2004 April 16 Friday
High Costs And Dismal Prospects In Iraq: How To Derive Benefit?

Paul Wolfowitz expected Iraq reconstruction to cost only tens of billions of dollars.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2003, estimated the figure in the tens of billions of dollars if Iraq's oil fields were not destroyed.

"We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon," he said.

Total cost estimates for military operations and reconstruction now range as high as $300 to $450 billion.

Overall then, the occupation could cost more than double the cost of the war, adding between $150bn-300bn to the $150bn that has been appropriated so far by Congress.


In the long run, oil experts estimate that Iraq could increase its production from the current 2.5 million barrels per day to 6 million barrels if new oil fields are developed.

That would increase government revenue from oil of about $15bn to about $40bn - enough to allocate at least $20bn to rebuilding.

But the problem is that it would take 5-10 years, and perhaps $25bn, to develop these fields.

And any deals with international oil companies for investment would require a stable security situation and a legitimate government capable of signing long-term contracts.

It will take years before the Iraqi oil fields can produce enough oil for their revenues to make a more substantial contribution to reconstruction.

Oil production in Iraq has still not even been restored yet to pre-war levels.

At present, Iraq is producing approximately 2.5 million barrels per day, compared to the pre-war level of 2.8 million. If Saddam had remained in power, Iraqi oil production would have been suppressed for the indefinite future by sanctions and failure to maintain the oil fields.

But one point in favor of the war is that if the US hadn't invaded then the future expected increase in Iraqi production would probably have been prevented by continued sanctions. Though there was the chance that had Saddam been left in power then the continuation of the sanctions would have become politically impossible and hence that Saddam eventually would have been able to increase oil production.

Even though involvement in Iraq is costing US taxpayers a lot of money at this point very little of the reconstruction money from the US government has been spent.

Efforts to repair war damage and kick-start the economy, which have fallen behind. Only $2 billion of the $18 billion aid and reconstruction package Congress approved last fall has been committed to contracts.

A increasing portion of the construction money is going to pay rising security costs.

For some companies, security costs now amount to 20% of the total contract price, double the standard 10% estimate that industry groups and government contracting officials quoted six months ago. As much as $4 billion may wind up going to security, Bowen said.

The situation is made worse by the lack of an adequate number of soldiers.

Analysts point to widespread evidence of sophisticated psychological warfare aimed at isolating the United States and creating public pressure for a withdrawal, notably hostage-taking of civilians from countries allied with the United States and the mutilation and burning of bodies.

"We need more troops, we need a lot more troops than what Gen. (John) Abizaid is requesting, everybody knows it and everybody knew it a long time ago, even before the recent uprising," said an observer who asked not to be identified but who has recently traveled in Iraq.

The Bush Administration drastically overestimated the amount money that would be available from oil revenue while also drastically underestimated the amount of opposition it would face and the size of the military force it would need to conduct an occupation of Iraq. These miscalculations do not inspire confidence.

The now obvious Bush Administration miscalculations on costs and oil production and on the extent of the resistance to the occupation in Iraq are not the only reasons to lack confidence in US policy on Iraq. Since the WMD threat appears to have been less than the Bush Administration claimed the remaining main US interest in intervention is that the transformation of Iraq into a democracy will help transform the Middle East in ways that eliminate or at least greatly reduce the conditions that produce terrorists. But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical on this point. See a couple of my pre-Gulf War II posts on pessimists on Islamic democracy and on why it took so long to transform India under British rule and also on what elements were present in post-WWII Germany and Japan that are missing in Iraq. In addition to those arguments there are still other reasons to be pessimistic about a transformation of Iraq into a democracy. One I only encountered more recently: Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies and Arab cultures appear to place the desire for dominance ahead of the desire for freedom.

Given that Iraq is unlikely to be transformed into a democracy in the length of time that the US populace is likely to be willing to support heavy US involvement in that country (and any length of time that is not measured in decades is not long enough) is there any way to salvage some sort of gain from our Iraq involvement? Yes, there is one possible way to still come out with some benefit: Partition Iraq. See my posts Why Not Partition Afghanistan Along Tribal Lines? and Steve Sailer On The Iraq Partition Argument.

