $200 million and got $50 million from the defense supplemental. They wanted to get the remaining $150 million from the Iraqi government, but couldn't, because "under CPA orders that are now Iraqi law, the Iraqi budget cannot be invested in state-owned factories".

So they tried to set up low-interest loans through state-owned banks. Here's how that went:

The Iraqi Government subsequently approved issuing $26 million in loans to restart over 20 factories. Regrettably, after several months of negotiation over this relatively small amount of funding, as of the time of publication no loans have been made to factories. Ongoing debates among various U.S. and Iraqi governmental organizations about the legality of these loans, philosophical discussions about the appropriateness of state-owned banks making loans at below-commercial terms, and a general lack of urgency within layers of bureaucracy have hindered the funding of factory restarts via loans.

This in a country with 18% unemployment, and 38% "underemployment" (under 15 hours a week of work "and at humanitarian risk").

Andrew R:

I really don't see how--aside from the creation of the power vacuum in Iraq to begin with--this one can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration.

Why would I need any more reason than just that to lay it at the feet of the Bush administration? What if they didn't just create a power vacuum, but then sent out an invitation to Al Qaeda, Shi'ite militias and so forth to fill it? Could I lay it at their feet then?

Andrew R.: "I really don't see how--aside from the creation of the power vacuum in Iraq to begin with--this one can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration."

Even the Bush admin knows enough to realize nature won't tolerate a true vacuum. They made the vacuum without planning who would fill it. Then they made it worse by disbanding the army. Then they imported a bunch of incompetent cronies to run the reconstruction, squandered billions of dollars on harebrained or corrupt projects which Iraqi companies were not permitted to benefit from, allowed the security situation to disintegrate, and incensed the populace via Abu Ghraib and years of stupidly designed insurgency tactics. Having allowed Saddam's weapons dumps to be looted, mismanaged relations with the neighboring countries, and danced the headless chicken dance with the various factions in Iraq. Maybe the situation would have been bad under a very competent administration (my view), but it wouldn't have been jaw-droppingly awful.

I didn't mean to lay all of this at the feet of the Bush administration, as though no Iraqis had any responsibility whatsoever. That said, when you're spending tens of millions of dollars on a project, it does not seem to me unreasonable to spend a little extra, while the project is ongoing, figuring out what you're going to do with it afterwards, and if necessary training people, so that it doesn't end up as a multimillion dollar piece of crumbling statuary.

It would be nice if they believed in privitization. Instead it is golf-clib-ization. Dedication to single party rule. Unless you know someone or are owed something by those in power, you are ignored.

Everyone has a selling point. I think that's the key to peace period. It's just a matter of setting up incentives. Selling out to hedonism is far more peaceful than selling out to revenge. Basic Romeo and Juliet. Greater intertwining is the key.

Vietnam is now relatively peaceful towards us, despite all of the massacres and agent orange. Just ask the many half vietnamese families over here now.

I know one that had her citizenship approved by Kissinger himself. If we can't even live up to the standards of Kissinger, what have we become?

Run a war as a GOP profit center and this is the most likely outcome.

"I really don't see how--aside from the creation of the power vacuum in Iraq to begin with--this one can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration."

In addition the the responses above, there is one other factor.

Almost all the reconstruction projects utilized American contractors and ngineers. HAd to keep the money flowing back to us, you see.

Instead of using local talent, such as local engineers, which would have actually helped the Iraqi economy, all those billions of dollars eventually left Iraq (well, granted not all, but a lot.)

We had American engineers, American truck drivers, American painters, etc. If you think that this din't have anything to do with this situation, I humbly request you spend more time pondering it.

Add to that, of the 2 million Iraqis who have left the country, the majority of them are professionals, including doctors, teachers and engineers.

Instead of using local talent, such as local engineers, which would have actually helped the Iraqi economy, all those billions of dollars eventually left Iraq (well, granted not all, but a lot.)

If you'd used local engineering and contruction to build a project I can sort of guarantee they'd know how to run and maintain it afterwards.