Why partition? We'd be giving the Kurds their own country and the Kurds actually like us and would continue to feel gratitude toward us if we helped them split away from Iraq. The Sunnis are not going to like the United States. The Shias not likely to do so either to any great extent. We need to admit that we can't build solid lasting friendships with the Sunnis and Shias. Whereas we can come out of this with the Kurds as friends. We ought to make policies accordingly. Splitting Iraq might even increase the odds that democracy will succeed in the Sunni and Shia countries that will also be created when Iraq is split up.

Bush is not going to consider partition any time soon. So can we expect better policies of John Kerry if he is elected Presideint? So far he has provided no encouraging indications. In fact, John Kerry's one big dumb proposal on Iraq so far is that we can somehow save American lives by getting the United Nations more involved in Iraq.

Sen. John Kerry urged President Bush on Wednesday to share responsibility for Iraq with the United Nations, saying the administration's "stubborn" insistence on controlling the reconstruction there was costing Americans money and lives.

Why would the Sunnis become less willing to attack American soldiers if the UN is more involved? Am I missing something? This may be hard for Kerry to believe but the Sunnis are not Massachusetts Liberal Democrats. And while I'm stating the obvious, the radical Shia cleric Sadr and his holy warriors are also not Massachusetts Liberal Democrats. The vast majority of people in Iraq are probably indifferent to or hostile toward the United Nations. The UN is a distraction, an irrelevancy. No matter what deal the Bush Administration could try to cut with the UN it will not bring large numbers of troops from other lands to displace American troops.

Consider just how unlike Democrats the Shias really are. The Shias are coming up on an election that will allow them to dominate Iraq. You might think they would be content to wait for their ascension. But no. In spite of their now favorable position an extremist Shia cleric has been sending his warriors out to attack American troops and to take over police stations and government buildings. The great mass of Shia Iraqi people has not risen up to oppose his power play. There are no enthusiastic moderates in Iraq. All the enthusiasts are extremists. Theodore Dalrymple's explanation for why extremism tends to win out in Muslim lands is as good as any I've come across.

But his model left Islam with two intractable problems. One was political. Muhammad unfortunately bequeathed no institutional arrangements by which his successors in the role of omnicompetent ruler could be chosen (and, of course, a schism occurred immediately after the Prophet’s death, with some—today’s Sunnites—following his father-in-law, and some—today’s Shi’ites—his son-in-law). Compounding this difficulty, the legitimacy of temporal power could always be challenged by those who, citing Muhammad’s spiritual role, claimed greater religious purity or authority; the fanatic in Islam is always at a moral advantage vis-à-vis the moderate. Moreover, Islam—in which the mosque is a meetinghouse, not an institutional church—has no established, anointed ecclesiastical hierarchy to decide such claims authoritatively. With political power constantly liable to challenge from the pious, or the allegedly pious, tyranny becomes the only guarantor of stability, and assassination the only means of reform. Hence the Saudi time bomb: sooner or later, religious revolt will depose a dynasty founded upon its supposed piety but long since corrupted by the ways of the world.

The second problem is intellectual. In the West, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, acting upon the space that had always existed, at least potentially, in Christianity between church and state, liberated individual men to think for themselves, and thus set in motion an unprecedented and still unstoppable material advancement. Islam, with no separate, secular sphere where inquiry could flourish free from the claims of religion, if only for technical purposes, was hopelessly left behind: as, several centuries later, it still is.

The Bush Administration is not yet ready to admit that it can not transform Iraq into a stable liberal democracy. We will have to watch as the tragedy plays itself out. But as the conflict continues it is worth pondering what the back-up plan ought to be once reality sinks in.

Update: Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress and long-time political ally of the neoconservative hawks who promoted and chose the policies that for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, says many in the new Iraqi security structure either ran away or joined Sadr's militia in the recent Sadr militia move to take over government buildings and attack American forces.

The most ominous harbinger for the future of Iraq to emerge from the bloodshed that has engulfed parts of the country is the collapse of the indigenous Iraqi security structures put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Few of the police resisted Muqtada al-Sadr's activists, while some joined his militia and many simply ran away. Half of the army mutinied. The intelligence service did not produce accurate or useful intelligence, and elements of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which is designed to be a national paramilitary force, also mutinied and may be implicated in the murder and mutilation of the four Americans, which touched off the siege of Fallujah.

There is no burning love of liberal democracy in Iraq. Tribal ties, Islamic beliefs, and other forces competing with democracy. Very few people in Iraq see themselves as Iraqis first and foremost. The most consistently reliable native forces are Kurds who are linguistically and culturally quite distinct from the Sunni and Shia Arabs. The Kurds could govern their own nation and feel sufficient loyalty to a national Kurdish government built in their own territory. Their nation would be viable and very likely would continue to be democratic and not theocratic.

Update II: William Tucker provides yet another reason why Iraq is not congenial to democracy: polygamy.

Islam is the only major world religion that sanctions polygamy. Mohammad allowed his followers to have four wives (the same number he had). About 12 percent of marriages in Moslem countries are polygamous. This is not as bad as East and West Africa, where successful men often take more than a hundred wives and where almost 30 percent of marriages can be polygamous. But the solid core of polygamy at the heart of Islamic culture is enough to produce its menacing social effects.

What are those effects? Do the math. Into every society is born approximately the same number of boys and girls. If they pair off in monogamous fashion, then each one will have a mate -- "a girl for every boy and a boy for every girl." In polygamous societies this does not occur. When successful men can accumulate more than one wife, that means some other man gets none. As a result, the unavoidable outcome is a hard-core residue of unattached men who have little or no prospect of achieving a family life.

The inevitable outcome is that competition among males becomes much more fierce and intense. Mating is an all-or-nothing proposition. Women become a scarce resource that must be hoarded and veiled and banned from public places so they cannot drift away through spontaneous romances. Men who are denied access to these hoarded women have only one option -- they can band together and try to fight their way into the seats of power.

The competition for women makes Arabs place a higher value on domination. So Tucker's explanation explains Steve Sailer's observation that the Arabs can't support the Western notion of political equality that is necessary in order to build a successful democracy.

If the US allows the Kurds to create their own country then after the US withdraws at least one part of Iraq stands a chance of maintaining at least a semi-liberal democracy. By keeping Iraq together the US is effectively subjecting the whole place to a single gamble that probably isn't going to work. Split it up and then we will be faced with the possibility that one or two of the pieces might manage to remain at least semi-democratic. Also, will we end up keeping and even strengthening our friendship with the Kurds.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 April 16 12:22 AM  Mideast Iraq

MichaelA said at April 16, 2004 7:14 AM:

1) I agree with your essential argument on partition. The Kurds are the example of what we want in the Middle East. A secular, progressive, Islamic group. They have been so abused at the hands of the Arabs, Turks, and Persians that they have little room to have animus towards the US and Israel. They deserve a state.

However, the creation of a separate Kurdish state, in addition to creating a massive problem with the Turks, could set off an internal war between the two major Kurdish factions. The Turks could perhaps be mollified if a Kurdish state agreed to accept massive immigration of Turkish Kurds and offically relinquish territorial claims to Turkish Kurdistan.

2) There is no need to water down your clear analysis with gratuitous cheap shots at John Kerry. Whether or not bringing the UN into the fray is wise or possible, his argument is not premised on the idea that the Shia will behave like Massachusetts Democrats. The truth is that Sadr acted because he knew that he would be frozen out of any leadership role by Sistani, Chalabi and other Shia.

His actions have given him popular support that he otherwise lacked. This is not a failure of John Kerry's. It is a failure of the governing authority to defuse the situation earlier and quicker. For example, consulting Sistani before he publicly repudiated the original election scheme might have been wise. But then how could the CPA have put Chalabi into the lead role?

Randall Parker said at April 16, 2004 10:39 AM:

MichaelA, I do not think it gratuitous to point out that Kerry's single proposal for a change in policy in Iraq is at best frivolous. The proposal is clearly aimed at Democrats who like international instutions. But since Kerry's proposal to have the UN take over civilian reconstruction would just delay reconstruction and make it more susceptible to corruption (look at the massive corruption on the Iraq oil sales revenue the UN managed). A cheap shot? I held back on the extent to which Kerry's proposal is a bad idea so that I didn't digress too far away from my drive toward my main point.

Jason Bontrager said at April 18, 2004 8:07 AM:

An alternative approach to dealing with Iraq was suggested on one of my mailing lists. Repudiate the Treaty of Sevres that created Iraq, and return the territory to Turkey (with some provisions to protect the Kurds). The Turks are far less constrained by political correctness when dealing with insurgents, and they'd not only re-acquire territory they historically controlled, but also the oil fields the came with it.

We'd be relieved of much of the burden of post-war Iraq, and we'd be acting multilaterally:-). And frankly I doubt that US-style democracy can work in Iraq, but Attaturk-style democracy might.

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