Okay, the management of what reconstruction there was didn't leave much space for local talent. But the problems described in Hilzoy's post (especially the electricity) seem to spring more from the insurgency attempting to systematically degrade all services.

Ara: "Why would I need any more reason than just that to lay it at the feet of the Bush administration? What if they didn't just create a power vacuum, but then sent out an invitation to Al Qaeda, Shi'ite militias and so forth to fill it? Could I lay it at their feet then?"

No.

Not unless you're going to place laurels on their head for the success of the Kurds

john miller "Instead of using local talent, such as local engineers, which would have actually helped the Iraqi economy, all those billions of dollars eventually left Iraq (well, granted not all, but a lot.)"

What local talent? You said yourself, the majority of the professional class left Iraq -- those that weren't murdered by the death squads and suicide bombers that is.

Except for the Kurds, Iraq is broken. The only way to stabilize it now, is to soft partition it, as Biden rightly suggested months ago.

Andrew R: What you've described are challenges to be overcome by the occupation, not justification for its failure.

The Pottery Barn Rule is still in effect.

"What local talent?"

At the time of the invasion, there was plenty of it. The two million I referred to have left since we started the occupation.

And it is just a teensy weensy bit possible that if we had actually allowed the local talent at all levels to handle the reconstruction, like we did in Europe after WWII, there might have been less of an attraction to join the insurgencies.

John,

Since the insurgents of all stripes have a habit of taking those who work in any capacity with the U.S. and kill them in unpleasant and drawn out ways, I doubt that an added effort to employ locals would have resulted in much more than more dead local talent.

Which, Model 62, like the earlier stuff I've said, is not so much to excuse the Bush Administration as to note that the Ba'ath Al Douri et al were much, much cannier than they were originally given credit for.

like we did in Europe after WWII, there might have been less of an attraction to join the insurgencies.

I think the world of American home improvement has much to offer the world of nation-building. We are all familiar with the Pottery Barn Rule and the influence it has had upon the United States' foreign policy.

john miller's comment reminds me of the slogan used by giant home improvement retailer Lowe's, intoned by Gene Hackman at the close of many of the company's television advertisements: "Let's Build Something Together."

The Home Depot's "You Can Do It. We can Help" is also instructive.

Imagine the good the United States might have wrought if just one of the President's advisers had thought to share this guidance with him in the early days of the occupation!

Unfortunately, it seems that instead of following the wisdom of the nation's most successful hardware retailers, the administration chose to follow the advice of the increasingly irrelevant True Value chain of stores. That firm's "Start Right. Start Here," in the context of home improvement, is at best muddied and oblique. The slogan might be appropriate for a chain of breakfast eateries or perhaps an auto parts retailer. For hardware, it's grossly inadequate.

However, the phrase does capture what went wrong with the Bush Occupation. The muddiness of the message mirrors the Bush Administration's muddy messages regarding goals and motivations prior to the invasion. With respect to the hard work of nation building and the state the occupation today, "Start Right. Start Here" speaks directly to the administration's incompetency. As any experienced DIYer will tell you, a successful home improvement project starts with a goal and a plan for achieving it, both decided upon long before one arrives at the hardware store to purchase materials. Starting right there in downtown Baghdad laid the foundation for the dismal end were currently facing.

Iraq may be too far gone for Lowe's or Home Depot Solutions (the True Value Plan has seen to that!). Now that the money has been spent and the goodwill squandered, what's required is a reevaluation of expectations. In other words, we're down to the Ikea Plan: "Affordable Solutions for Living."

Canny? What's so canny about running a goon squad? It's the oldest form of political organization out there.

But now goon sqauds are the overwhelming enemy that we just could not have anticipated and seem unable to overcome.

The canniest thing about the insurgents is that they figured out long ago that the American occupiers were even more sleazy and venal than the homegrown variety. To maximize American profits we went directly to imported forced labor and its like.

When everything goes bad even if random chance would seem to dictate otherwise, the obvious conclusion is that the only plan was to extract as much money as possible for the U.S., and actual operation was not even in the project objectives.

Goon squads don't take much thought, but targeting electricity, trash collection, etc. takes a bit more forethought than random terrorization.

Andrew R: I doubt that an added effort to employ locals would have resulted in much more than more dead local talent.

You say that as if you think that the resistance to the US occupation began on day one, at full strength, and nothing that the Bush administration did could have changed that.

If the US occupation was to be seen as a benevolent force, it needed to provide benefits. Granted that there were other failures that led to the current civil war/resistance, but the plan to give US companies no-bid contracts with no requirement to employ Iraqis was undoubtedly one of the causes of failure.

The notion that the reconstruction money for Iraq should actually be spent in Iraq so as to directly benefit Iraqis may seem radical and dangerous to you, but it's actually a basic of NGOs working in developing countries. Of course, the Bush administration notoriously consulted no sources of expertise when "planning" how to occupy Iraq.

"The notion that the reconstruction money for Iraq should actually be spent in Iraq so as to directly benefit Iraqis may seem radical and dangerous to you, but it's actually a basic of NGOs working in developing countries."


I'm not a fan of bubble-headed Bush and his crew; but no matter what course the Bush-boobs took to reconstruct Iraq, the Iraqis would have screwed it up. Incorporate the Bathists, and let them continue to help run the bureaucracies? No way the formally oppressed Shiites would have allowed that to happen. Let Shiite Iraqi contractors rebuild complicated infrastructures like electrical generating plants and hospitals? If the US went that route even more money would have gone down the tubes (into foreign bank accounts) and all there would be to show for those billions would be excavation holes in the ground (with a lot of dead Sunnis in them).

Keep in mind that Iraq was a state-controlled system under Sadaam, and didn't operate under a market economy: that means there were few if any competent private organizations in Iraq to contract to re-build the country. Plus, they were ravaged by war (this one, and the last Gulf war), there wasn't any Iraqi central authority in place to trust with the kind of complicated projects that needed to be built, and as history has proved, Iraq is a corrupt nation, with a dog-eat-dog mentality, and a propensity for corrupt mismanagement.

There's obviously something dysfunctional in the Iraqi psyche (exempting the Kurds)-- why else do they keep blowing each other into little pieces? You want to blame it on years of repression under Sadaam, go ahead -- but Sadaam's dead now, and you'd think they'd get their heads out of their butts long enough to realize its not in their interests to keep murdering each other.

Jesu,

Fist of all, you might want to try again at the mind reading. More importantly, though, the Ba'ath insurgency was pretty much killing people working with the U.S. from the get-go. I'm really not seeing at how more civil/electrical engineers doesn't just give the insurgency more targets. It's not as though an organization that had spent years terrorizing a populace into submission was just going to up and say, "Oh, well, since they're giving our electrical engineers jobs, we should just call this whole insurgency business off."

Jay,

It's not an issue of a "they" who keep murdering each other. Rather, what you have is something like this...

Sadr: "Once the Americans are gone, I can so take down Hakim."

Hakim: "The American ground forces may leave, but I'll still be able to call in air strikes."

al Douri et al: "Once the Americans are gone, we'll take care of these Iranian losers and restore the Ba'ath party to it's proper place."

al Masri: "Once the Americans are gone, we'll defeat the Ba'ath infidels and Shi'ite heretics."

Now, all four may be wrong, but they've all got fairly rational reasons for believing what I've just mentioned. As such, of course they're not going to quit killing--right now they're trying to jockey for the best position once the serious slaughter starts.

I like the direction Andrew R is going with this. The occupation, no matter how competently managed, was destined to fail. The local political scene, among other things, was just too complex. The Iraq project didn't collapse because of poor management. It failed because the invasion was a flawed idea from inception.

The incompetency dodge has always been a dodge, a way for war proponents to convince themselves they were right all along. Sometimes I forget that. Thanks, Andrew R, for the reminder!

I like the direction Andrew R is going with this. The occupation, no matter how competently managed, was destined to fail. The local political scene, among other things, was just too complex. The Iraq project didn't collapse because of poor management. It failed because the invasion was a flawed idea from inception.

The incompetency dodge has always been a dodge, a way for war proponents to convince themselves they were right all along. Sometimes I forget that. Thanks, Andrew R, for the reminder!

I like the direction Andrew R is going with this. The occupation, no matter how competently managed, was destined to fail. The local political scene, among other things, was just too complex. The Iraq project didn't collapse because of poor management. It failed because the invasion was a flawed idea from inception.

The incompetency dodge has always been a dodge, a way for war proponents to convince themselves they were right all along. Sometimes I forget that. Thanks, Andrew R, for the reminder!

Oops. Sorry.

I think I've reached my quota for the evening.

Model 62,

Not very good at reading for comprehension, are you?

Okay, I'm going to climb down and apologize in advance for the remark in my last comment.

My point throughout this entire thread is not that the CPA being a goat-f**k isn't Bush & Co's fault. My point is not that everything the CPA did was just peachy. My point is merely that the problem of lack of services was a military one. You can have all of the power plants staffed by local talent that you want and it's still not going to do any good if there's an active insurgency that's blowing up the power lines just as fast as you can fix them.

So, like I said in my very first comment here, the fault of the Bush administration in this lies in that Saddam Hussein and his inner circle had been planning an insurgency for twelve years while the Pentagon and White House made no provision for the fact that Hussein just might have been planning for a U.S. invasion since 1991.

Model 62's right.

you'd think they'd get their heads out of their butts long enough to realize its not in their interests to keep murdering each other

Yeah, but it's basically an 'I'll take my head out of my butt once the guy who wants to kill me takes his head out of his butt' situation. There's a name for the faction that first unlaterally disarms: Organ Donors.

It doesn't matter whether you say it was a concept doomed from the start or a botched execution of it; you still play into the lie. The real objective of this mission is to occupy Iraq forever, and it always was. Each "incompetent" thing that sows more chaos and breaks Iraq's every structural component to make it more dependent on U.S. presence is a success according to plan.

Why would Dick Cheney and his band of war profiteers want Iraqis to be able to run their own power plants, or even to appear capable of doing anything by themselves? "Oh shucks, I guess we'll have to give even more taxpayer billions to private contractors to fix this. Oops!"

Andrew R., the size of the insurgency wasn't a fixed, predetermined number. Do you really think that putting hundreds of thousands of people, many of them trained and armed, out of work by de-Baathification and the dissolution of the army had no effect on the number of insurgents?

Jay Jerome wrote: I'm not a fan of bubble-headed Bush and his crew; but no matter what course the Bush-boobs took to reconstruct Iraq, the Iraqis would have screwed it up.

So, Jay, what's your point?

By now, the situation has clarified to the point there are only a few stands to take.

1. Iraq is going well enough for US interests that we must resist the naysayers and make sure someone is elected in 2008 who will continue our successes rather than cravenly withdraw.

2A. The occupation is going badly and needs some sort of drastic change, and it's the GOP's fault. Oppose the GOP.

2B. The occupation is going badly and needs some sort of drastic change, but it doesn't matter whose fault it is. Vote Republican!

My stand here is 2A. If things had gone well the GOP would be taking 200% of the credit for it, wouldn't they? So they deserve 100% of the blame. Somebody ought to be photoshopping photos of Giuliani or whoever in a flight suit with a big MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! sign behind him. Publicise the GOP guys who opposed a pay increase for the troops. Publicise the GOP guys who opposed sufficient training for the troops heading to iraq. Etc. Every GOP incumbent who doesn't quickly break GOP ranks deserves to have a great bit IRAQ permanently tattood on his forehead in the reddest of reds and the blackest of blacks.

What's your stand?

Like a hand grenade, I'll toss this http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/28/AR2007072801407.html?hpid=topnews>story into the mix.

It's only for a moment, but I'd urge everyone to savor its sweetness (okay, maybe bittersweetness):

Iraq wins Asian Cup! They beat heavily favored Saudi Arabia 1-0 with a nifty header in OT by the captain.

It's not enough to cure the divisions, but it is bringing out national pride and joy for a day. Pointers to nice coverage here.

it is bringing out national pride and joy for a day

Indeed it is. Not to mention the occasional burst of celebratory gunfire. It was a great game, and there are a lot of happy Iraqis today.

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